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  1. #1
    jctgf is offline Key Member
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    Default they in place of he/she

    "He/she can apply for the position at any time"
    "He/she are not allowed to enter if they are not properly dressed"

    Hi,
    In sentences like this, when I do not know the gender of the subject, I use he/she" as the subject.
    A friend told me that I could use "they" instead of "he/she".
    I think it is a little weird because, by doing so, I am changing the subject from singular to plural, right?
    I would like to know how correct is this hint and if there are situations where I should use "he/she" instead of "they".
    Thanks.

    thanks.

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    Default Re: they in place of he/she

    I'm not a teacher but if you don't know the gender that means you speak about people in general and not one person in particular (in this case you should know if it's a man,woman or guess it). So what's the context of your sentence ? I would personaly use another word, such as "Candidates can apply for the position at any time" or "Guests are not allowed..."

    Quote Originally Posted by jctgf View Post
    "He/she can apply for the position at any time"
    "He/she are not allowed to enter if they are not properly dressed"

    Hi,
    In sentences like this, when I do not know the gender of the subject, I use “he/she" as the subject.
    A friend told me that I could use "they" instead of "he/she".
    I think it is a little weird because, by doing so, I am changing the subject from singular to plural, right?
    I would like to know how correct is this hint and if there are situations where I should use "he/she" instead of "they".
    Thanks.

    thanks.

  3. #3
    riverkid is offline Banned
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    Default Re: they in place of he/she

    Quote Originally Posted by jctgf View Post
    "He/she can apply for the position at any time"
    "He/she are not allowed to enter if they are not properly dressed"

    Hi,
    In sentences like this, when I do not know the gender of the subject, I use he/she" as the subject.
    A friend told me that I could use "they" instead of "he/she".
    I think it is a little weird because, by doing so, I am changing the subject from singular to plural, right?
    I would like to know how correct is this hint and if there are situations where I should use "he/she" instead of "they".
    Thanks.

    thanks.
    EtMichel is right that these are situations where we mean people in general. English has a number of words that normally fill these types of situations, JC.

    "Anyone/People can apply for the position at any time."

    "No one is allowed to enter if they are not properly dressed."

  4. #4
    stuartnz's Avatar
    stuartnz is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: they in place of he/she

    I'm not a professional teacher of English, but I do have a dilettante's passion for it. The use of "they" as a gender-neutral third person singular pronoun is very well established in English. It has been used in this way for at least the last five hundred years. Nevertheless, there are many people who are strongly opposed to the practice, and they tend to express themselves very forcefully, condemning the practice as "wrong", and often contemning those who do use "they" in this way.

    There are many well-written articles about this at Language Log, a blog on linguistics. Here's a list of some of them and here's a summary page.

  5. #5
    jctgf is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: they in place of he/she

    Quote Originally Posted by stuartnz View Post
    I'm not a professional teacher of English, but I do have a dilettante's passion for it. The use of "they" as a gender-neutral third person singular pronoun is very well established in English. It has been used in this way for at least the last five hundred years. Nevertheless, there are many people who are strongly opposed to the practice, and they tend to express themselves very forcefully, condemning the practice as "wrong", and often contemning those who do use "they" in this way.

    There are many well-written articles about this at Language Log, a blog on linguistics. Here's a list of some of them and here's a summary page.
    hi,
    could you provide some examples, please?
    thanks a lot.

  6. #6
    stuartnz's Avatar
    stuartnz is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: they in place of he/she

    There's not a man I meet but doth salute me / As if I were their well-acquainted friend Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors, Act IV, Scene 3 (1594)

    And whoso findeth him out of swich blame, They wol come up and offre in Goddes name - Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales

    See also the Wikipedia article.

  7. #7
    riverkid is offline Banned
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    Default Re: they in place of he/she

    Quote Originally Posted by stuartnz View Post
    Nevertheless, there are many people who are strongly opposed to the practice, and they tend to express themselves very forcefully, condemning the practice as "wrong", and often contemning those who do use "they" in this way.

