Submitted by Hairy Scot  •  June 10, 2012

Use of “their” as a genderless singular?

We often hear sentences like:- “Your teen is more at risk while on their restricted licence” where “their” appears as a means of combining “his” and “her”. Although there may be nothing wrong in this, it does sound a bit strange.

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Something like this appeared in the newspaper in England this week: "Our son lost their keys". Intrigued, sort of, a little but not much, one reads on, to find out whose keys he lost and what they would do to him ... and yes: he had lost his own keys. Sloppy, no?

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Does having a pet peeve about how certain words are used (or misused) qualify one for membership in the "grammar police"?
So far in this thread I have seen no evidence of anyone claiming that the use of "their" in the given context is wrong, only that it sounded strange.
Based on what I have seen in this forum "descriptivists" can be just as dogmatic and pedantic as "prescriptivists".
Does that mean that they are "the anti-grammar police"?

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@D.A.W - if singular they is so awful, what about singular you, or do say thee and thou? And now apparently, anybody one who doesn't agree with your quaint ideas about how language works is an 'argumentative weenie'.

As Goofy said, singular they is as old as the hills and originally had little to do with political correctness; it's just very useful after such impersonal pronouns as anybody, somebody etc and other occasions when you don't know the person's gender. - If anyone calls while I'm out, can you get them to call me back - natural, efficient, uncontrived (unlike, for example, alternating he and she) - you redundancy-haters should love it!.

Singular they was used by Jane Austen, amongst other literary greats, and was completely uncontroversial till a certain Anne Fisher (1719-78) decided that he should replace they as a universal pronoun. But times have moved on and as the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary says:

'He used to be considered to cover both men and women: Everyone needs to feel he is loved. This is not now acceptable. Instead, after everybody, everyone, anybody, anyone, somebody, someone, etc. one of the plural pronouns they, them, and their is often used.'

And that includes by the British government in, for example, passport application documents. Of course we English, Scots and Irish don't want to get rid of singular and plural or articles; that's simply a daft idea. (And why the Welsh get off scot-free?). Singular they is perfectly normal, natural English, and now that even Associated Press, the final bastion of resistance, has finally relented and accepted singular they, surely it is time to put this shibboleth to rest.

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The notion that "they" is gender-free is bandied about a bit, but I can see no good reason for promoting gender-free. Take other languages: in French he and she are rendered as il and elle, 'they' is ils or elles depending on gender, and there is no gender-free way to do it. The French are not freaked by this at all, and furthermore use 'son' 'sa' and 'ses' as his or her and use 'leur' or 'leurs' for 'their' depending on the gender and number of the things owned and not the owner (so son chat is his cat or her cat: son is masculine because chat is masculine). As the Frenchman famously cried out in protest when the Assemblee Nationale discussed for some reason the promotion of gender-free, "Vive la difference"!

An example of the sloppy use of language: In the UK we have to hear answer-phone reports that "the caller withheld their number" leaving you wondering for a moment which people had their number withheld and what right the caller had to do this until you realise it refers to the singular caller's own number. Very irritating, really

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I read in today's UK Sunday Telegraph this account in that paper they published 20 years ago about "political 'correctness' :

" Political correctness, the insistence on ideologically filtered English that has taken hold of universities in the United States, has hit Britain. Lecturers at one of the country's newest universities want to make it a disciplinary offence to use 'unsound' words denoting gender, race or sexual orientation. Staff at Middlesex University (formerly Polytechnic) have brought out a working group paper calling for a ban on the use of nouns such as 'shepherdess' and 'mistress'. Lecturers who say 'charwoman' instead of 'charworker' could find themselves in trouble." - June 1992.

Did this stuff really take root in the USA, the Land of the Free, just as authoritarianism came to a failed end in communist Europe in 1989 ?

Do you suppose we say "they" when we mean "he" and so forth because of political correctness, and if we do, why do we do that?

For a good laugh I recommend googling 'political correctness' - all the entries are hilarious and they say or hint that it is arrant nonsense.

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I too prefer to maintain a diplomatic silence on that subject.

Rather than Morocco-bound I may be hidebound.

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I just found a number of references to this in the "Pled versus Pleaded" thread.

Apparently it is a pet peeve for a number of people.

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Webster's was mentioned in song by Bing and Bob, who at the time, like the dictionary, were Morocco-bound. They were diplomatically silent about their opinion of its content.

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Remember that MWDEU is not the same publication as Webster's Third dictionary.

