On Gendered Pronouns and Singular “They” (Some Thoughts)

The OWL Purdue Writing Center has some interesting material on gendered pronouns and the use of – they.





See https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/grammar/pronouns/gendered_pronouns_and_singular_they.html for details such as:

“Knowing that ‘they’ can be used to refer to individual people allows writers to avoid defaulting to he in regular use. It is also important for people whose genders are neither male nor female. In the words of the Chicago Manual (17th ed.), ‘Some people identify not with a gender-specific pronoun but instead with the pronoun they and its forms or some other gender-neutral singular pronoun; any such preference should generally be respected.”

The site goes on to address issues of grammar shifts and how we are “witnessing a reorientation of the rule, mostly with the intention of including more people in language.” OWL further states the following.

“When individuals whose gender is neither male nor female (e.g. nonbinary, agender, genderfluid, etc.) use the singular they to refer to themselves, they are using the language to express their identities. Adopting this language is one way writers can be inclusive of a range of people and identities.”

Is this political? That is a question posed at the OWL site and addressed in part with the following statement.

“Conversations around gender and sexuality have always been political, as Dr. John d’Emilio, Professor of History and Gender and Women’s Studies Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago…”

We can consider, however, to move to gender-inclusive language and gender-neutral pronouns not just to be politically correct. The move should be to include everyone in our writing and to be in step with bodies and organizations such as the Chicago Manual Style and the Associated Press (AP) style book as “both announced that they will be accepting they/them/their as an example of a singular and/or gender-neutral pronoun” as reported at the OWL site. 

By Jeanette Evans