Singular They?

August 18, 2011

in Writing Style

Every time I use “they” to refer to an individual it feels strange. Occasionally I use he/she, depending what I am writing and on the frequency of the reference in that particular paragraph.

However, it does feel weird writing:

“A person can still feel lonely even if they have company. They may simply be surrounded by the wrong people”.

They refers to more than one, so why the bleep do we all use it as a singular pronoun, I hear you ask. Well, that’s just the modern world I am afraid. Don’t feel guilty about it because it’s perfectly acceptable.

However, if you think this is nuts and don’t want to fall into this trap of poor grammar, then you may choose to use an alternative writing technique to correct the sentence.

The Male Gender

In past times writers have referred solely to the male gender, for example:

“A person can still feel lonely even if they have company. He may simply be surrounded by the wrong people”.

Using an Indefinite Article in Place of a Pronoun

“A person can still feel lonely even with company. It may be the case that a person is simply surrounded by the wrong people”.

Restructure The Sentence to Plural Form

“People can still feel lonely with company. A person may simply be surrounded by the wrong people”.

All the above formats are acceptable, and you may choose at will. However, don’t point the finger at someone for using “they” as a singular pronoun, because they are well within their rights to do so…sorry couldn’t resist ending like that!

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