Talk:Singular they

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Sciences humaines.svg This article is or was the subject of a Wiki Education Foundation-supported course assignment. Further details are available on the course page. Student editor(s): Jluchen.

Above undated message substituted from assignment by PrimeBOT (talk) 09:24, 17 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Singular and plural Word senses of "they" versus singular and plural cases of "they"[edit]

I hope it's obvious to all that "they" has both a singular Word sense and a plural sense whose meanings are contextually based. As formatted before my recent edit, Singular they gives the impression of a widely accepted linguistics term (i.e., like prepositional phrase or transitive verb) rather than a colloquial term to describe how the pronominal "they" can be used and construed in a singular sense. Indeed, the source I cited states, "This paper addresses general issues of pronominal binding and coreference, though its empirical focus is comparatively narrow, being mainly concerned with the distribution of so-called singular they in Modern English." (Italics in original.)

To be clear, no one says, e.g., "This my friend Jay. I met singular them at school." Within the linguistics field, innumerable commentators acknowledge the sense of singularity often associated with "they," but the term singular they is often couched as "so-called" (e.g., Bjorkman at page 1 (after downloading the article with the pdf icon on the left), Chen at page 1, Vashkevich at page 57 just as soon as they might refer to a so-called plural they.

In sum, this article equivocates with an unattested sentence like Singular they is the English pronoun they..." It would be factually correct but misleading to say, "The so-called singular they is the English pronoun they..." The edit I restored moments ago represents a faithful. scholarly reflection of linguists' near unanimity in parsing the singular versus plural sense involved without implying a singular versus plural pronominal case of "they." --Kent Dominic·(talk) 20:41, 26 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Nobody I know of is suggesting that "they" has a singular case, and neither does this article. But your insertion of colloquial as a descriptor - which you have repeated in opening this Talk page discussion - is unattested in the sources cited and appears to be your original interpretation (as is your aversion to "use", which is the term, well, used in the article's sources). Newimpartial (talk) 21:01, 26 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Newimpartial: Three points:
  1. The phrase, singular they, is a colloquial term used by non-linguists in reference to a certain speech dynamic. Originally, grammarians, not linguists, used the phrase to disparage using "they" vis-a-vis a singular referent. That's why I've given four sources that agree the term, singular they is a misnomer: namely, a "so-called singular they" in their words. My edit cited such a source for that very assertion. The current lead has no attestation whatsoever.
  2. The typeset in this article's lead contributes to the ambiguity whether a sense or a grammatical case is what's being described. You say it's not a case, and I agree. By default, it's a sense. Specifically, the sense of the singular grammatical number is what's being described in keeping with the sources say about it albeit via varying technical jargon tantamount to sense. To say singular they is a "use" is tantamount to saying it's a case. The simplest solution is to introduce the article as "Singular they" or "The singular sense of they to indicate SOP (i.e., sum of parts) from discrete lexical categories rather than a closed case that's separate from a so-called plural they, as "Singular they" implies.
  3. The sources I cited unanimously employ "use" as it corresponds to "they," not "singular they." When that term later occurs in scholarly papers, it's analogous to papers that deny the legitimacy of, say, flat Earth yet the papers proceed to use the term so that readers know they haven't shifted the discourse from that identified referent. I.e., they're still referencing the so-called flat Earth just like linguists (or you, or I, for that matter) are referencing the so-called singular they. It's like using the misnomer, singular were, as applied to "If I were you... or the misnomer of a singular are as applied to "Aren't I right?" --Kent Dominic·(talk) 22:52, 26 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The fundamental problem here concerns the scope and focus of the article. As I understand it, the article (and its sources) are about the use of "they" for singular referents, and not about the term for this use. The focus of the lead needs to reflect the focus of the article. Newimpartial (talk) 01:21, 27 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Newimpartial: You hit the nail right on the head. This article isn't about the use of a term; it's about the substance of what you very clearly stated. Can we agree that it's appropriate to indicate what you just said, tweaked but otherwise verbatim, at the top or the article to avoid confusion re what this article is about? I.e.,
--Kent Dominic·(talk) 03:37, 27 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Obviously I'm OK with that, but I'd encourage other editors to weigh in. Newimpartial (talk) 03:40, 27 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I'm marking this date down on my calendar. It's not hard to guess why.