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I suspect that any publication on the English Language that contains the name Webster is likely to be viewed with some scepticism in certain quarters.
This may be because of the influence of such publications on spell checkers.
For example: why is the word scepticism in my post flagged with a red underline.

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I don't know why "scepticism" is flagged but I don't think it has anything to do with Noah Webster.

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Spell checker was using default setting of ENG-US.
Problem disappeared when I changed to ENG-GB.

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But that doesn't mean "skeptic" was a spelling reform proposed by Noah Webster. I don't think it was; the "sk" spelling predates Webster, it's the only spelling in Johnson's dictionary.

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Jasper's remarks:

'Popular? One day ..?' Is that not what I am railing against? That is exactly what I say we don't want! What is genderless about a person? A person is male or female, masculine or feminine, and there is nothing genderless about that.

'More convenient?' = lazy. "One day may become acceptable ..." means that day has not yet come, and I say, put off that day until nothing matters any more anyway, when there is no further need for discussion of standards in English and we all just give up!

It isn't acceptable yet, and long may things stay that way. Prescriptivist? What? My dictionary says that means "sanctioned by long-standing custom" and "giving direction, rules, or injunctions". Oh yes, that sounds good to me. What else would you want on a site like this?

"Did everybody leave early because he wasn't enjoying himself?" Oh no: "Did everybody leave early because they weren't enjoying themselves?". 'Everybody' is a plural concept surely? How could it conceivably be singular = one person = everybody?? In itself the word means something like "each and every individual" which is singular, but the idea behind it: I do not think so!
That example given would indeed be pure pedantry; I am grumbling about statements, in considered, published prose as in newspapers, such as " The father told his son to take their football into the garden". Whose football, hey?

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Brus,

Everybody is a singular subject and so takes on a singular verb that is why they/them/their is used; there is whole case load of pronouns you would think should take a plural verb but don't. I agree with you that 'they' shouldn't completely take the spot of he/she/it but in certain cases when the gender is unknown or when someone is being general. I would agree with you that the use of they/them/their when the antecedent is completely and utterly known is ridiculous and stupid.

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Oops: "...that is why they/them/their is used." That should be "shouldn't be used."

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I thought the sloppy use of "their" to refer to singular people was restricted to people, but tonight on television on a light-hearted chat show there appeared a pneumatic young starlet whose name I did not catch, who told us about the time she went swimming with a dolphin, which she referred to constantly as "they" and "them" and "their". Just the one dolphin, mind. I had supposed this apparent idleness of thought (failing to think singular/plural) is usually, when referring to people, perhaps owed to political correctness (must not offend female by referring to default masculine he/him/his, as the French do - 'ils' for they, etc) but if this extends to offending dolphins then, oh dear, ... But in fact it is just sloppy language, no? If it were a one-off example it would hardly matter at all, but it is endemic now.

Would it not have been natural to use "it" when telling folk about the time you swam with a dolphin, unless somehow you were aware of its actual gender, if it mattered.

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Note: "Strict adherence to the rule of pronoun-antecedent agreement may lead to a construction so absurd that no one would use it:
"Did everybody leave early because he wasn't enjoying himself?"

There is a serious problem here: "Everybody" is plural.

However, "Everyone" is singular.
"Did everyone leave early because he wasn't enjoying himself?" makes perfect sense.
D.A.W.

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Fallacious thinking raises its ugly head again:

"If the fact that good English writers do it doesn't make it correct, then what does make it correct?"

The fallacy is that of thinking that English exists in a vacuum - that it is self-contained and it has no relationships with any othr language.

On the contrary, one needs to look at the relationships between English and all of the other western Indo-European languages, e.g. Danish, Dutch, Frisaian, French, German, Italian, Latin, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish, and Spanish.We do not have to copy how those languages do things, but we should take input from the way they do. Holy cow, we might even learn something useful. We might even learn something useful from Greek and Sanskrit.

I am amazed by those who think that English exists in isolation. They even want to announce this faulty thinking to the world. Else, they want to jump onto one forrign language, such as French. I never said this: I said to consider a large set of languages right in the preceeding paragraph.
D.A.W.

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The word "one" is singular by definition, and so is any word that ends in "one", except for some spurious words. Here are the good ones:

anyone, everyone, lone, none, one, tone

The word "tone" is included because a tone is a sound or a radio wave that consists of only one frequency. For more about this, see the famous "sommunicating with the aliens" scene from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, which was set at the Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming.

I am sure that you can find some spurious words that do not have anything to do with the concept of unity (one). Let's start with abalone, bone, crone, done, hone, phone, shone, stone, telephone, zone.

D.A.W.

