What Is The Singular 'They'?
Is 'They' a singular or a plural pronoun? The answer to this question used to be so easy. We would've said yes. But it's more complicated than that.
They, Singular or Plural
Language is a living thing. It's constantly changing because we are changing; because the world is changing.
Gender Awareness Revolution
After the gender awareness revolution taking place in the early 1900s, some people do not consider themselves as 'he' or 'she'. They are called non-binary people.
Most of the non-binary people chose to be called 'they'. But isn't the pronoun 'they' supposed to be a plural third-person pronoun?
The Singular They
The singular 'they' is the newest arrival in the world of English pronouns. Its purpose is to be a gender-neutral third-person pronoun in English.
As you might have known already, we had 'he' to refer to male persons and animals and 'she' to refer to female persons and animals.
What Was Used Before The Singular They?
Before the introduction of the singular 'they', if we wanted to refer to people in general or if we didn't know the person was male or female, we used 'he', which was a problem from a feminist point of view.
Therefore, now we have a better alternative: we have the singular they to help us use language that includes men and women equally.
When Can We Use The Singular They?
We use the singular 'they' to refer to:
- a generic person with unknown or unidentified gender
- a specific, known person who explicitly prefers 'they' as their pronoun
The Singular They: Plural or Singular Verb?
When 'they' is the subject of a sentence, whether it is the singular 'they' or plural 'they', you must use plural verbs. Never say or write 'they
is.' Always use 'are' with this pronoun.