Question: They?

Boink asks…

I know that the best practice with regards to pronouns is to ask the person in question which pronoun to use or avoid using pronouns altogether. That being said, I have noticed (in my very limited experience) that “they” is quickly becoming the de-facto standard gender-neutral third-person pronoun in the English language.

Seemingly few people object to using “I” and “you” respectively as the standard gender-neutral first- and second-person pronouns, so I was wondering what people’s thoughts were on “they”.

Would anyone disagree with being referred to as “they”?

Are there any disadvantages to adopting “they” as a standard part of the language, similar to “I” and “you”, and being done with the issue of third-person pronouns?

Please post your response in the comments below.

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Posted by on May 2nd, 2014 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 5 comments »

5 Responses to “Question: They?”

  1. Something queer to read

    I think it would be great if everyone accepted the standard gender neutral pronoun to be “they”, but if somebody prefers a different pronoun, then we should definitely respect that and use it also.


  2. Emi

    Some people prefer “it”, as it is not anthropocentric :)


  3. Cameron

    There are plenty of folks who disagree with adopting “they” as a standard gender-neutral singular third-person pronoun…and almost all their arguments are about (a) grammar or (b) numerical confusion, which are both kinda moot points. (Grammar is mostly a set of arbitrary rules, “they” is already in widespread singular third-person use, and numerical confusion is not much of an issue with “you,” which can be singular or plural.)

    Similar to Something Queer to Read, though, I don’t think “they” should be the *only* gender-neutral pronoun. Some people feel strongly about being called he, she, ze, it, or other pronouns, and those definitely need to be respected too.

    I’m also a bit biased on this subject because “they” is my preferred pronoun.


    tigr replied:

    What they said :)


  4. QWG

    I’m both an editor and genderless/agender (I go by ‘they’), which makes for some interesting conversations with fellow editors.

    As we use – in English – ‘you’ in both the singular and plural, there’s more than enough of a precedent for ‘they’ to be used in both the singular and plural as well, and every editor who says otherwise is behind the times. The Australian Style manual pretty much states that singular ‘they’ is a form with increasing legitimacy as it outlines the transition of ‘you’ from plural to plural-and-singular. ‘They’ is functionally legitimate. I’ve seen binary cishet people use it in the singular in their writing without even thinking about it.

    However, part of being non-binary is, I think, the ability to choose the words that best describe us. We get to sort through all the options (and there are so many! Awesome!) and decide for ourselves exactly who it is we are and how we’re called. Having a specified, universal (in English) non-binary pronoun takes away from that process. It takes away from our ease to determine for ourselves our own identity; it makes it something we fall into by default. It sets up another assumption we’re expected to be. I’m not comfortable with that. Also, ‘they’ is without gender, and that doesn’t legitimately describe many non-binary identities – it’s as bad as expecting me to go by a binary pronoun.

    Our problem isn’t the diversity of words and pronouns available to us. Our problem is the fact that people don’t want to respect our decisions and don’t want to make the effort to refer to us by the words we choose (and they justify it by claiming ‘grammar’ or ‘the need for a universal pronoun’). Choosing a universal pronoun set doesn’t solve that problem. It makes it a little easier for people to use a non-binary pronoun, yes … but maybe I’m idealistic enough to think I shouldn’t have to make it easier for binary-gender people to treat me as though I’m human. We’re not the problem, so why do we need to limit ourselves to solve it?


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