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"it does sound a bit strange."
NO, not so. It sounds and looks extremely strange.

Also, some of you deal in a little bit of the history of French or Middle English, but you are not going back nearly far enough. You need to go back 3,000 or 4,000 years into the very roots of the Indo-European languages and see how things were done then.
There were singular pronouns and there were plural pronouns, and no confusion between the two -- and also if you went back far enough, there were DUAL pronouns.
Yes, pronouns and verbs for individuals (animate and inanimate), pronouns and verbs for pairs, pronouns and verbs for groups larger than two.

For modern Indo-European langages, I think that all of them have disposed of dual.
A good modern language for you to think of is German, which has masculine, feminine, and neuter for singular items, but for more than one, everything is just "plural", and these use plural pronouns, plural verbs, and plural forms of the adjectives. Wow, this really simplified all of the declensions and conjugations for the plural, but then we have to struggle with everything for the singular ones. Also, predicate adjectives do not have any declensions, either.

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In English, we need to either create a singular sexless pronoun, or to use the traditional ones for a person of unknown sex, which are {he, him, his}.
There is no reason other than laziness for grabbing plural pronouns and trying to make them singular.
We have a huge amount of ignorace around the work concerning people who do not know how to conjugate third-person singular verbs in the present tense.
I have even told people, "These all end in 's'," but then five minutes later they have messed it up again. For the regular verbs, it is very easy to put the "s" in the right place, and then for the really irregular verbs, we have these in the third person singular:
is, has, does, gives, lays.

Here are nearly all of the exceptions: can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would. Actually, I have included some extras because I have included several in the subjunctive mood, such as "could", which is a past-tense form.
D.A.W.

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"...and English grammar needs to correspond with that of most of these other languages..."

Why? Why must English have to follow the rules of other languages? Is because you don't see English as a language in its own right?

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No one is trying to get rid of singular and plural. I, and some others, just want "their" to have an exception to the rule.

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Despite what the grammar police might say, it's actually fine to use "their" as a singular pronoun. ... Ask the editor: http://www.merriam-webster.com/video/0033-hishe...

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Still waiting to hear from Dale A Wood on whether he is the same Dale A Wood who has degrees from Auburn, Georgia Tech, and the University of Alabama, who used to be with the Department of Technology at Northern Illinois University, and who has published a number of papers on various subjects (such as "Adaptive competitive self-organizing associative memory"). I am beginning to think the DA Wood on this page is a fraud who claims those degrees when he doesn't have them.

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@Mediator ... Hinges on the validity of the pet peeve. Many of them are rooted on so-called grammar rules that pedants hav either made up (like not ending a sentence with a preposition) or it fits their way of think of how it SHOULD be rather than how it is.

I'll say that it may seem a bit klutzy at times but 'they' and 'they' can be noted for the singular neuter just as someone and none can be noted for the plural. It's an oddity of the tung. Better than writing s/he or his/hers all the time.

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@AnWulf
Does a "pet peeve" have to be valid, and who determines its validity?
In common with many others, I have a fair number of what might be termed "pet peeves", some of which I will admit are a result of bias or of my interpretation of what is and is not correct in the English language.
That these "pet peeves" are shared by a number of others may or may not lend them validity.
You have in past threads noted some of your own "pet peeves".
Your statement "it fits their way of think of how it SHOULD be rather than how it is."
applies equally to the anti-pedants as well as the pedants.
There are those who adopt a contrary opinion just for the sake of doing so.
That English has some gray areas certainly adds to the beauty and flexibility of the language, but there must surely be some basic rules otherwise we would have chaos.
Do we want to end up as jive talking text speaking hip-hoppers with horrendous spelling and pronunciation and no concept of grammar?

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The use of "they" originally had nothing to do with political correctness. "They" has been used as a common-gender common-number pronoun since the 1300s, and this use has continued until today. It is well-established.

http://books.google.ca/books?id=2yJusP0vrdgC&am...

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As goofy says the use of "they" and its derivatives as a common gender singular pronoun has been around for quite some time.
This is in fact documented in a number of sources.
It would be nice to see these sources quoted in addition to Merriam-Webster if only as recognition that M-W is not the definitive authority on the English language.
However these facts do not make the example I originally quoted sound any less strange.

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If you have other references, link to them. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage is my favourite. MWDEU is not the definitive authority on the English language. There is no such thing.

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My point is don't blame every variant spelling or Americanism on Webster, and don't lump books together just because they're published by the same company.

