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Gender-neutral pronouns are always correct

Illustration: Thayer Sindelar· The Sentry

Only cowards don’t use they/them in the singular 

Pronouns are a funny thing, and everyone seems to either have a hard time understanding how important they are or have some sort of heated opinion on it. Unfortunately, some hold the position that they/them pronouns can’t and shouldn’t be used in common conversation, foolishly citing grammar conventions. This assertion is ill-informed and, overall, childish.

Naysayers of gender-neutral pronouns will say that the usage of such pronouns are some newfangled millennial informality that violates their understanding of plurality and singularity—clutching at their precious grammar rules. Travel back in time to the sprightly year of 1300 when the English language was still but an edgy teenager of a language. This pre-dates even the Great Vowel Shift, which is when things really started getting buck wild. English writers have been utilizing the singular they since this time, the better part of the language’s lifetime. Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Austen have used they in the singular in many of their works over the last few centuries. So, if anything, using they/them pronouns in the singular is more accurate to classical rules of grammar.

Okay, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that singular they/them pronouns aren’t a grammar convention that has been used for upward of 700 years. It doesn’t make a difference because plenty of new grammar conventions and words have been developed over the course of the English language, and a new gender-neutral usage of they/them is hardly any different. Shakespeare himself invented over 420 words and developed an entirely new standard of grammar for the language.

The beautiful thing about a language like English, which in itself started as a variation of Germanic languages, is that it’s imperfect and complex and is going to change over time. Maybe using they/them as gender-neutral pronouns is a big new idea of the English language, but it should be embraced like many of the grammatical concepts that have come before it.

The most important thing to remember when considering they/them pronouns, however, is that it’s just going to make non-binary and gender non-conforming people more comfortable. It’s so easy.  It’s literally so easy. It’s the easiest thing ever. If someone doesn’t know for certain what another person identifies as, all they have to do is say they. If that person then asks for different pronouns, or even different gender-neutral pronouns then that may be another thing, but just using they/them in the singular as a default is a safe and courteous gesture. It removes the cisgendered assumption, which many non-binary, agender, or otherwise gender non-conforming individuals struggle with, as they avoid presenting a gender in tandem with the gender binary. There’s no decent reason to have a cow about someone who just wants to feel comfortable as themselves, and using they/them pronouns is easy, grammatically correct, and validating.

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