Ever since I learned how to write, I’ve always been obsessed with having proper grammar. I studied journalism, worked at my university’s Writing Center, and publish written content four times a week outside of my job in marketing. I’ve even got a plaque on my desk that says “I am silently correcting your grammar.” (Sometimes I don’t correct it so silently.)
For a long time, using “they” and all of its variations in the singular really bothered me. It’s plural, so we shouldn’t be using it to describe one person, even if we don’t know the person’s gender. We just need a new, non-gender-specific word, right? Other languages have one, why can’t English?
Well, because it would be incredibly tedious to not only come up with a gender-neutral pronoun, but also for it to catch on with the general public. Instead, maybe we should just get off our high grammar horses and accept that it’s perfectly alright to use “they” for a single subject.
I’m lucky to be a cisgender woman. That is, I identify with the gender I was given at birth. However, not everyone does. They either I identify with the opposite gender, or they were born with both sets of sexual organs and their parents and / or doctors chose (often incorrectly) for them. These cases are where the pronoun “they” comes in most commonly. When a person decides to undergo surgery to change their sex, the pronoun “they” can help smooth the transition between the two, if needed.
In addition, some people simply prefer the pronoun “they” at all times, even if they are cisgender. And that’s just fine, too.
So how can you tell which pronoun someone prefers? It’s simple: ask them. It might be awkward, but it’s better to be a little uncomfortable for a minute or two than it is to be incorrectly using a pronoun for years without realizing it.
There is another, less confrontational option, though: you can check their Facebook page. Yup. Facebook has a spot for Preferred Pronoun. (You can also change your gender to Cisgender Female / Cisgender Male / etc, which I think is awesome.)
He, She, They: How to Publish Your Preferred Pronoun on Facebook
- Go to your profile and click “Update Info.”
- Click on “Contact and Basic Info” on the left-hand side and scroll down to “Basic Information.”
- Under “Gender,” select “Custom.” Type in your gender (you can still use Female or Male if you’d like), and choose your Preferred Pronoun from the drop-down menu.
Pretty awesome, right? I’m trying to be better about checking people’s preferred pronouns on their Facebook pages before assuming. It’s kinda hard to get used to, but it’s better than being rude.
Oh, and if you’re curious, my pronoun is she / her. But I wouldn’t be offended if anyone asked. What’s your pronoun?
I have pondered the same topic many times. I like the ole s/he!
Cynthia @ craftoflaughter.com
Brittany Bergman says
I’m a copyeditor by day, and the singular “they” drives me mad! I’m so ready for the English language to establish a gender-neutral singular pronoun. Writing around it or changing it to “his or her” often sounds terrible.
I just wish the grammar gods (AP, MLA, etc) would just make “they” an acceptable singular pronoun. People are doing it already, so just make it acceptable! 🙂 It’s like may vs. can.
Chastity Beene says
Good thing I don’t know any trans-gender people and have to deal with this! But I am so over being PC – people need to pull up their big boy pants and stop being offended by every little thing.
I don’t think it’s just a transgender issue–I know plenty of cisgender people who prefer they / them. 🙂
Erika Gibson says
Generally, people that ask to be referred to as “they/them” identify as genderfluid or non-binary, from what I’ve seen.
I think it’d be cool if we could introduce a singular, nongendered pronoun. It’s awful difficult to get around in writing if you’re discussing a group of people and one prefers “they/them”. BUT it is way, way better than misgendering them, regardless of any mild discomfort it may cause the rest of us.
Yes! Such a good point.
Shann Eva says
Wow…I never knew you could do that on Facebook. So cool. And I totally agree with you that’s it’s better to have improper grammar than offend someone.
I’m glad I’m not the only one! 🙂
Alicia | Jaybird Blog says
Glad you wrote about this! I’m a grammar stickler too, so “they” doesn’t automatically roll off the tongue for singular subjects, but til the language evolves it’s what we’ve got. I would much rather that I feel uncomfortable because I’m not used to using “they” as a singular, than someone who I’m talking to/about feel uncomfortable because I’m not speaking about them in a way that’s respectful and reflects how they identify.
I seriously second-guess my use of “they” all the time now! But oh well, better than the alternative.
Brooke Knipp says
I’ve been bothered by the clumsy ‘his or her’ ‘he or she’, etc., but it never occurred to me that we often just say ‘they’ in a singular way OR that that wasn’t correct. It would be nice if it was just changed to be correct!
Wouldn’t it?! I’m just waiting on the “powers that be” to just make it correct already. 😉
If you’re unsure of a person’s pronouns, you can always just use their preferred name or nickname. It seems like a such a simple thing, but it never occurred to me until I watched an episode of Catfish where a transgender person mentioned it.
That’s so smart! I never thought about that.
Trish Nicholas says
Who knew? Facebook is always coming up with new things 🙂 Thanks for the tip – there have been several times I didn’t know which to use!
Isn’t it awesome?! Facebook always impresses me.
A Life of Love and Joy says
I’m a bit of a grammar police, so I so appreciate this! As a teacher, grammatical errors drive me crazy. What drives me even crazier? When I MAKE THEM! LOL! Thanks for this post!
It still drives me nuts when I do it, but I keep it anyway so I don’t offend anyone! 🙂