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I'll concede that Noah is not responsible for "skeptic".
As for sources I prefer the the OED, which many consider definitive.
It has this to say about sceptic/skeptic :-
Etymology: < French sceptique adj. and n., or its source late Latin scepticus (Scepticī n. plural, the Sceptics), lit. inquiring, reflective, assumed by the disciples of Pyrrho as their distinctive epithet; < σκεπ- in σκέπτεσθαι to look out, consider, ablaut-var. of σκοπ- in σκοπεῖν to look, σκοπός watchman, mark to aim at, etc.: see scope n.2 Compare Spanish escéptico, Portuguese sceptico, Italian scettico, German skeptiker n., skeptisch adj.

In French the sc is pronounced /s/ as in sceptre . In English direct recourse to Greek produced the pronunciation with /sk/ . The spelling with sk- , for which compare skeleton n., occurs in the earliest instance, and has been used occas. by later writers. It is adopted without comment or alternative in Johnson's Dictionary, but did not become general in England; in the U.S. it is the ordinary form. Now usually spelt sceptic in the U.K. and British Commonwealth and skeptic in the U.S. Similarly all the derivatives, scepticism/skepticism, etc.

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Sorry for my lateness ... I'v lost the link to the web at the house and I live in the hinterlands ... so I only get online about once every week or so. No solution in sight for the problem either.

Valid: having a sound basis in logic or fact. If the pet peeve has a sound basis in logic or fact then it is "valid". Not splitting the infinitiv or not having dangling prepositions were tries to put Latin grammar rules onto English ... just two of the many tries to "Latinize" English. Those pet peeves are not "valid" since they hav no basis.

There are a lot of grAy :) areas in English. Different than or different from is a gray area. The tung grows and changes as these gray areas grow or shrink. Noting "they" and "their" as a singular with the gender of the person is unknown has a long history. It's well understood.

OR ... Go with the Elverson pronouns for the singular they: ey, eir, em (just drop the 'th') ... or Spivak pronouns: e, eir, em.

Anent spelling, sked is in the Oxford Dict. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/sked

Next step, for Americans ... skedule!

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I'm sorry but using they, them, and their when referring to an genderless singular is not a bad thing, except maybe to prescriptivists. Consulting my Warriner:

"In conversation, you may find it more convenient to use a plural personal pronoun when referring to singular antecedents that can be either masculine or feminine. This form is increasingly popular in writing as well and may someday become acceptable as standard written English."

And:

"Strict adherence to the rule of pronoun-antecedent agreement may lead to a construction so absurd that no one would use it:
Did everybody leave early because he wasn't enjoying himself?"

All in all, why can't a plural personal pronoun be used in certain genderless singular pronoun cases? I wouldn't call it lazy to add an addendum to the pronoun they.

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There is a "long-standing custom" to use "they" as a common-gender, common-number pronoun. It's been used for 700 years with antecedents like "everybody", "who", and nouns that can apply to either gender, for instance:

There's not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend
- Shakespeare, Comedy of Errors

I would have everybody marry if they can do it properly - Austen, Mansfield Park, 1814

...every fool can do as they're bid - Jonathan Swift, Polite Conversations

A person can't help their birth - Thackeray, Vanity Fair

However, a usage where the antecedent's identity has been established, like "The father told his son to take their football into the garden", seems to be newer and is not yet standard.

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goooofy says that there is a "long-standing custom" to use "they" as a common-gender, common-number pronoun. It's been used for 700 years with antecedents like "everybody" (discussed above) , "who" (which is plural when referring to a plural antecedent, as in 'people who', and nouns that can apply to either gender, he says, and quotes Shakespeare, who is not exactly well known for his adherence to the grammatical rules of English.

"There's not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend"

I would have everybody marry if they can do it properly - Austen, Mansfield Park, 1814

...every fool can do as they're bid - Jonathan Swift, Polite Conversations

A person can't help their birth - Thackeray, Vanity Fair

Now, I am reminded of the priest/minister/clergyman/vicar who each Sunday lectures his congregation on the evils of alcoholic drink, until one Sunday, wearying of this annoying crusade, an ancient member of his congregation calls out "did not the good Lord turn the water into wine at the wedding at Cena?" and was met with the instant retort from the pulpit "Aye, he did, and we don't think any the better of him for it". I feel much the same about the 'authorities' quoted by gooofy above.

It is all part of the slippery slope. As the man says, the horrors such as the football, son, father example seems "newer and not yet standard". Not yet! When it is, I shall emigrate to France, where they have a committee to prevent such atrocities against their own language, and the wine is cheaper.

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English grammar was not taught until the 1800s, I think. So the fact that Shakespeare didn't adhere to prescriptive rules is not relevant - there was no such thing as prescriptive grammar at the time.