--Kent Dominic·(talk) 04:48, 27 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Two remaining points: (1) The typeface of the phrase, "singular they", in the lead; (2) The fact that the entire lead is unattested. Some easy solutions in the alternative:
  1. Singular they is the sense of the English pronoun they or its inflected or derivative forms, them, their, theirs, and themselves (or themself), as an epicene (gender-neutral) singular pronoun."
  2. The singular sense of the English pronoun they, together with its inflected or derivative forms them, their, theirs and themselves (or themself), is an epicene (gender-neutral) singular pronoun."
  3. Unlike the plural meaning of the English pronoun they, the singular sense of they, together with its inflected or derivative forms them, their, theirs and themselves (or themself), is an epicene (gender-neutral) singular pronoun."
All three are restatements of Bjorkman, inter alia. I.e., a singular they is not in use; a singular or plural number of co-referents is contextually indicated.
I prefer alternative #3 because it immediately distinguishes singular from plural associations with "they." The cited sources make that distinction by briefly defining "singular" and "plural." The options are hindered here at Wikipedia because the internal link to plural properly explains that grammatical concept; the internal link to "singular" is limited to its grammatical sense as covered lightly in the grammatical number article. --Kent Dominic·(talk) 04:48, 27 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Why do your first two restatements of Bjorkman (whose former university office I drove by this week, btw) use "sense", when Bjorkman dies not? Meanwhile, that third option looks UNDUE for the lead. Newimpartial (talk) 13:24, 27 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Why? Because Bjorkman's actual text is unintelligible for anyone who's not familiar with linguistics. In Bjorkman's words, the meaning or sense of singular they relates to "general issues of pronominal binding and coreference ... being mainly concerned with the distribution of so-called singular they in Modern English." (Italics in original.) The third restatement could just as well be phrased:
All three options are analogous. However, alternatives like "Unlike the plural definition of they..." are wrong because Bjorkman doesn't define "they" but instead describes the singular sense of "they" according to its evident "usage." (I'd be happier with "Singular they involves the use ...." Yet, that verbiage is a bit wormy from a technical standpoint, and it opens the door to criticism for violating the spirit of the WP:REFERSTO guideline.)
To reiterate, "Singular they is the use ..." is wrong because the pronoun "they" is NOT a use. The singular meaning, singular sense, or singular significance of "they" is what this article is about. --Kent Dominic·(talk) 20:54, 28 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Some quick comments: (1) I didn't have any difficulty with Bjorkman's writing, (2) I find that your suggestions for the lead section make it simultaneously further from the sources and more difficult for our readers and (3) your insistence that your reading of the sources is right and others are wrong is quintessential WP:OR. Newimpartial (talk) 20:59, 28 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Per BRD, I've restored the last stable version of the article. Woodroar (talk) 21:05, 26 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Woodroar: Thanks for that explanation. Correct me if I'm wrong: wasn't the last stable version this one in which User:Mx. Granger made a well-reasoned tweak rather than a wholesale reversion of my prior edit upon commenting on it? Regardless, I'd appreciate your substantive contributions on the merits. --Kent Dominic·(talk) 22:52, 26 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Looking at the article's history, I'd consider the 12 January version to be the status quo because of the (approximately) two-week gap in edits.
Personally, my off-the-cuff opinion is that (a) terms like "referent" and "pronominal" and "inflected and derivative forms" make the lead section too technical for the average reader, and (b) I suspect that "In Linguistics" is UNDUE for the first sentence. We're not Simple Wikipedia, of course, but we should aim for a basic definition before getting into finer technical details. As for the "linguistics" bit, my recollection of most sources is that they're very surface level, "this is what 'singular they' is about and here's how to use it", not the finer details of linguistic analysis. Of course, I could be entirely wrong on either or both! Woodroar (talk) 23:40, 26 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Thanks for the feedback. I'll put it to good use re the call for simplicity. Glad you didn't mention "use" and "sense" as being overly technical. Plainly put, a singular sense (or even more simply put, a "meaning") of they, and how that sense is used, constitutes this article's theme; it's not about how the phrase, "singular they", is used in the manner of a term qua term. Cheers. --Kent Dominic·(talk) 01:49, 27 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I find this entire discussion extremely difficult to follow; however, "singular they" is in fact the widely-used term for the topic of this article, and the current opening sentence of the article ("Singular they is the use in English of the pronoun they[...] as an epicene (gender-neutral) singular pronoun") is a clear, concise, and accurate identification of what the topic of the article is. I do not think it needs or ought to be changed. AJD (talk) 21:40, 28 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

