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Use of they/them as singular
Old 07-17-2019, 01:03 PM
 
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I was just in a conversation on fb about the use of they/them as singular. I was taught that they is plural and is only used as singular if the antecedent is unspecified. It's only been in the last decade or so that the use of they/them as a singular pronoun to refer to a transgender or binary individual. I made a comment that someone needs to create a new pronoun to refer to trans people because I was always taught that they was plural and I was attacked. I was called trash and told I was hurtful. My comment was uninformed, not intentionally hurtful.

I know that language is always changing and evolving. Do any of you who teach young kid (like 4th and below) teach your students that they/them is singular in referencing someone who does not prefer he/him/she/hers?

Also please don't jump all over me for asking. I'm always looking to learn and grow and I would like to do that without being attacked.


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I have heard this being used
Old 07-17-2019, 01:29 PM
 
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to avoid the gender specific labels.

I think it might be a good idea to move to pronouns that are not gender specific, but I am with you. I wish they would choose a new term. I have heard a few times the use of ze, zer etc.

As teachers we know that is much easier to teach something new, than it is to change something that we have used for so many, many years.

It was rude and unacceptable for anyone to attack you for not using the new terms or for questioning the reason for new terms.

Back in the day, I remember people were upset when women started to use Ms. and not Miss or Mrs.
This too will pass.
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Old 07-17-2019, 01:38 PM
 
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I have a relative who identifies as non nonart. Neither gender. This person preferred to be referred to us as they or them.
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Old 07-17-2019, 01:45 PM
 
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I took a class in college and she absolutely forbade the use of they/them as singular. You had to pick he/she and use it throughout the paper. They/Them is plural. Since then, I’ve always done it that way. Plus, they/them IS plural.
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Old 07-17-2019, 01:50 PM
 
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That's what I experienced as well. However I was informed in a snarky belittling way that the use of they as singular has been around since the 1300's and that although not proper it has been used. I googled it and it does say that however it states that it was mainly used if the antecedent was unspecified.
I was told I was ignorant and hurtful and a trash person.


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Old 07-17-2019, 03:07 PM
 
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I’m sorry that you were treated that way. It wasn’t ok for them to call you trash, even if they felt you were being callous (I’m not saying you were, just that they might have interpreted your remark as flippant).

I welcome the switch to using they/them as singular. I think that is an easier change than adding a new identifier. That being said, until it is more widely accepted, I still teach it the way I learned it.
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Old 07-17-2019, 03:08 PM
 
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You are most definitely not "ignorant and hurtful and a trash person".

I actually agree with you that the best solution would be to create a whole new pronoun, rather than usurping the plural - but I don't think it's going to happen.

I'm guessing I'll get used to the new conventions in time. - I figure the whole thing is way more important to the person uncomfortable with "he" or "she" than it is to me and my love of grammar.
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Old 07-17-2019, 03:40 PM
 
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My goodness! No way should people be calling you ignorant, or trash or hurtful. Not long ago I was having a conversation (actually more than one) where my dd was calling her friend "they." I can't follow the conversation. Are there other people there? Who are you talking about now?

I understand the need to have a different pronoun, but lets pick one that doesn't have a different meaning! It is very hard to follow or understand conversations when "they" is an individual. Maybe this won't be true forever, but why not just get another word to use? It would solve many things.

I am trying to be progressive, but it just sends mixed messages.
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It's common were I live
Old 07-17-2019, 04:09 PM
 
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They/them are pronouns of choice, and gets used often. It's really really common at DD's high school. Two of DD friends told me their preferred pronouns aren they/them. I tell them straight up, if I make a mistake, it's not that I don't care, but I gots the olds. Seriously, I don't know how those English teachers cope over there.

DD is at camp and one of then questions asked is what are your preferred pronouns. My sister works at a big deal corporation, and in her email sign line are her preferred pronouns. Everyone is required at work to do it. My new GP had the same question also.

What makes it utterly brutal is reading an entire article where they and them are singular pronouns.

The NYT had a wonderful article an IIRC on non binary teens and their struggles. The whole article was full of they/them, sometimes writing about two people at once so a lot of they is and they are. It was barely readable to me. I slogged through the whole article, but many of my friends gave up about three paragraphs into. That is a real pity, because none of these kids voices got heard.

I think they/them is here to stay. I see it on official forms. Younger non binary people are using it. It will be another exception to grammar rules, unless the government starts using something else on official documents.


Example from my sister --->Mx Brooklyn Smith will be at the meeting. They is very excited to meet everyone.


