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> One can't just say
> *poof* and make a word sometimes plural and sometimes not plural,
In Old English, the third person pronouns are "he" (masculine),
"heo" (feminine), and "hie" (plural). These must have been
pronounced very similarly, since manuscripts frequently confuse
them. And in the Northumbrian dialect (modern renderings of Old
English standardize on the Wessex dialect), they would be even
closer: "hi," "hio" and "hie." And other pronoun forms, used
*exactly* the same word for singular and plural ("him" is masculine
singular and plural in the dative).
Also, what about modern English? We use "you" for singular and
plural all the time.
Quite clearly, a word can sometimes be plural and sometimes not
> There are numerous gramatically acceptable ways to word
> sentences to avoid gender-specific pronouns. Using "they"
> for a singular subject is not one of them.
Grammar is not received from an elite of writers and academics. 130
years of universal education hasn't imposed a strict set of
grammatical rules on the English language, so I doubt that anything
can. In fact, I seriously suspect that we'll only look foolish if we
try too hard. We may choose to avoid certain usages out of whim or
personal sense of style - and, speaking personally, there are
several common usages that I avoid - but we're only deceiving
ourselves if we imagine that we are going to have more than a light
influence on the direction of the language.
If you're uncomfortable with using "they" as an indefinite pronoun,
there's no reason why you should use it. You're lucky that English
is flexible that you have several workarounds. But don't imagine
that using it is somehow "wrong." Grammar has more in common with
style, both personal and cultural, then with the laws of science.
And, as in style, there is no such thing as right or wrong in
grammar: just appropriate or inappropriate for the circumstances or
Bruce Byfield, Outlaw Communications
604.421.7189 bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com
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