@Newimpartial: Three simple questions:
  1. Do you agree that "they" has both a plural meaning and a singular meaning? If not it, explain why not.
  2. Do you know of any other Wikipedia article (esp. about a pronoun) that begins, "ABC is the use of XYZ..."? If so, kndly indicate which article(s).
  3. After noting that the current lead is unattested and unsourced, are you saying that you have your own ideas about how to remedy the status quo? If so, please offer those ideas. --Kent Dominic·(talk) 02:12, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Did you mean to address these questions to me, instead of to Newimpartial? If so, (1) sure, of course it does. (2) I don't understand the relevance of this question. It doesn't matter whether or not other articles are about a particular use of something, only whether or not this one is. (3) I don't think there is anything wrong with the status quo. Article ledes don't have to be sourced; they can just be a synopsis of information present elsewhere in the article. AJD (talk) 05:35, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Comment: Article ledes should not be sourced. The lead is a summary of the article proper and should contain only facts substantiated by the body of text. In other words, anything that needs a source (because it is not covered by the main text) should not appear in the lead. And anything that does not need a source (because it *is* sourced below) should have that ref removed (from the lead). In short, no refs in leads. CapnZapp (talk) 12:41, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I oppose renaming the article. To be clear: Kent's purpose of question 2 likely was to carry a point across. Since you appear not to have caught this, allow me to be blunt. As I see the "relevance" is to make the following point: "if no other articles use that naming convention maybe that is a hint that we should not do that either" CapnZapp (talk) 12:45, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@AJD and CapnZapp: For clarity's sake, no one here has suggested renaming (or re-titling) the article. User:Newimpartial has agreed that it's apropos for the article's header to indicate:
It's nonrelevant to me (but apparently a source of concern for Newimpartial) whether the lede is sourced and cited or not. Yet, I've now given five sources that, in paraphrase, discuss the singular sense of they" as a concept distinct from the plural sense.
Consequently, my point of contention is that the lede is not properly worded. The current wording says "singular they" is a use. That wording is unencyclopedic and borderline unintelligible, if not simply misleading (no pun intended), vis-a-vis all the sources and a rational interpretation of the plain meaning involved. By analogy, the encyclopedic sense of singing is not the use of the voice to produce musical sounds. The pronoun they is not the use of a third-person pronoun relating to a grammatical subject. Etc.
Balancing technical accuracy with cogency, I don't insist that "singular they" is a sense..." is the only way to properly word, dare I say it, the sense, the meaning, the significance of singular they. If there's a consensus for a redaction, then "Singular they is the use in English of the pronoun they or its inflected or derivative forms, them, their, theirs, and themselves (or themself), as an epicene (gender-neutral) singular pronoun" would satisfy my encyclopedic sensibilities and would better comport with the sources actually say. Such a redaction would be technically inaccurate but otherwise consistent with the plain meaning of its wording.
For the umpteenth time, NO source says "singular they, or any other pronoun, is a "use." Wikipedia is consistent in its ledes: "thou" is not "the use of... ABC;" "we" is not "the use of... XYZ; "cooking" is not "the artful, scientific, and crafty use of heat to prepare food." In each case, the referent and the sense of the word don't equate to a "use.". Sorry for the need to indicate how this point is fairly straightforward, elementary, grammar school semantics. --Kent Dominic·(talk) 15:04, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Kent Dominic: How about In English, the pronoun they or its inflected or derivative forms, them, their, theirs, and themselves (or themself), may be used as an epicene (gender-neutral) singular pronoun.? It's customary to begin with the article title in boldface, but not absolutely required. gnu57 15:23, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