If the fact that good English writers do it doesn't make it correct, then what does make it correct? Why does an ipse dixit prescription have more weight than centuries of usage by good writers who presumably knew what they were doing?

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The idea that singular "they" is incorrect is based on the mistaken notion that syntax and semantics must line up exactly.

But they don't. Here is an example that shows that semantic number and syntactic number don't have to match.

Everyone knows each other.

In this sentence, "everyone" is syntactically singular but semantically plural, and "each other" is semantically plural. "Each other" requires a semantically plural antecendent: we can say "they know each other" but we can't say "*He knows each other." So how is this any different from

Everyone knows themselves.

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=89

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Brus,

The slippery slope argument relies on fallacious logic.

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@Brus

How about "To turn a fox into a dog your marry it/her"?

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DA Wood, both "everybody" and "everyone" are syntactically singular but notionally plural.
"Did everyone leave early because he wasn't enjoying himself?" might make sense to you, but it is standard English to write "Did everyone/everybody leave early because they weren't enjoying themselves?"

http://books.google.ca/books?id=2yJusP0vrdgC&am...

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I agree whole hearedtly with the following:

"Popular? One day ..?" Is that not what I am railing against? That is exactly what I say we don't want! What is genderless about a person? A person is male or female, masculine or feminine, and there is nothing genderless about that.

"More convenient?" = lazy. "One day may become acceptable .." means that day has not yet come, and...

1. Yes, doing things simply because they are popular is no way live a life. It is simply a way of living without any principles.
2. "More convenient" is very often simply the lazy and unthinking person's way out.

We must note that whatever covenient ways we have of dealing with numbers have taken a great deal of deep thought to create. Even things that seem trivial now, such as the number "zero", the equal sign, negative numbers, and "simple" algebra took a lot of effort and thinking to work out. For example, the Ancient Greeks and the Ancient Romans never had anything similar to them.

D.A.W.

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Correction: no way to live a life

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i believe i have never used "their" as a singular or all-purpose word to replace his or her.

--every student should take their books when leaving the room.-- is unacceptable on any paper turned in to me (Jane Austin, above, notwithstanding).

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D. A. Wood,

In correct, formal grammar everyone and everybody are singular subjects and if we followed it precisely to the dot everyone/everybody and they/them/their would never occur. If you question the nominative singularity of those words, then please consult a grammar book on subject-verb agreement, and you will find that it states everyone/everybody is a singular subject.

On the popular thing, yeah, some things may be popular, but that doesn't mean they're wrong, just as saying that obscure things are right.

As for laziness, it's a hassle to get everyone who speaks English to agree to change the holy rules of English. Prescriptivists feel that you'd be desecrating the language by making an exception. Oh, here's a news flash: English is full of exceptions. And doesn't language emerge because of popular consensus, primarily for communication? Can we even call our language a language considering that numerous things are contested?

In regards, to English in isolation, sure we have borrowed things in the past, but I'm sure we're far enough along to clearly classify English grammar as its own and that qualified writers know what they're doing.

And finally, I don't think the use of they/them/their is really more about not having a singular pronoun that refers to either or both masculine, feminine, or unknown sex antecedents, so if you want to create the pronoun, fine by me, but have fun getting prescriptivists to agree with you!

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@steve3 - so perhaps you should read this from linguist Gabe at Motivated Grammar:

http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/2009/09/1...

Or this at MWDEU - http://books.google.pl/books?id=2yJusP0vrdgC&am...

Or this compendium of examples from literature taken from the OED and elsewhere - http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/sgtheirl.html

Or Oxford Dictionaries Online - http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/englis...

I bet you don't accept the passive either. But I'm sure you know best.

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Jaspar, et al, When it comes to our language, this certainly applies;

"Man's reach must exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for?"
quoted from Robert Browning.

So many of you are definitely apologists for the concept of not trying very hard.
D.A.W.

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So, "English is full of exceptions."?
Well, let's endeavor to stamp out as many of them as we can, just like elephants do with their feet. We will never get all of the exceptions, but:

"Man's reach must exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for?"
D..A.W.

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@Jasper

Your use of "In regards, to English ... " certainly illustrates that you are one of those who are too lazy to think of how to properly use the language.

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Perfect Pedant, I agree completely:
The whole expression "In regards to ...", with or without the comma, REEKS of both laziness and wordiness. It REEKS !
D.A.W.

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The idea that we should consider how things work in other languages when we are talking about how English works sounds very much like the etymological fallacy to me.

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@goofy

Other languages?

