Is Singular They Grammatically Correct?

The other day I was talking to my friend, and they were talking about how silly it is what lengths people will go just to be horrible to each other. Like you probably didn’t even notice that I used “they” in singular just now, and yet people are still wasting their time and energy saying “he or she” and “him or her,” as if that’s “more grammatically correct.” Like… You can complain about how it’s not correct to use they and them in singular, but the thing is, you’re just flat out wrong.

People have been using the words in that way since the 1600s, and even Shakespeare was doing it. The problem you ACTUALLY have with it is the idea of using they or them to refer to a specific person. Consider the difference between these two sentences: “My friend says they love your cooking,” vs “Sam says they love your cooking.” In the first one, we can tell that “they” is referring to the friend. It’s always been used like this. It refers to either multiple people, or to a singular person whose gender is unknown or unimportant. The second sentence feels weird because we imagine that Sam should use “he” instead, so the “they” there looks like Sam is talking about some OTHER person or people.

THAT is what you mean when you say it’s not grammatically correct. It’s not the way you learned the word, but if you think about it, we can’t know if Sam is a boy or a girl (Samuel, or Samantha) and there’s always the possibility that Sam isn’t either. If Sam tells you that they use “they/them” pronouns, sure you CAN still refer to them with “he” or “she,” but you’re incorrect about that for even MORE reasons than you think. First of all, that’s not the pronouns they prefer, so you’re just being rude, second, even though singular they refers to a person whose gender is unknown or unimportant, and we DO know Sam’s gender, it just so happens that in this case, “they” also refers to that specific gender. We’ve had this gender-neutral pronoun for centuries, and have been using it just fine up until now. The fact that people of varying genders are using the word for themselves kinda makes sense. If you’re not “him” and you’re not “her” what are you? “Them.” The word is here. People are using it. Get used to it.

It might be awkward sounding to you at first, but you learned how to drive, or how to tie your shoes, or other things like that. Using “they” and “them” to refer to the people is a skill you just need to learn. I’m not going to pretend it was easy for me at first either, but it’s the difference between making someone feel loved, and actively hurting them. You don’t call your friends fat, you don’t use the r-word, and you don’t call someone “him” or “her” if those are the wrong words for them. It’s not about freedom of speech, or about people trying to tell you what to say or do. You CAN call people those things, but you’ll quickly find yourself losing friends. It’s way easier to just be a better person, and treat others with the same respect that you would expect from them. “Do unto others” and all that.

Happy International Pronouns Day.