Works in Progress

Pronouning since before it was trandy!


Can we have a singular gender neutral that’s not just anonymizing?

“The [cashier/bank teller/bus driver] told me what I need to do, but they said I’d have to wait till tomorrow when the office opens.” (Ex. 1)

Ex. 2.
Person A – “What did that person want, who stopped you in the doorway?” [sic] (This is how people talk.)
Person B – “Oh, nothing, they just thought my shirt was cool.”

Note Ex. 1 is different from, “The bank said my deposit went through. But they said I can’t withdraw till Monday.”
And Ex. 2 can sometimes even be:
Person A – “What did that guy in the lobby want?”
Person B – “Oh, they just complimented my shirt.”

Even when people know the person’s gender by presumption, people use “they,” singular but anonymizing. They for a company/entity is technically singular (“the bank”; “my university”), but can be used because it is known to be a collective noun, referring to the institution, and at least functionally, to all the personnel.

They gets used when the gender of the individual does not matter, but it does not matter because the individual is not as relevant in the context as is their representation of an institution or their role or their actions. Or–the individual and the situation are hypothetical, general, or generic, in the subjunctive.