Resurrection of Singular "they"

cx8   Thu Nov 29, 2007 2:11 am GMT
>> Because of this, normal speakers reading a work in which 'he' has been used in such a way will (a) find it difficult to decipher the base meaning, (b) make an assumption about the gender of the individual in question (which ruins the meaning the writer wants to convey), or (c) perhaps be offended.

Yeah right, I don't think a reader would do any of the above. In many books written in the 1800s, "he" is used in this manner. I highly doubt that a reader would find it "difficult to decipher the base meaning", or make an assumption "about the gender of the individual in question"--especially if it is clear that the passage refers to a group with both males and females, or refers to all mankind.
Lazar   Thu Nov 29, 2007 3:29 am GMT
I think the point that should be made in response to cx9 is that for most English speakers today, singular they is simply the most natural pronoun, and epicene he seems stilted and archaic. Some prescriptivists would have us believe that singular they is some PC innovation that's being foisted on us by feminists, when in reality it's been in use for centuries and has nothing to do with gender politics.
Guest   Fri Nov 30, 2007 12:08 am GMT
What about s/he?
Jon   Fri Nov 30, 2007 12:23 am GMT
The beautiful part is, though, if we make 'they' an official singular pronoun, we can also start using it with singular verbs.

I saw the criminal; they was wearing a mask, so I didn't get a look at their face.

This will someday be a completely grammatical sentence in English! :-) (hopefully)

Marc   Fri Nov 30, 2007 3:02 am GMT
Well, here's how I tend to do it. In speech, I tend to use the following constructions:

I use the singular "he":
"I ask that each student bring his notebook to class to-morrow."
or, if I phrase it as a plural:
"I ask that all students bring their notebooks to class to-morrow."
but not:
*"I ask that each student bring their notebook to class to-morrow."
which sounds stilted and awkward to me.

I would also not say the following from Iain's sentences:
*"If the judge decides you are guilty, what can you say to them? "
*"OK. A prescriptivist wrote and I answered them."

I would use the singular "he".

I almost always use the singular "he", unless something refers specifically to a woman, or only applies to women in general in which case I use the singular "she". I would never purposely use "they", unless I made a plural construction. I also never use monstrosities like "he or she" or "he/she", etc. In fact, while reading books, I usually simply cross off such annoying constructions.
Iain   Fri Nov 30, 2007 10:59 am GMT
The 'judge' sentence was just a little experiment (and the 'prescriptist' one too) - no offence or condescension intended at all.
The singular 'they' and 'them' fits easily into many situations but I wondered how the examples I wrote 'felt' - a close contrast with 'a' and 'them' - and more particulary how 'them' suited a genderless noun (judge) that in at least British culture still has strong 'male' associatons.
How do the sentences 'feel' to others?