This section starts with the noble aspiration "I hope it's obvious" but I'm afraid that very little is obvious here, at least to me. I must confess that I'm thoroughly confused. What are we actually discussing here? Maybe it would help it we could have the text that is being objected to, and its proposed replacement, both quoted here so that we can compare their relative merits? --DanielRigal (talk) 15:38, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@DanielRigal: The article Fascist (insult) is about instances where the word fascist has been used as an insult. It would be weird, though, for the first sentence of that article to read Fascist (insult) is the use of fascist as an insult. Similarly, it sounds strange here to say that Singular they (i.e., the word "they") is the use.... gnu57 15:55, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@DanielRigal: Obvious, if not basic and elementary:
  1. The pronoun "they" has not only a singular sense (i.e., meaning or significance) but also a plural sense.
  2. This article is about the singular sense. (See the template from my prior post.)
  3. This article describes the use of that singular sense.
  4. This article's lede says "Singular they is the use in English of the pronoun they or its inflected or derivative forms, them, their, theirs, and themselves (or themself), as an epicene (gender-neutral) singular pronoun." (Added big typeface of "use" for emphasis.) Wrong wording! Why? The singular "they" ≠ "use." Interpretation to the contrary convolutes the ordinary meaning of those two words.
Alternative wording to consider:
  • Singular they is the sense of the English pronoun they ..."
  • Singular they is the meaning of the English pronoun they ..."
  • Singular they is the use in English of the pronoun they..."
--Kent Dominic·(talk) 16:41, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Genericusername57: Thanks for concisely paraphrasing the point of my concern. --Kent Dominic·(talk) 16:41, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Singular they is in fact the use of the pronoun they with a singular referent. For example, if I say "This sentence contains a singular they," that means that they is used in the sentence with a singular referent. AJD (talk) 17:46, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Hold on? Is this all just arguing about the (as far as I can tell perfectly correct) use of the word "use" in the opening sentence? If so, I have no idea why anybody thinks that is wrong. All of the alternatives offered above are less easily understood by a casual reader and seem no more correct or informative. Unless I am missing something fundamental here, this seems like a trivial matter and I see little to no point in this discussion. I guess the word "use" could be linked to Word sense if that is thought potentially helpful to some readers?
One important point I would like to make is that we need to assume that the reader of the introduction of this (or any other) article could be a casual reader and we should take care not to confuse people in the first few sentences by assuming more knowledge than is common in a casual reader. We have the whole article body to dig into the details of the topic. While I believe this in general, I think this is especially true here. This is an ongoing "culture war" "topic" and it is likely that a lot of people find their way to this article trying to understand what the "culture warriors" are arguing about or just by following a link in an article about a non-binary person because they found the pronouns unfamiliar and just want to understand what is going on in simple terms. We want to help, not hinder, them in that quest for basic understanding. I would favour simplifying, not complicating, the first paragraph as much as possible. We can go into as much detail as any linguist desires in the article body. --DanielRigal (talk) 18:23, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@DanielRigal: "I guess the word 'use' could be linked to Word sense if that is thought potentially helpful to some readers. Thanks for offering a practical solution. I wouldn't be overjoyed if your suggestion resulted in a consensus, but I'd let it go at that while shaking my head at the attenuated interpretation of "use."
So, are you saying an ordinary reader doesn't know what a "sense" is but readily knows what a "use" (esp. versus "usage," which is what's really intended) implies? Consider this sentence from Strombom as cited below: "(Re the Generic Male "He") This convention was viable in the sense that men were literate to a much larger extent than women." In that sentence, is "sense" so hard to construe? Try changing "sense" to "use" in that sentence and you might get a clearer picture why I keep saying "use" is comically or tragically wrong in the lead. --Kent Dominic·(talk) 19:10, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Your example is not comparable because "sense" actually is the more correct word is that case. That said, the more I stare at it the more I wonder either either word is really ideal there. OK. I don't want to overstate it. It's not awful, but I probably wouldn't have written it that way. I'd probably just have written it as "viable because".
