According to standard grammar, “they” and its related forms can only agree with plural antecedents. But English sorely lacks a gender-neutral singular third-person pronoun, and “they” has for centuries been pressed into service for that purpose, much to the grammarians’ chagrin. Now, it seems, those who have held the line against singular “they” may be easing their stance.
“They” most often turns singular in common usage when its antecedent is considered generic, not referring to a single known person. Nearly everyone would find that they can stomach the “they” in this very sentence, agreeing with “nearly everyone.”
Things get trickier when the antecedent of “they” more clearly refers to one person. Areader of this column may not like what they see in this sentence, for instance.
Wednesday, December 30, 2015
WHOEVER DISAGREES WITH THIS IS OUT OF THEIR MIND: The Web of Language blog has named the singular they as its word of the year. As Ben Zimmer reported for the WSJ back in April:
Posted by Adam at 4:19 PM