She vs. They

In writing academically or speaking formally, it is important that you don’t distinguish between genders. Here we will learn how!

"She" vs. "They" in the English Grammar

Why Should We Care Which One to Choose?

In modern day, it has become quite important to use language in such a way that includes both men and women without distinguishing between genders.
Since English has gender-specific pronouns (for example, he, she, his, hers, etc.), it is hard being neutral and implicit about gender.

Singular 'They'

Until recent years, there were no personal pronouns that could refer to someone without identifying whether that person was male or female.
But now, this problem is solved by the introduction of 'singular they'.

When Can We Use Singular They?

Instead of using 'he' or 'she', we can use the singular 'they' for referring to:

  1. a generic person with unknown or unidentified gender
  2. a specific, known person who explicitly prefers 'they' as their pronoun

Non-Binary People

People who do not identify themselves as either male or female (non-binary people) usually prefer to be referred to as they.

Alex loves to travel. They take perfect pictures from their sightseeing.

'Alex' is a non-binary person, that's why we use the pronoun 'they' to refer to Alex.

Unknown or Unidentified Gender

Sometimes we do not know the gender of a person or their gender is irrelevant. In this case, it's best to use 'they' as their pronoun.
This is true, especially when the pronoun 'they' is used to refer back to an indefinite pronoun, like 'anyone', 'everyone', etc.

If anyone says a word, they'll regret it.

The doctor is not to blame. They are only doing their job.

What Was Once a Generic Pronoun?

'She' is used to refer to a female person or animal. In other words, 'she' is the feminine subject pronoun.
In the past, 'he' was considered a generic pronoun and was used to refer to both men and women (to people in general).

I just met your mom and dad. She's a delight and he's a hoot!

The poet can write whatever he wants.

Why Singular They?

Nowadays, it may sound sexist to use the pronoun 'he' for an unidentified or unknown person. That's why many writers choose 'the singular they' to refer to them.

The poet can write whatever they want.

Other Alternatives

Some people prefer to use he or she instead of 'they' in speech and writing:

I say someone trying to break through. Whether he or she was successful I don't know.

You can also use He/she or (s)he to avoid gender specificity. But keep in mind that your best choice is still 'they'.

I say someone trying to break through. Whether they were successful I don't know.

'They' also refers to people in general, no matter man or woman.

As they say, what goes around, comes around.

Singular They: Plural or Singular Verb?

Always use plural verbs when the subject of your sentence is 'they'. Use 'are' with either singular or plural 'they'.


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