Usage of "They" as a Singular Pronoun? Absolutely Yes!


I’m an English teacher.  A college English teacher.  And I have a confession.  In my students’ writing, I don’t correct the erroneous usage of “they” when it is used to create a gender-neutral pronoun for a singular subject. I’ve never admitted this to my colleagues; when this is even hinted at, there are audible gasps at faculty meetings. To me it’s important for two reasons.  A living language needs to evolve. In American speech, it is common to use a singular “they” instead of an awkward “he or she” or a biased “he” to refer to all genders. In fact, I would argue that the primary usage of a singular "they" in speech is an effort by the speaker to be fair. However, the singular “they” is an effortless effort. It feels and sounds natural—so much so that it flies under the radar of even the most adamant PC opponents. This leads to the second and more important reason: using a singular “they” allows the language to be inclusive.  Alternative usages have been created to try to tackle the lack of a gender-neutral singular pronoun (such as only using the the feminine pronoun in the same way that the masculine pronoun was used in the past). However, this doesn't create inclusivity.   It is rare to see the singular “they” embraced in academic circles. The necessity of inclusion has been pared down for the last decade or so, but as meaningful societal conversations regarding the trans community become more common, English teachers should also examine their rigidity in regards to this. Having witnessed first-hand the abject resistance to the singular “they” in otherwise forward-thinking people who value critical thought, I am dumbfounded by this. So I am making a public declaration in favor of the use of the singular “they,”and I encourage all English teachers and writers to do the same.