In order to make "sense" the correct word here you would need to rejig the first sentence to introduce the word "used" later on, thus rending it as "Singular they is the sense in English of the pronoun they or its inflected or derivative forms, them, their, theirs, and themselves (or themself), where it is used as an epicene (gender-neutral) singular pronoun. It typically occurs with an unspecified antecedent, in sentences such as...". That is correct but it is no better than the current text. It is longer and more complicated for absolutely no benefit. Anyway, I feel that further discussion is futile here. I fear that we are getting into WP:STICK territory. If you want to start an RfC on your preferred wording, in order to get a definitive answer, then you can but I don't see any point. --DanielRigal (talk) 19:40, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@AJD: Would you say A decoy drone is the use of a drone as a decoy? How about A punch bowl is the use of a bowl to serve punch? gnu57 18:07, 4 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@gnu57, just a heads up that pings only work if the ping and your signature are added in the same edit. WP:PINGFIX has some ways to fix a failed ping. Woodroar (talk) 18:41, 4 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@gnu57 Nope. The lexicographer in me would say say, "A decoy drone is a drone that is used as a decoy" and "A punch bowl is a bowl that is used to serve punch." Indeed, after reading your post, I'm reverting my most recent edit to the article in favor of "Singular they, along with its inflected or derivative forms, them, their, theirs, and themselves (or themself), is an epicene (gender-neutral) third-person pronoun." I hadn't known about the third-person pronoun article until moments ago. The link to that article should assist anyone who's in the dark. --Kent Dominic·(talk) 03:08, 5 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The current wording of the article, which (to condense a bit) says "Singular they is a pronoun", is not correct. They is a pronoun, which has multiple uses. Saying "Singular they is a pronoun" implies that it's not the same pronoun as plural they... but it is. What singular they is is a specific use of the pronoun they. (It's also not quite accurate to say that singular they is a "sense" of they. The sense of singular they is third-person epicene pronominal reference; singular they is the name for the use of they in that sense, not the name for the sense itself.)
I don't understand why you're so hung up on other things not being described as "the use of" something; it may well be the case that other things aren't "the use of" something, but singular they is. If it makes you feel better, though, information technology is the use of computers to process data; [[engineering] is the use of scientific principles to design and build machines; sarcasm is the caustic use of irony; multilingualism is the use of more than one language; a fallacy is the use of invalid reasoning, and (perhaps most relevantly) do-support is the use of the auxiliary verb do to form negated clauses and questions. There is not some Wikipedia principle against defining a term as "the use of" something. AJD (talk) 06:50, 5 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Ajd and AJD: '"Singular they is a pronoun" is not correct' Agreed. 'They is a pronoun.' I'm with you. 'What singular they is is a specific use of the pronoun they.' There we diverge. A use is a specific instance of implementation. When you refer to a person as "they," that's a use. When such instances become a trend, that evinces a usage. As I've said all along, the article's lede should be worded as "Singular they is a sense of the pronoun they..." (i.e., in contrast to the plural sense.) The current wording is mere appeasement of editors who think "sense" is too complicated. See your talk page for further comment. Cheers. --Kent Dominic·(talk) 21:29, 5 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Kent Dominic • I agree, that 'use' is correct in this instance, as the article describes the use of the word in a meaning different from its main meaning: the article seeks to explain its use as an epicene third-person singular pronoun, while the main meaning is a third-person plural pronoun.
Adding the word sense makes it more difficult, because that would imply a widely-agreed-upon alternate/dual definition, which wide agreement does not exist. The reason is, that acceptance of such as a use, while widespread in the the English-speaking West, and maybe only the liberal parts of it, is insufficient in the wider English-speaking world. -Mardus /talk 00:10, 27 January 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I'm not convinced you've recognized the distinction I make between a singular sense of the pronoun they and the sense as well as the use of the term, Singular they. That distinction is the root of my nearly forgotten rant about how the article equivocates. Kent Dominic·(talk) 14:26, 19 February 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Bjorkman paper[edit]

