The Singular "They"

Singular "They."The singular “they” refers to the use of the third-person plural pronoun when mentioning a sole individual. Over the past few years, the use of “they” as a singular pronoun has become increasingly popular in the editing and writing world.

In particular, many writers and editors, such as myself, who follow Inclusive Language best practices, have long been proponents of this use. This is because the use of the singular “they” avoids making assumptions about an individual’s pronouns and gender identity. It is also a way to be inclusive and respectful to a variety of individuals’ lived experiences.

Resources and Further Reading
Before We Begin, What is a Pronoun?

Pronouns: A pronoun refers to how we refer to individuals in conversation when not using their name.

Some examples of pronouns include “she/her,” “he/him,” “they/them,” “she/they,” “they/she,” “he/they,” and “they/he.”

  • Example: John is graduating on Monday. They are very excited.


Neopronouns:  Neopronouns are pronouns that move past “she/her,” “he/him,” and “they/them.” Some examples include “ze/hir,” “xe/xem,” and “ey/em.”

  • Example: Ze cannot wait to go on vacation.


Multiple Pronouns: For individuals who use multiple pronouns, such as “she/they,” it is always best to confirm how these should be used in a document. At times, they may be interchangeable, but this depends on each individual.

  • Example: Jennifer Smith (she/they) is a copy editor. They focus on Inclusive Language.


Lack of Pronouns: Some individuals do not use pronouns and are referred to by their names.

  • Example: Natalia is very tired today. Natalia is thinking about taking a nap.


A Reminder: In addition, please remember that pronouns are simply “pronouns,” as opposed to “preferred pronouns.” The use of the term “preferred” is invalidating to an individual’s identity. Pronouns are inherent to an individual.

Using the Singular “They”

There are two main points to remember when using the singular “they.”

Specific Person – First, the singular “they” can be used to refer to a specific individual. This could be someone who does not use “she/her” or “he/him” pronouns and uses “they/them” or multiple pronouns. Individuals use “they/them” pronouns for a variety of reasons, including being non-binary or avoiding gendered terms.

  • Example: Natalia is a great editor. They really take their time to make sure to retain the author’s voice in a document.


Non-Specific Person – “They” can also be refer to a non-specific individual, whose gender identity is not specified or in situations when it is not necessary to know the individual’s gender identity.

  • Example: The developmental editor did a great job on the manuscript. They are very knowledgeable about improving the narrative point of view of a story.
Some Tips to Remember

Subject-Verb Agreement: When thinking about the subject-verb agreement, although the singular pronoun “they” refers to one individual, using a plural verb form is recommended.

  • Example: They are at home cooking a great meal.
  • It would be incorrect to say: They is at home cooking a great meal.


Reflexive Singular Pronouns: In terms of reflexive singular pronouns, various style guides have differing opinions on referring to an individual as “themself” versus “themselves.” While “themselves” remains popular, “themself” is also becoming increasingly used. Despite style guide choices, it is always best to defer to and respect the language that an individual uses.

  • Example: Natalia can carry this box themselves.



Be sure to check out my recent blog series focusing on “Avoiding Harm in Our Writing and Writing,” including my recent blog on “2SLGBTQIA+ Terminology” and “Inclusive Language.”

Do you have any tips for using the singular “they”? I’d love to hear your suggestions! Questions? Comments? For inclusive language projects, please visit my inclusive language page, which lists my full experience and rates. Contact me for more information about your project needs.

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