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Listen up! "Webster's" or "Webster's Dictionary" is NOT a company in the United States. "Webster's" is not even a trademark here. "Webster's" lost all such status a long time ago, and any company can use it -- and a lot of different companies DO SO.

The word "Webster's" has lost all of its legal status in the U.S., just as "aspirin" has -- this is a generic, common noun here. This is in contrast with Canada and several other major countries where "Aspirin" is still a registered trademark.

"Bayer" is another confusing one. The U.S. Government confiscated the trademark "Bayer" from the German and Austrian companies during World War I. Bayer here became an American company. I will leave it up to you to puzzle out the details, but within the last 10 years or so, the Bayer company in the U.S. might have been bought up by one or more European companies. Anyway, it is quite confusing.

Also, because of all of the legal complications, the word "Cola" can be used by two different companies in the United States: Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola. Otherwise, such things are not allowed because the use "Cola" by both would be trademark infringement. It is just one of those weird things that has developed in the court cases, and at the root of it was a period of time when the companies did not vigorously defend their trademarks.
D.A.W.

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Is that so? Oh dear. Oh well, never mind.

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D.A. Wood: Merriam-Webster is a company, and they publish Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, and Webster's Third New International dictionary.

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Like it or not, several other companies publish Webster's dictionaries, too.

The word "Webster's" is just as generic as "aspirin" is.
D.A.W.

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That's why you can't judge one Webster's publication on the basis of another Webster's publication, which was my point.

I mentioned Webster's Third because that's the dictionary that got a lot of people very angry and seems to be where a lot of the animosity towards the name "Webster" comes from.

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Repeating: There isn't any such thing as a "Webster's publication".
That is just a generic name, just like a "King James Bible".

On the other hand, there is such a thing as a "Doubleday" publication because that is the registered trademark of one company. The same goes for Random House, Harper Collins, etc.
"Merriam-Webster" could be a registered trademark of a company, too.
D.A.W.

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I will just leave it up to you to look up when "Webster's" ceased to be a registered trademark of the name of any publishing company whatever. This information can be found on the Internet. I just remember that it was a long, long time ago.

Any reference to a "Webster's dictionary" is very dubious because this does not tell you which company edited it, which one published it, etc.
D.A.W.

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Actually, Perfect Pedant, that was simple mistake on my part. You should clearly have understood that it was mistake. You can't tell me that all of your posts and writing come out flawless. I am pretty strict when it comes to grammar rules, but I refuse to adhere to what some people call orthodox without a decent reason as to why it should be that way. Unlike most people, I'm obsessed with being grammatically correct in my writing, not posts however.

Both you and D. A. Wood are the type pedants that I do not like.

We should remove the exceptions? That is plain stupid. And if you took out the exceptions, then the language would cease to grow and would become stagnant.

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To Goofy,

You have previously mentioned the starting period of teaching English grammar,any proofs? so who had amended it?

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D.A. Wood, I agree with you, but it's not really relevant to what I was talking about. Back when Brus and Hairy Scot started complaining about the name Webster, I assumed, perhaps wrongly, that they were referring to Webster's Third International. Webster's Third International and Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage are both published by the same company, which is named Merriam-Webster (although they weren't called Merriam-Webster when they published Webster's Third).

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DA Wood: "Well, let's endeavor to stamp out as many (exceptions) as we can, just like elephants do with their feet." Actually elephants are very careful not to do any such thing. They are terrified of mice, in case they trample on them. Or maybe it is just an aesthetic thing, finding squashed mice distasteful. We must be the same about exceptions, I suggest.

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Hey! I never complained about the name Webster. I just said that like Bing and Bob they were all Morocco-bound. So they were American. Bob wasn't really American, but he passed as one. The dictionary therefore one of American English, not proper English.

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"The dictionary therefore one of American English, not proper English."

1. English-speakers in North America have you FAR OUTNUMBERED. Therefore, anything about the common language of the British Isles is definitely a small minority viewpoint.

2. Bob Hope was a naturalized American citizen, and he resided in the United States for many more of his 100 years than he resided anywhere else. Furthermore, he was absorbed in American culture -- much more than people like Einstein, Fermi, Goedel, Von Neumann, etc., who remained Europeans in their hearts even when they were residing here.

D.A.W.

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Calling "Webster's Third International Dictionary" "Webster's dictionary" was definitely jumping to a conclusion. Like I said, "Webster's" is just a generic name that doesn't belond to anyone. You needed to state "Webster's Third International Dictionary published by company X", where you filled in the X with the right name.