Since it was Kent who added the Bjorkman paper - and only as a citation for the lead paragraph - it is unfortunately not to be found in the restored "stable version" of the article (although it is a relevant, recent RS). In particular, I think the following quotation (from p. 2) ought to be used to back up article (main section) content: The contrast in acceptability between (2) and (3) has been made more striking by increased cultural visibility of nonbinary individuals—individuals who identify with neither masculine nor feminine gender, and so who cannot be referred to with either the singular masculine pronoun he or the singular feminine pronoun she. Many nonbinary individuals prefer singular they as a pronoun of reference, and they is sometimes said to have the advantage of being already part of English grammar, in contrast to fully innovative alternatives. Newimpartial (talk) 17:58, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I cited the Bjorkman paper to demonstrate how, in its entirety, it reflects the singular sense of "they," including its history, use, disparagement, and promotion over time. The paper doesn't define "singular they." None of the reliable sources do. Most of them refer to the term, "singular they," as being so-called precisely because only non-linguists (including grammarians) use the term colloquially solely to distinguish the plural sense of they.
Stormbom's Gendered Language in Flux paper rivals Bjorkman's and also (essentially, but not literally) refers to "singular they" as a sense (i.e., a meaning, an interpretation, a construction, etc.), not a "use." Stormbom tacitly defines singular they as one of several "epicene ... third-person singular pronouns." Tweaking that definition for Wikipedia's lede is fair enough and a simple enough task, but that's beside the point: The current lede senselessly (again pardon that pun) asserts that the pronominal "they" equals "use".
@Newimpartial: So far, you've neglected to reply to my three simple questions from above:
  1. Do you agree that "they" has both a plural meaning and a singular meaning? If not it, explain why not.
  2. Do you know of any other Wikipedia article (esp. about a pronoun) that begins, "ABC is the use of XYZ..."? If so, kindly indicate which article(s).
  3. After noting that the current lead is unattested and unsourced, are you saying that you have your own ideas about how to remedy the status quo? If so, please offer those ideas.
--Kent Dominic·(talk) 18:49, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I have no intention of WP:SATISFYing you on these matters. I am letting other editors enjoy the "fun". Newimpartial (talk) 19:04, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

