They as Singular Pronoun––Is It Okay?
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|AP English Language and Composition||Grammar, Syntax, and Conventions of Written English|
|Comprehension and Inference||Referents of Pronouns|
|Grammar & Punctuation||Grammar|
prepare to beg for mercy Argh Too many options MERCY Here's the deal.
In grammar pairing a plural pronoun with a singular antecedent is a big no-no.
So our random teenager of unknown gender... ...who
really should not have been driving and eating tacos at the same time... ...should
never have anything to do with the plural pronoun they.
The problem is that using anything other than they feels weird.
For example we could say Random Teenager had the presence of mind to call his
parents after the wreck... ...but
we don't know that our random teenager is a guy.
In this case using his seems sexist.
Or what if we said Random teenager left the accident with nothing more than a
bump on his or her head.
Using his or her doesn't just sound weird but also complicated.
When you end up in this situation stuck with a singular antecedent of unknown gender
here's what you should do... ...avoid
the problem entirely by transforming that singular noun... ...into
a plural noun.
Say you have the sentence When a teenager gets in a wreck he or she
should call 911 immediately.
That sounds awkward so let's avoid the problem.
When teenagers get in wrecks they should call 911 immediately.
Or say you have the sentence When a police officer sees someone in trouble he
should drop that jelly donut and help.
That's sexism rearing its ugly head again so let's avoid the problem.
When police officers see someone in trouble they should drop their jelly donuts and help.
Maybe someday everyone will be on board with using they with a singular antecedent.
After all lots of folks already use they as a singular gender-neutral pronoun whether they
mean to or not.
However if your English teacher isn't in the they-is-okay camp... ...you
should do everything you can to avoid using they with a singular antecedent... ...and
going forward Random Teenager should avoid driving while eating. NOTE end of file