It is just like the word "Cola" is not a registered trademark of anyone.
Then, very oddly now, "Coke" is a registered trademark, and so is "Pepsi".

That other kind of "coke" is either an illegal opiate OR it is a material (made from coal) that is used as a fuel for making iron and steel.
D.A.W.

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"goooofy says:
"The idea that we should consider how things work in other languages when we are talking about how English works sounds very much like the etymological fallacy to me."
D.A.W.replies, "complaints, complaints, complaints!" Naturally, you have never tried it, and not have you read about what linguists with Ph.D.s do.

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Correction: replace "not" with "nor".

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@goofy @D.A.W.

I did not complain about Webster's dictionaries or MWDEU, I merely pointed out that not everyone considers those publications to be a definitive source on matters relating to the English language and its use.
We all accept that there are differences between American English and the versions used in other English speaking countries.
What is perhaps not accepted is that being in the majority equates to being correct.
As an American friend of mine once pointed out,
"Your lot may have invented the language, but we made it user friendly."
While there is truth in that there is the fact that the process of making the language "user friendly" all too often has unfortunate consequences and can sometimes result in a progressive dumbing down which is evident on both sides of the Atlantic.
I am sure you hear and see many things on your side of the pond that cause you to grind your teeth.
Believe me, I have found many in the UK, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

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The notion that elephants are terrified by mice (or by any other such small creatures) has been shown, long ago, to be pure MYTHOLOGY.

"Actually elephants are very careful not to do any such thing. They are terrified of mice, in case they trample on them."

Stay away from that kind of mythology...
Also, when you hear it or read it, doubt it deeply.
D.A.W.

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Furthermore, when we say something like, "Let elephants trample them underneath their feet," you really need to understand that this is just a colorful metaphor for it. Don't go off on tangents by taking colorful metaphors literally.
That just insures that you do not capture their real meanings, and it makes you sound foolish, too.
DAW

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I have studied linguistics. Not once have I read of linguists appealing to other languages to determine what is prescriptively correct in English. This is not what linguists do.

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@goofy

I'm sorry, but I seem to have missed the part where an appeal was made to another language.

The English language has been influenced by many other languages but I do not believe that any of the rules or structures of those language were imported wholesale and unchanged.
It is true that what is seen as "scholarly" English has been heavily influenced by Latin, and it is also true that some of the more elegant parts of the language are a result of the French influence, but those influences, as with the Germanic influence, have been moulded to suit our language.

I may be wrong, but I believe that German and Latin have something in common in that in both those languages "a sentence is a collection of nouns adverbs, and adjectives, made logical by a verb at the end" yet English is different in that respect.

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Hairy Scot, DA Wood said that English does not exist in a vacuum, but that we must look to other languages take input from them on how they do things. This was in response to my question "If the fact that good English writers do it doesn't make it correct, then what does make it correct?"

To me, it seems like DA Wood was saying that we must look to another language entirely in order to determine how modern English works. This is the etymological fallacy.

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@goofy

I have crossed swords with DAW on another topic so I will chose my words carefully.
Like me, and everyone else, he has his standards and opinions on various aspects of the language.
I admit that I do lean toward what is seen by some to be pedantry in that I prefer to stick to those rules and strictures learnt during my school years.
Language does not live in a vacuum and it does develop, however not all development is betterment.
Lots of English speakers have developed some lazy habits and all too often convenience rather than correctness is the rule.
The use of their as a genderless singular is just one of the oddities of our language. Almost everyone uses it even though it may seem strange to some.
But would we rather use it or its?
Going back to my original post, would it be better to say “Your teen is more at risk while on its restricted licence”
iness

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"Your teen is more at risk while on its restricted licence” is no good, is it? The teen in question is not genderless, but of unknown gender (presumably, or why not "his" or "her" licence?). If of unknown gender I use "his" as default. If someone objects that the teen may be a girl I say masculine is ordinary, feminine special, special is reserved for when it is definitely deserved, and I suggest that for those who think otherwise the way to do it is "Your teen is more at risk while on his or her restricted licence". French uses 'ils' for 'they' unless the group is exclusively, and known to be, feminine, and I take my stance with an eye on that grammatical example, as well as the fact that it has been correct standard English for a very long time, the alternative 'they' being sloppy.
I don't think we should use literary superstars are our model for correct grammar - that is not what they become superstars for, rather for characterisation (Jane Austen), description, linguistic supremacy (PG Wodehouse), creation of atmosphere, plot etc. I am sure that planning to follow adherence to strictly grammatically correct English is not their game. I do think it should be so of journalists, however, and in most cases it is so.

