Using “They” As A Universal Singular Pronoun

Inhabitatio Dei finds some precedents with clout for using “they” rather than “he” or “she” as a pronoun for a general human being without gender specified:

Here are just a few samples of “they” being used as a universal singular pronoun in Western literature:

— Shakespeare: and every one to rest themselves betake;
— Jane Austen: I would have everybody marry if they can do it properly;
— W. H. Auden: it is too hideous for anyone in their senses to buy;
— Shakespeare: ’tis meet that some more audience than a mother, since nature makes them partial, should o’erhear the speech;
— W. M. Thackeray: a person can’t help their birth;
— G. B. Shaw: no man goes to battle to be killed. — But they do get killed;

– From Merriam Webster

All this to say, using “they” as a universal singular pronoun is not bad English whatsoever, nor is it grammatically problematic. Strangely then, it seems to me that the only reason for rejecting a grammatically-appropriate gender-accurate pronoun in favor of a male one would be . . . ideological. Imagine that.

As a huge fan of they’s ability to get the job done without sexist connotations, I am delighted to see these examples of the usage’s long history.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.