What does it take to put grammar on the map? Gender, apparently. If you’re American, you’ve probably eben using “they,” “their,” and “them” to refer to a person–whose gender you might or might not know–your entire life. At some point, you might also have have encountered a grammar nerd or English teacher who corrected you: “he or she” for “they,” “his or hers” for “theirs,” etc.
Although language is a fluid, dynamic thing, the grammar book committees and major institutions can be stubborn. So, here’s the way I, and many other grammar nerds, learned to use pronouns:
Someone is searching for
theirhis cellphone. Where do you think theyhe put it?
Every student needs to study for
theirher English test, or theyshe might not pass.
Every studentStudents need sto study for their English test, or they might not pass.
Until now, I’d never taken a stand. I’d lorded the fact that I knew when to use a singular pronoun over the less grammatically aware. I assumed–and still assume–that most people who write using a plural pronoun in place or a singular one aren’t doing so because they want to make a statement about gender–they’re doing it because they don’t know any better.
Then it occurred to me that just because I know better doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be a respectful, compassionate person. And frankly, on a personal level, I don’t like being forced to give someone a gender. I like the idea of gender-less pronouns. Henceforth, I promise to follow in the footsteps of The Washington Post and use “they/them/their/theirs” in place of singular gendered pronouns. Are you with me?