Pearson Adult Learning Centre HomePearson Adult Learning Centre: Tips for Writers by Brad Hyde



A Person Entitled to “Their” Opinion?

Although the use of “they” to mean a singular has a long history in English, it is still considered informal for written usage. Tell that to a list of writers that includes Shakespeare, Chaucer and Dickens!

In fact, the use of “they” as a singular is already the most common and most accepted usage in conversational English. Nevertheless, the grammar texts universally condemn this usage in writing, claiming it creates a confusion over how many persons are being referred to in the example used as the title of this tip.

But does it create confusion? Often, I find myself using a plural “they” in my worksheets or other writing that will be given to students. In turn, I frequently find it in my students’ written work. What I do then is advise the student that, while I personally consider it acceptable usage (note the great writers above), they will find that others (especially those marking from a key) may not feel the same way!

So, each to their own ways when it comes to “they” as a plural/singular I guess!

(November 27, 2011)

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