My opinion of course, but I highly encourage Kent to drop the stick here. Call it a hunch if you like, but this seems like retaliatory editing as a result of the ANI thread and this. JCW555 talk ♠ 20:31, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Oi vey, that's an informative bit of context. -sche (talk) 23:55, 29 January 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Is it possible to "singular 'they'" somebody? As in, "oi, dontchoo singular they me, pal!🤜" 🤔  Tewdar  18:01, 3 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • This discussion is bonkers. THEY is a lexeme, which appears in dictionaries as the lemma they. It has two senses. (I) A third-person plural pronoun, and (II) A third-person singular pronoun. This article is about the second sense of the lemma they, which we are calling "singular they", with various formatting options that seem to change by the day. "Singular they", in this sense, is a third-person gender-neutral singular pronoun. "Singular they" is not the use of a third-person gender-neutral singular pronoun. "Singular they" is a pronoun, which can be used. None of the sources, Bjorkman included, describe "singular they" as a use.  Tewdar  17:42, 5 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
You're right that it's bonkers, but your own comment gets derailed here and it ends up contradicting itself. They is a lexeme that has two senses, yes, absolutely. That means that saying "singular they is a pronoun" is false—they is a pronoun, and singular they is the name given to one use of it. AJD (talk) 19:12, 5 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Tewdar and AJD: Some of this discussion is bonkers, excluding what Tewdar just said. Neither the current lede (for which I bear responsibility) nor the last stable lede reflects Tewdar's wisdom. Both Tewdar's replacement lede and my initial edit of lede along those lines were reverted. Also, AJD is 100% right to say '"singular they is a pronoun" is false'. So far, however, the fickle consensus here has run riot over iterations re wording like, "Singular they is a sense of they..." My most recent edit definitely needs tweaking if not wholesale revision, not a mere reversion to the last stable lede. I hope whoever's on deck to bat next has better luck with the reversionistas than I've had. --Kent Dominic·(talk) 21:56, 5 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I'd prefer to analyse 'plural they' and 'singular they' as two distinct pronouns that can be either marked or unmarked for plurality, actually.  Tewdar  10:50, 6 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
*Hey everyone, Bjorkman (2017) here! (Apologies for the pseudonymous wikipedia account.) I agree with everything ADJ has said, here and in other threads: it is totally coherent to describe singular they as a use of they. The reason it's sometimes referred to as "so-called" is to emphasize that this isn't a different pronoun than "plural" they, instead we have one pronoun they in English that's nonspecific for number (just like you is). So "singular they" is the name given to a collection of uses where they either refers to a single person or has a singular noun phrase as its antecedent (because in sentences like: "Nobody forgot their lunch." their doesn't actually refer to any individual). The current opening sentence is slightly incoherent, by contrast, because singular they is indeed not itself a pronoun. I'd recommend revising back to "Singular they is the use in English of the pronoun they[...] as a gender non-specific singular pronoun." (I'd avoid "epicene" because it excludes the use of singular they to refer to nonbinary people, who aren't gender-unknown or gender-nonspecific.) Weathering (talk) 20:29, 5 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
"Slightly incoherent" is a charitable characterization. I wrote the current lede, which is better described as a fine example of linguistic hooey. You and Tewdar and AJD are right to lambaste it. In apology: the current lede carries forward what I deem to be the uninformed consensus here. I'd been waiting in vain for a knowledgeable editor to tweak or revise the current lede (rather than to merely revert it). The so-called "singular they" clearly has its discrete and observable uses; however, see this comment for a concise rationale for characterizing singular they as a "sense" rather than as a "use" in the lede. --Kent Dominic·(talk) 22:16, 5 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I think the stable wording ("Singular they is the use...") was good, and am inclined to restore that wording if there's not consensus for a different one here, as I agree "Singular a pronoun..." reads weirder/worse... but I'd like to circle back to Gnu's point that although it's common to have an article's title be repeated as the first 2-3 words of the lead, it's not required. Expanding on the wording Gnu suggested above, and with allowance for subbing in whichever descriptors we decide are appropriate ("epicene" vs "gender non-specific", "singular" vs "third-person"), what if we said something along the lines of:
In English, the pronoun they or its inflected or derivative forms, them, their, theirs, and themselves or themself, may be used as a [whichever descriptors we decide on: gender-neutral, singular, etc] pronoun; when used this way, it is referred to as singular they."
?-sche (talk) 20:11, 9 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The prior wording disregards the Use–mention distinction, as indicated below in the Problematic lede: a quick take thread. --Kent Dominic·(talk) 16:32, 11 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Problematic lede: a quick take[edit]

