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‘Them’ and ‘They’ instead of ‘him’ or ‘her’

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  • mexicochick
    12 October, 2010 at 12:45
    • Total posts: 12


    A student recently brought the following to my attention:

    ‘When you don’t know the gender of someone, what do you say?’
    My response was: ‘you refer to that person as ‘them’ or ‘they’

    eg. What did they say?
    Do you know them well?

    I found it difficult to explain why this rule exists and why it relates to only one person when ‘them’ and ‘they’ are actually plural!!! complicated to say the least!!!!

    Can anyone explain?? Thanks :)

    17 October, 2010 at 11:58
    • Total posts: 2

    Reply To: ‘Them’ and ‘They’ instead of ‘him’ or ‘her’

    Can’t explain it, but it is interesting! I always thought it was a modern invention and frowned upon by grammar purists, but apparently it’s been in use for centuries, and even Shakespeare used it!
    I suppose it could be because he + she = they, but I’m not known for my excellence at Maths. :?

    27 February, 2012 at 22:03
    • Total posts: 3

    Reply To: ‘Them’ and ‘They’ instead of ‘him’ or ‘her’

    The use of ‘them’ or ‘they’ is a popular alternative to writing awkward sentences containing repetitions of ‘he or she’, or worse, horrible modern contrivances such as ‘s/he’.

    It’s referred to as the third-person singular gender-free pronoun and I’m all in favour of it, but many aren’t. Unfortunately, I can’t describe exactly why it’s singular or plural in a given circumstance, but would guess it’s contextual.

    However, I don’t start my CELTA course for another two weeks, so treat anything I say with caution!

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