The singular 'they'

Subject: The singular 'they'
From: Paul Tremblay <pault -at- CGC -dot- NS -dot- CA>
Date: Tue, 12 Dec 1995 13:08:37 -0400

Usage note from the "Random House Unabridged";

=97 Usage. Long before the use of generic HE was condemned as sexist, the=

pronouns THEY, THEIR, and THEM were used in educated speech and in all bu=

the most formal writing to refer to indefinite pronouns and to singular
nouns of general personal reference, probably because such nouns are ofte=

not felt to be exclusively singular: If anyone calls, tell them I'll be b=
at six. Everyone began looking for their books at once. Such use is not a=

recent development, nor is it a mark of ignorance. Shakespeare, Swift,
Shelley, Scott, and Dickens, as well as many other English and American
writers, have used THEY and its forms to refer to singular antecedents.
Already widespread in the language (though still rejected as ungrammatica=

by some) , this use of THEY, THEIR, and THEM is increasing in all but the=

most conservatively edited American English. This increased use is at lea=
partly impelled by the desire to avoid the sexist implications of HE as a=

pronoun of general reference.
Paul Tremblay <pault -at- cgc -dot- ns -dot- ca>
Instructor, Canadian Coast Guard College
"I have enough trouble expressing my own views,
never mind anyone else's."

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