Both current lede (which I wrote) and the immediately preceding ones fail to make a proper Use–mention distinction. The {dfn|term|definition} template suggests a lede along the order of this:

"Singular they, along with its inflected or derivative forms, them, their, theirs and themselves (or themself), is a specialized term for they when used for a an individual third-person."

That iteration excludes mention of "epicene" for reasons Weathering pointed out here. The proposed lede also:

  • Remedies the "Singular they is ... a pronoun" inaccuracy that AJD pointed out here.
  • Italicizes "singular they" in a manner consistent with Wikipedia format for terms in the lead sentence.
  • Repositions the "they" link from Singular they to the second mention of "they," per Wikipedia format for terms in the lead sentence.
  • Avoids conflating what singular they is (i.e., neither a pronoun nor a use) and how that term is used.
  • Avoids describing singular they as "so-called" (which can connote a disparagement) and instead describes it as jargonistic (as imbedded in and explained via the "specialized term" link).

Cheers to all. --Kent Dominic·(talk) 14:28, 6 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Prescription of generic he[edit]

Hi! This is my first time proposing an edit, but I have been researching this topic for some time. Under the section "Prescription of generic he," it could be useful to add an example of where the singular they was replaced in later editions of a book by he. The first instance that comes to mind is "The Pardoner's Prologue" in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. The Ellesmere Manuscript, one of the original copies of the text, reads, "And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame, / They wol come up." [1] However, most modern copies, including the Norton translation, change the pronoun to he: "And whoso findeth him out of swich blame, / He wol come up." [2]

Noname504 (talk) 13:56, 15 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

That's an interesting detail and it might be nice to include it if we can but we need to be careful. We should probably have a reference talking about that change rather than just referencing the two versions of the text and making the comparison ourselves. As it stands we don't know who changed it, when and how intentional the change was. --DanielRigal (talk) 00:39, 16 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
But this is awesome, and the change to he (then perhaps in the name of less ambiguity) was maybe pointless:
"And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame, / They wol come up."
— because 'whoso' and 'they' refers to one and the same grouping of one or more people, so the antecedent is plural from the outset (one or more persons from a group of people).
The later modification changes the meaning:
"And whoso findeth him out of swich blame, / He wol come up."
— because "/ He" might now refer to the "him of such blame". -Mardus /talk 00:22, 27 January 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]


  1. ^ "The Ellesmere Manuscript". British Library. Retrieved 15 February 2022.
  2. ^ Chaucer, Geoffrey (2018). "The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale" (The Norton Anthology: English Literature ed.). pp. 330-343: W.W. Norton & Company.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)

Use for specific, known people, including non-binary people[edit]

Hi, this sentence "A known individual may also be referred to as they if the individual is non-binary or genderqueer and considers they and derivatives as appropriate pronouns" is phrased oddly. I propose to change the sentence to "A known individual may be referred to as they if the individual is non-binary or genderqueer and considers the singular they pronoun set appropriate." This would make the language more uniform with the rest of the paragraph. Noname503 (talk) 21:06, 16 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

For the most part this suggestion looks good to me, but I would keep the word "also". —Mx. Granger (talk · contribs) 15:57, 17 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]
There's no particular reason why a person would need to identify as nonbinary or genderqueer (or, really, to have any specific gender identity) for the use of "they" pronouns to be appropriate, at least in specific cases. There's obviously some overlap there, but they are at least in part separable issues. Archon 2488 (talk) 16:15, 17 February 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Unnecessary change in example from pole dancer to pole dancer and mercenary[edit]

Currently our article gives these two examples:

  • "If you had an unemployed daughter, what would you think if she wanted to accept work as a pole dancer?"
  • "If you had an unemployed child, what would you think if they wanted to accept work as a mercenary or a pole dancer?"

I think from reading the section, these are our own examples rather than directly copied from a source and I'm not sure we should be directly copying examples like this anyway and if we are going to, I think we need to make it clearer we are doing so (like in the next part). If these are our own examples, am I the only one to feel it's completely unnecessary to change the example when it goes from daughter to child to include mercenary rather than just pole dancer? It seems better to either always use mercenary or always use pole dancer or always use both, especially given the subject of this article. Nil Einne (talk) 08:29, 15 May 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I agree that this example is unnecessarily confusing. I'll change it to use "mercenary" for both. —Mx. Granger (talk · contribs) 08:42, 15 May 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]