Tuesday, July 7, 2009

the pleasures and sorrows of singular they

Are you an excellent primary teacher who prides themselves in their method of delivery of the national curriculum?

If so, a cool job awaits: this popular two form entry primary school has had recent extensions and a nursery added to its footprint.

More here

[A commenter has taken this to imply that I think singular they is incorrect. I don't. I think it runs into problems when it needs a reflexive form. We have both a singular and a plural reflexive form for you: If you pride yourself (singular); if you pride yourselves (plural). The form themselves, in this context, seems to me as a result to revive the plural connotations of they; this strikes me as stylistically infelicitous after a singular verb. It is presumably correct, since the alternative would be themself (v. Arnold Zwicky on Language Log on singular themself), but it's clumsy.]


Cecilieaux said...

I assume this is a protest against the plural used as a way of avoiding a pronoun with a gender. If so, I agree wholeheartedly. This has got to stop!

But it won't.

Will S. said...

The use of "they" as a singular pronoun has been in common usage for hundreds of years. (Check your local Oxford English Dictionary if you don't believe me.)

I find it hilarious that some people are so adamant about not using "they" as a singular pronoun, as if it is the only inconsistency that exists in the English language; the English language is rampant with inconsistencies.

It's interesting that some people are so strongly against "they" as a singular pronoun, while at the same time they are perfectly fine with "you" as a singular pronoun. "You" was plural long before it started being used as singular. "They" has simply followed the same tradition. It is more consistent to use both "you" and "they" as both singular and plural than to allow one while the use of the other is cause to be burned at the stake.

In other words: get a fucking clue.

Anonymous said...

The only thing vulgar about the sentence in question is that the noun case is wrong. It should be "themself" rather than "themselves", as the post is obviously advertised towards people who are singular beings, not plural entities. (People with multiple personalities just had their hopes dashed.)

Me said...

Was it not correct to write: "Are you an excellent primary teacher who pride yourself in your method of delivery of the national curriculum?" or "Are you (one) of those excellent primary teachers who pride themselves in their method of delivery of the national curriculum?"

Anonymous said...

Or: "Are you an excellent primary teacher? Do you pride yourself . . ."

Or: "Are you an excellent primary teacher, and do you pride yourself . . "

As opposed to the excellent primary teachers who don't pride themselves?