    Good day, Stuart.

    I've never been much concerned about these people, even ones that express themselves forcefully. Ask them to explain and beyond "It's wrong", they're lost. Why? Because it's perfectly natural English.

    Ask them if they use 'you' as both a plural and a singular and they beat a hasty retreat.

    I've often wondered why it would ever even be suggested that these prescriptivists should be able to wield any influence at all considering that their arguments consist of nothing more than raising their voices and stamping their feet.

    The prescription against singular 'they/their'them' was/is as nonsensical as the split infinitive prescription.

    In one of the discussions from the Language Log, Professor Pullum drives this point home;

    "And of course singular they will be with us forever, regardless of Supreme Court appeals, and in defiance of a century of prescriptivist blowhards like the Fowler brothers."

    Language Log: The next president and their pronoun gender
    Here's a discussion on this issue, JC.

    Language Log: The next president and their pronoun gender
    And another;


    Sometimes an alleged grammatical "error" is logical not only in the sense of "rational," but in the sense of respecting distinctions made by the logician. Consider this alleged barbarism: Everyone returned to their seats.

    If anyone calls, tell them I can't come to the phone.

    No one should have to sell their home to pay for medical care.

    The mavens [prescriptive grammarians] explain: [everyone] means [every one], a singular subject, which may not serve as the antecedent of a plural pronoun like [them] later in the sentence. "Everyone returned to [his] seat," they insist. "If anyone calls, tell [him] I can't come to the phone."

    If you were the target of these lessons, you might be getting a bit uncomfortable. [Everyone returned to his seat] makes it sound like Bruce Springsteen was discovered during intermission to be in the audience, and everyone rushed back and converged on his seat to await an autograph. If there is a good chance that a caller may be female, it is odd to ask one's roommate to tell [him] anything (even if you are not among the people who get upset about "sexist language").

    Such feelings of disquiet -- a red flag to any serious linguist -- are well-founded. The logical point that everyone but the language mavens intuitively grasps is that [everyone] and [they] are not an antecedent and a pronoun referring to the same person in the world, which would force them to agree in number. They are a "quantifier" and a "bound variable," a different logical relationship.

    [CONTINUED AT:]

    http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articl...wrepublic.html

    Use Crtl F to locate this discussion within the larger article.

  8. #8
    stuartnz's Avatar
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    Default Re: they in place of he/she

    Riverkid, I'm not concerned about the sort of people who get antsy about "they" as a singular epicene pronoun either, nor am I concerned about them when they rant about splitting infinitives or ending sentences with prepositions, etc. I simply mention the existence of such prescriptivists as a warning to those just starting to learn English that they can expect some people to tell them that these perfectly normal usages are wrong. I think of it as a public service, akin to saying "don't worry about the grumpy lady next door who yells at you to stay off your own lawn".
    Last edited by stuartnz; 17-Mar-2008 at 00:44. Reason: to reword an awkward phrase

  9. #9
    riverkid is offline Banned
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    Default Re: they in place of he/she

    Quote Originally Posted by stuartnz View Post
    Riverkid, I'm not concerned about the sort of people who get antsy about "they" as a singular epicene pronoun either, nor am I concerned about them when they rant about splitting infinitives or ending sentences with prepositions, etc. I simply mention the existence of such prescriptivists as a warning to those just starting to learn English that they can expect some people to tell them that these perfectly normal usages are wrong. I think of it as a public service, akin to saying "don't worry about the grumpy lady next door who yells at you to stay off your own lawn".
    You're just the kind of people that this site, and language in general, needs, Stuart.

    [Probably won't be readily accepted all that soon.]

    Oh, thanks for the great links!

  10. #10
    jctgf is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: they in place of he/she

    hi,
    My concern is about sentences like "No one should have to sell their home to pay for medical care".
    How to write this kind of sentence without using the "singular they"? As a student, I have already been advised about the excessive usage of "he/she"...
    Besides, isn't this a less elegant solution?
    thanks,
    jc

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