Pro-Human Extremist

Extremism in the defense of humanity is no vice

Grammar notes

with 3 comments

They, their, and them have for centuries been used not only as third-person plural pronouns, but also as third-person singular pronouns where the gender of the person is not specified. If you doubt this, please consult the Oxford English Dictionary, which gives examples of that usage by respected writers. If you think that this usage produces subject/verb disagreement, then I have to conclude that you are simply not paying attention. I say all this because the use of they, their, and them as third-person singular pronouns is a simple, elegant way of being gender-inclusive without resorting to mouthfuls like he or she, he/she, or s/he.

While we’re at it, there’s absolutely no reason that good English sentences can’t end in prepositions, or that infinitives can’t be split when it aids expression. If you’d like to read intelligent, historically informed discussions of these and other usage bugaboos, I highly recommend Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage.


Written by Joel Benington

May 23, 2011 at 3:07 pm

3 Responses

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  1. […] to increase another person’s utility enough that the new combination of our consumption and their utility that has a higher utility for us. If we can buy enough increase in their utility at a low […]

  2. Hi Joel. I did not know that they, their and them could be used in the third person singular. I find this exciting news given my distaste for the awkwardness of any he/she combination, and also my own bugaboo that he is usually listed first. Your note provides a gender inclusive alternative. I will have to try it out in my own writing. Thank you.


    June 23, 2011 at 6:39 pm

  3. I must admit I had to look up the examples to see whatyou mean. And yes, once you read them it actually sounds familiar (even for me – and English is not my native language).

    Here are the examples (to spare other the googling)

    “ask someone if they could help”
    “how well do you have to know someone before you call them a friend?”
    “she heard someone blow their nose loudly”

    Thanks for the insight.

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