Someone left ______ phone in the classroom.
Ironically, as Henry Hitchens notes it was a woman who promoted the idea that the singular pronoun should be male. Ann fisher, author of the popular A New Grammar (1745) believed that ‘he, him and his’ could be used ‘to cover both male and female in general statements.’
A teacher who talks too much will alienate their students.
|the current pronouns of English|
Despite working every day, Monroe was unable to make ends meet. By January 2014, finances had improved, and Monroe was able to move into a small 2 bedroom flat with their son.
There are limits to this though and Wikipedia eventually has to actually use said pronouns, resulting in the grammatical horror below:
It was at this point they changed their name from their birth name to Jack Monroe – ‘Jack’ being short for “Jack of all trades“, their nickname.
That this doesn’t really work becomes clear when we read sentences where who the pronoun refers to has to be explicitly spelt out in parenthesis:
Earlier this year, Wilson asked friends to call them “Kit,” instead of the name they (Wilson) had grown up with…
Here, the usefulness of pronouns as a class of word is nullified entirely. And there is a greater problem which at first isn’t so obvious. You can see it in the sentence below from Wikipedia.
Jack Monroe is a writer, journalist and activist…
Can’t see the issue? That’s because you’re used to normal English grammar. Allow me to explain.
Verbs match pronouns. We say ‘I am’ not (usually) ‘I is’ or ‘I are’. We say ‘he is’ we don’t (usually) say ‘you is’, ‘they is’ and so on. Jack Munroe and Kit Wilson’s preferred pronouns are ‘they’ which takes the verb ‘are’ (they are friends). When we use someone’s name we assume the pronoun in order to work out the verb. That is, when I say ‘John is tired’ the reason I use ‘is’ and not ‘are’ is because John = he. As Jack Munroe does not equal ‘she’ or ‘he’ but ‘they’ the sentence should read:
Jack Monroe are a writer, journalist and activist…
This is such a normal part of our language that even those trying hard to use the right pronouns are getting it consistently wrong. Below are some examples of what writers should have written about Jack Munroe (I have corrected and highlighted the verbs):
This might seem like a fad or something that could never possibly catch on, but the recent case of Leo Soell might give you pause. Soell, who identifies as neither male or female, won a $60,000 settlement for, among others things being subjected to ‘improper gender pronoun use’ after her colleagues refused to call her ‘they’ (they ‘they’?). New York City human right’s commission states that failing to us an individuals preferred pronouns, such as ‘Ze’ or ‘Hir’ is discrimination and may result in a fine. This is a major switch in the way the English language is used. As Deborah Cameron* notes:
Even if the majority of non-traditional pronoun-users choose the same few forms (e.g. ‘ey’, ‘they’ and ‘ze’), it will still be necessary to memorize each person/pronoun pairing separately, because there is no rule we can use to predict an individual’s preference. That isn’t just a minor adjustment to the existing personal pronoun system. It’s a fundamental change in the way pronouns work.