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There is only one correct option in constructions with singular "everyone", "everybody", "somebody", etc., and that is using the gender-neutral singular pronoun "his". Any other alternatives are colloquial and should be avoided in written or neutral English.

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These has been heard many times from news and "public affairs" TV programs in the U.S.A.:
"Your child .... them...." and "Your child .... their...."
The speakers were supposed to be college-educated professionals.
Hence, why not these instead: "Your children .... them...." and "Your children .... their...." ?? These are grammatically elegent.
Then, the possibility of the singular ("child") is subsumed withing the plural ("children") as a special case. ("Lightning strikes!")
However, all of this presumes the intelligence to think ahead and plan ahead about what one will say before one says it.
Is that positively backbreaking work?
D.A.W.

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Going back to the original line at the top of this section:
“Your teen is more at risk while on their restricted licence.”
Why not “Your teenagers are more at risk while on their restricted licences.”?
The answer to the question: Sheer intellectual laziness.
D.A.W.

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“Your teenagers are more at risk while on their restricted licences.”?
Now, let's drop that unnecessary word "your".
“Teenagers are more at risk while (driving?) on their restricted licences.”?

I am also bothered by those people who make an assumption that a "license" is a "driver's license". Why? Look at the following:
{business license, dog license, electrician's license, firearms license, fishing license, hunting license, pilot's license, plumber's license, railroad engineer's license}.
D.A.W.

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The ban against noting they, them, their in the singular was another of those grammarian made-up rules that didn't fit the tung as it was and is but as they wanted (and many still want) it to be. Noting them in the singular has been about for for a hella long time (since Middle English):

And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame,
***They*** wol come up … Chaucer, "The Pardoner's Prolog"

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As I have mentioned before, English does not exist in a vacuum, entirely free to make up its own rules as it goes along. English is a member of the Indo-European family of languages, and English grammar needs to correspond with that of most of these other languages: Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Icelandic, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Sanskrit, Scottish Gaelic, Spanish, Swedish, Serbian, Slovakian, Slovenian, Ukrainian. These languages all have singular and plural pronouns, and verbs, too.

Otherwise, if you want to go around with your nose stuck up 120 kilometers in the air, I guess that we cannot throw you into the dungeon for than, yet. Could we arrange for that power to be given back to Q.E. II and the Duke of Edinburgh?
D.A.W.

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So you are unable to recognize the existence of language families and you refuse to acknowledge their existence? How quaint!
You are also unwilling to concede anything towards ease of translation from one language to another? That is what I meant by having your nose stuck up 120 kilometers in the air.
D.A.W.

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I didn't say that I didn't believe in language families; don't put words in my mouth. I'm not saying that there aren't correlations within language families that allow for translatibility. I don't, however, expect someone to follow the same career as a sibling. There is no doubt distinctions between languages. You can't force languages to conform to one another; it just won't work that way.

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Jasper is right ... As someone who has learn'd Russian, German, and Spanish, I hav a little insight. They all hav their own grammar rules which hav nothing to do with English. Russian is a strongly declined tung ... word order is not needed to show how a word is being noted (direct object, indirect object, asf) owing to the word endings. German has strict word order that is sunder than English in a relativ clause. Oddly enuff, in many ways, Spanish is nearer to English even tho it is a Romance tung. It has a progressiv tense (-ing in English). They all hav grammar rules that do not correspond with English ... and vice versa ... English has grammar rules which do not correspond with others as well.

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It really depends on your view of grammar. If you think of grammar as a set of rules to follow (known as prescriptive grammar), using "their" in place of "his or her" is wrong.

If you see grammar as describing the way people actually speak (known as descriptive grammar), "their" is widely used as a genderless third-person singular, and has been, if I'm not mistaken, for quite some time.

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You don't get it about the common rules of grammar among the Indo-European languages:
Singular vs. plural: nouns and pronouns.
Tenses of verbs: past, present, future, past perfect, present perfect, future perfect.
Masculine, feminine, and neuter pronouns.
English does not have many of the grammar rules of the other Indo-European languages because English has been simplified to a certain degree, and wisely so:
No masculine, feminine, and neuter nouns.
Many simplifications in verb conjugation as compared with Russian, Polish, Czech, etc.
NOW, so many of you Scots, English, and Irishmen want to dispose of singular and plural, and you want to dispos of {a, an, the}. Now, you want to change English into Chinese, which doesn't have singular and plural, just like "Confucius say, man who live in glass house hang lot of curtain," with these elements removed.

I am now going to drop out of this discussion because it has too many argumentative weenies in it.

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