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  1. Newbie
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    #1

    The singular 'THEY'

    Hello,

    I am new to this forum and would like to know the legitimacy or otherwise of sentences like this:

    'Make sure your child is wearing their coat'

    I absolutely hate it, even though I have heard justifications for it. How can it be acceptable for a singular person to become a 'they'? It is horrible! I refuse to write it and would always write:

    'Make sure your child is wearing his or her coat'

    Just saying 'his' does seem a bit old fashioned and 'sexist', but I would still prefer the sexist version to the modern abomination!

    Even if great writers of the past have used it, I still say it's wrong. I can't see how this has become so acceptable that it's used on government forms and letters home from my children's school.

  2. probus's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: The singular 'THEY'

    I fully agree with your sentiments and would never use a singular "they".

    But there are two approaches to teaching language: the prescriptive and the descriptive. Mostly we here at Usingenglish are descriptive. Changes in language are like locomotives; their momentum is so immense that nothing can stop them. Changes that we may personally detest are here to stay, so we usually confine ourselves to understanding and describing them, because railing against them is pretty much useless.

    That is the best way to serve our students, who are not native speakers but have to cope with those government forms and letters you mentioned.
    Last edited by probus; 08-May-2014 at 05:35.

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    #3

    Re: The singular 'THEY'

    Quote Originally Posted by Tarser View Post
    Hello,

    I am new to this forum and would like to know the legitimacy or otherwise of sentences like 'Make sure your child is wearing their coat.'


    I absolutely hate it, even though I have heard justifications for it. How can it be acceptable for a singular person to become a 'they'? It is horrible! I refuse to write it and would always write 'Make sure your child is wearing his or her coat.'

    One thing you can do is to stop worrying about "their" and focus on not ending a sentence with a colon and putting a period at the end of a sentence, including sentences that you quote.
    It's just a suggestion. :)
    Last edited by 2006; 08-May-2014 at 06:05.

  3. Newbie
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    #4

    Re: The singular 'THEY'

    I know that 2 + 2 = 4 and I know that A person cannot become a 'they' or a 'them' but I don't claim to be good at maths or an absolute expert in English grammar. It might not be a good idea to scan for every imperfection in what people write on forums as 'perfection' isn't a very common quality.

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    #5

    Re: The singular 'THEY'

    Some languages use plural forms for politeness, so I can't see we can't use it when the gender isn't specified- it seems to come under the politeness banner for me. I know that many dislike it, but I have no problem at all with the singular they/their/them.

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    #6

    Re: The singular 'THEY'

    I often think that English should have a polite form of 'You'. I think 'You' can sound abrasive, but a nice 'Thou' or 'Thee' sounds more polite in formal settings. But that is long gone! I cannot see how turning a person into two persons is a polite form.

    I looked up the use of colons in 'Practical English Usage' by Michael Swan. He states that the colon can be used when introducing a quotation. This is his example.

    In the words of Oscar Wilde: 'I can resist anything except temptation.'

    I'd be grateful if Mr. 2006 could explain how my use of the colon was different from this example and why it is incorrect. It also seems to be legitimate as a way of introducing a list. I have a list of one in my example.

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    #7

    Re: The singular 'THEY'

    [QUOTE=Tarser;1066682]
    There are two requirements for that kind of use of a colon. The first requirement is that what comes before the colon must be able to stand as an independent clause. The second requirement is that what comes after the colon gives (more) information about what came before the colon. So your example lacks the first requirement and is not correct.

    In the words of Oscar Wilde: 'I can resist anything except temptation.'

    'He bought three things: apples, oranges and bananas.' This is an example of correct use of a colon.

    There is a massive amount of incorrect colon use on the internet! If you are interested in learning the correct use, I can help you.

  5. Barb_D's Avatar
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    #8

    Re: The singular 'THEY'

    I find this argument to be so tedious. It wasn't until the "scholars" of the 1700s and 1800s decided English had to be like Latin and gave us a bunch of dumb rules that people found the singular "they" a problem, along with ending a sentence with a preposition or splitting an infinitive.

    It's hardly a "modern abomination." It's been used for hundreds of years by writers most would consider great. But whatever. If you hate it, don't use it. Just don't preach at people who do use it, and don't feel superior to them because of your "correct" use.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

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    #9

    Re: The singular 'THEY'

    I don't think it has to do with latter century scholars. As you watch your grandchildren acquire language in their first two or three years you realize that syntax and grammar are programmed into our genes.

  7. Barb_D's Avatar
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    #10

    Re: The singular 'THEY'

    I really don't want to be argumentative, but Jane Austen's genes allowed the singular "they" in her syntax but Tarser's genes don't?

    Anyway, I vow to never get involved in a "the singular 'they' is an abomination" thread again. People wrapped up in their own superiority (not you, probus) in never using it won't be swayed. As my dad once told me, never wrestle with a pig. You both get muddy but the pig has more fun.

    Changes that we may personally detest are here to stay, so we usually confine ourselves to understanding and describing them, because railing against them is pretty much useless.
    So true!
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

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