Here's a feast for thought.
Originally Posted by queenbu
From they/their (singular)
"Using the plural pronoun to refer to a single person of unspecified gender is an old and honorable pattern in English, not a newfangled bit of degeneracy or a politically correct plot to avoid sexism (though it often serves the latter purpose)."
From Examples of singular "their" etc. from the OED and elsewhere
"Here we go again. Last June I posted an article quoting the Oxford English Dictionary [OED], and tens of worthy authors through the ages from the 1300's to the present day, who have used `they', `them', `theirs', etc as singular gender-unspecific words. It is correct English. It was only later grammarians who tried to enforce the rule that they are plural words, and force us to use `he', etc. Luckily, most people have not followed their dictates.
["Singular their" was first faulted (by a grammarian applying mistaken analogies from Latin) in 1795, but continued to be used by many respected writers up to the present day._
Illiterate? Shakespeare was just one of the many to use the form. Let history be the judge. Here are the quotes from the OED again, for the doubters: OED examples here...
From languagehat.com: SINGULAR "THEIR."
"While your high-school English teacher may have told you not to use this construction, it actually dates back to at least the 14th century, and was used by the following authors (among others) in addition to Jane Austen: Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, the King James Bible, The Spectator, Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Frances Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith, Henry Fielding, Maria Edgeworth, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, William Makepeace Thackeray, Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot [Mary Anne Evans], Charles Dickens, Mrs. Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, John Ruskin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walt Whitman, George Bernard Shaw, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, W. H. Auden, Lord Dunsany, George Orwell, and C. S. Lewis.
Singular "their" etc., was an accepted part of the English language before the 18th-century grammarians started making arbitrary judgements as to what is "good English" and "bad English", based on a kind of pseudo-"logic" deduced from the Latin language, that has nothing whatever to do with English. (See the 1975 journal article
by Anne Bodine in the bibliography.) And even after the old-line grammarians put it under their ban, this anathematized singular "their" construction never stopped being used by English-speakers, both orally and by serious literary writers. So it's time for anyone who still thinks that singular "their" is so-called "bad grammar" to get rid of their prejudices and pedantry!"
From Chicago Style Q&A: Pronouns
Question. I would swear that I saw a reference in your manual that approved of the use of “their” instead of a gender-biased singular pronoun. For example, “If the user has completed installing the program, they should put the CD-ROM back in the package,” instead of “If the user has completed installing the program, s/he should put the CD-ROM back in the package,” but on your Q&A, you dance around the answer to the question and suggest that you do NOT approve of the singular “their.” Can you tell us what is acceptable?
Answer. Yes, you saw it at 2.98 (note 9) in the fourteenth edition, but there was some regret at having written it, and we decided not to second the idea in the fifteenth edition. Though some writers are comfortable with the occasional use of they as a singular pronoun, some are not, and it is better to do the necessary work to recast a sentence or, other options having been exhausted, use he or she. For a fuller discussion of this issue, see paragraphs 5.43 and 5.202–6 in CMOS 15, including the entry for “he or she” under the “Glossary of Troublesome Expressions” at paragraph 5.202.
From Linguistics 001 -- Prescriptive and Descriptive Linguistics
"Pinker suggests that those who fault "singular their" for violating the rules of grammatical agreement have wrongly analyzed the grammar of the situation, or at least have mixed up two things that need to be kept apart.
The ancient Greek (and Roman) logicians (and grammarians) were not able to devise a workable approach, nor were the logicans of Medieval Europe.
From Pronouns and Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement
Lynch's Grammar and Style Notes
- the colloquial their (a plural) doesn't agree with the verb, and is not grammatically correct. We use this often in speaking -- "a friend of mine called me." "What did they say?" -- but, although many writers have used it (see examples from Jane Austen), it often makes for bad formal writing today.
-- his position seems to be that agreement failure is a complicated business, but he knows it when he sees it. He may well be wrong, but at this point we are putting one set of native-speaker intuitions (from Pinker and Churchyard) up against another (from Lynch)."
And finally, this entry. (I have highlighted the "winning" phrase. )
Trying to conform to the [pronoun-antecedent agreement] rule can lead to a great deal of nonsense. It is widely regarded as being correct (or correct enough), at the beginning of the twenty-first century, to say
- Somebody has left their bag on the floor.
Question. PLEASE tell me what you are recommending when people need a gender-neutral singular possessive pronoun. In order to avoid saying “his mind” or “her mind” (or, God forbid, “his/her mind”) people are saying “their mind”—and it blows MY mind—unless, of course, those people could be sure “they” are “of one mind”! If you have a discussion on this issue, I’d be most happy to receive it or be directed to it.
Answer. I’m afraid your gender-neutral pronoun (at least in the sense you need) does not exist in our lexicon. I agree that the plural pronoun with a singular noun seems inadequate; I would suggest that you recast the sentence altogether or at least make “mind” plural for agreement: their minds. Other writers alternate between using “his” and “her” in such constructions in order to give equal status to each pronoun.