Not “They/Them”

The word “she” in English has not been around forever. Its roots continue to be researched, but what we do know is it started to appear in the 1100s and its use as the third-person singular for “woman” that we now take for granted had become routine by the 1500s. That is no surprise as we also know that in literature women had been essentially “invisible” in medieval British society.

In the 21st century, in English, we are now here:

[From Twitter.]

Some individuals identify now as neither male nor female, thus as neither “he” nor “she.” The problem is there is no broadly accepted third-person singular ungendered pronoun to describe a person (“it” is primarily for inanimate objects) existing in English. Thus what we see used commonly is “they/them.”

I am no expert on non-binary-ism, but I do know about English grammar. Time for a refresher. “They” and “them” are grammatically woefully incorrect to describe a single individual because those two words best describe multiple individuals.

[English dictionary. Photo by me, 2021.]

Examples:

  • They traveled north.
  • Give the house to them.

“They/them” denotes from two to an infinite number of people. Multiple non-binary people within that group or separately are similarly “they” or “them.” Gender there is irrelevant.

“He” we know describes one man. “She” describes one woman. Demi is a single individual, so in English cannot be described as “they/them.”

[“She” in an English dictionary. Photo by me, 2021.]

This issue is actually pretty easy to solve. As in the 1100s with “she,” the English language is lagging behind. We (meaning all of us) simply need a new word for those who in the third-person singular assert to be neither “he” nor “she.”

How about “Ne”? The “n” could convey non-binary and the “e” is found at the end just like on “he” and “she.” (“Ne” would have its “e” pronounced the same as in “he” or “she,” so the word would be said as “knee.”) THAT would be gramatically correct and descriptively on target in English.

“Ne” might not work, of course, but whatever the chosen new word might be one has to be found. This “they/them” use for a third-person singular non-binary individual is lazy, illiterate, and English-language-damaging in its inexactitude. Its use has got to be stopped.

Anyway, that is just what I think. Have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Not “They/Them”

    1. Thanks for that. I am sure I am not the only one to find the “they/them” use in that sense ungrammatical and irritating. I find it even worse when spoken. If we cannot say he or she, “They is here” or “They’s here” is illiterate. And “They are here” means more than 1 is. A non-gendered new word denoting third-person singular would be soooooooo much better than where we are now with “they/them.”

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      1. “Look at that person over there , what are they doing?” “I don’t know, let’s go ask them.”

        It’s traditional use has been exactly what they’re (the collective one this time 😅) using it for now, the gender is unidentified – or gramatically, the antecedent is unspecified.

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        1. That can be gotten away with. But using it as an outright replacement of he/she does not work at all. To me it’s fingernails scratching a blackboard. LOL!

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  1. Whew, I was so relieved to read your thoughts here. I’m always terrified to voice my opinion on this because of the current political climate in higher education, at least here in the States. I’ll preface with I have no problem with how a person chooses to live. Please don’t hurt, bully, kill, maim, or inflict any other egregious damage to any creature, human or otherwise. Beyond that, not my business. But I’m a grammar snob. I’m not perfect myself when writing or speaking, but I love grammar. I even love the study of it. Using a plural pronoun with a singular noun pains me to the point of nausea. I work with a large percentage of language learners, and you can only imagine how confusing this all is for them. 🤷‍♀️ I’m required to allow the use of “them” when a student is referring to a singular noun in the writing center where I work as that is considered PC these days. Did I mention how much this pains me? The American Psychological Association has offered several other suggestions for transgender and gender-nonconforming people, but “they” seems to be sticking. Fingernails on a chalkboard, my friend, fingernails on a chalkboard. 😔

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    1. I think you hit on the problem. I have no problem with anyone saying they (plural of, meaning many of) are such. Rather, I think we need to be forward-looking and assist in terms of precision of description. “They” is (as a singular in that sense) grammatically wrong. And, as you say, try teaching that to non-native speakers. Eeks. I think we can be both understanding of the desire of one such as Lovato and also not damage the English language.

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