She has to figure out how to compose those types of emails. It's not easy when Microsoft is pinging every "they is" as wrong.
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Old 07-17-2019, 04:33 PM
 
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See, I would still use “they are” even when referring to one individual.


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Old 07-17-2019, 04:36 PM
 
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I was watching a TV show last night in which a couple of the characters use they/them to describe themselves. I don't have an issue with it is that's what is preferred, but I got confused a few times while watching they show because in my mind when I hear they/them I think of it as plural automatically.

I wouldn't teach younger students that though, unless the need arises because of a classmate. I hate to think of the almighty tests, but they would like be marked down or get an answer wrong if they used they/them as singular. That may eventually change, but that isn't the case right now.
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Old 07-17-2019, 05:18 PM
 
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They/them used to be plural. That rule has expired.
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Old 07-17-2019, 05:57 PM
 
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Seems like we need another pronoun. If they / them is going to become singular, then there needs to be another word for plurals. I can't imagine reading or writing using they / them as singular, but not having a plural 3rd person pronouns form or using they / them as both singular and plural. Seems like it would be difficult to comprehend the meaning of something of you aren't sure if the author means 1 person or several. Or we'll just have to start using the referent in everything we write, which could become really clunky.
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Old 07-17-2019, 05:58 PM
 
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I forgot to add that I really struggled this year with my 3rd Graders. I so wanted to teach the new "rule" but I didn't want to go there with parents! I really, really wanted to.
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Old 07-17-2019, 07:46 PM
 
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How sad that they treated you that way. It sounds like they want to be inclusive, but they certainly weren't including you since they were name-calling.

"They is" is like fingernails on a chalkboard.
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Old 07-17-2019, 08:11 PM
 
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We actually DO use they/them in a singular sense all the time, we just don't think about it.

You find a sweater on a table in the teacher's lounge, and as you hang it on the back of a chair, you say, "I hope they come back to get it soon". And since the sweater most likely doesn't belong to two people, you are using "they" to identify a singular person of unknown identity.

I teach the basic rules of grammar to my kids, but I teach Kinder, so I know that makes a difference. We do talk about diversity and respect, and if I know someone uses different pronouns I'll use them in front of the class, like "Mr. Bill is coming back to visit tomorrow. I know they are so excited to see us again!" I don't think kids are as dumb as we treat them sometimes. They can figure it out.

I don't like the new pronouns the ze's and zhe's and thym's, as I think some people are being labeled with them who don't want them, much like being called a "womyn" rankled me during a feminist studies class in college. Not that I don't think "womyn" is a valid identifier, it's just not what I categorize myself as. I am comfortable with "woman" and I don't want other people making up names to define me. I think the important thing is just to call people what they tell you they want to be called.

And on my soapbox, something EVERYBODY needs to do right now is go to your FB page or your Insta page and add something under your name or intro or headline or whatever like, "I use she/her pronouns". Let's just normalize this so that everyone feels comfortable saying "Hey, THIS is how I want to be referred to." It's just basic respect.
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Old 07-17-2019, 09:59 PM
 
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It drives me nuts because of the plural aspect of it. I know zhey/zhem or something like that has been floated around, and I would really prefer something like that (basically any "new" pronoun would be preferable to me). Like a few others have said, I get so confused when my teenaged daughter is telling me a story about a friend and using "they" and I keep thinking it's more than one friend. Part of the issue is that my daughter has several friends who change names every so often, so when my daughter talks about Theo and uses they, but the next week is talking about Kevin and using they, I don't always know who Kevin is so I don't catch onto her intended use of "they" for one person and I'm thinking it's more than one person (because, as it turns out, Kevin was Theo just last week).

I would say that at least half of my daughter's friend circle is transgender or nonbinary. She also has a few friends who change their preferred pronouns by the day or the hour, and she has to check in to see what they want to be called at that time. The switching of pronouns also leads to confusion when she is relating stories about events of the day or something. She has a lot of friends, and I don't always keep them straight with name changes and pronoun changes. It's not for lack of trying, though! We recently went on a trip and saw some friends in other parts of the country. A few of those friends had never known anyone who outwardly (to their knowledge) identified as something other than he/she. I wonder how common it is in various places. I had assumed it was very common everywhere.

As some others have mentioned, it is also very common in my area to have people including preferred pronouns in email signatures. I appreciate knowing how to refer to someone if that person has a preference that might not be immediately obvious. However, I intentionally do not have my pronouns in my signatures. I really don't care if someone uses he/him, she/her, or they/them with me. And I really don't want to include pronouns in my signature. I am happy to respect others' choices, but this is my choice (to not want to be pigeonholed into certain pronouns).

In my adult life, I have actively been involved in various activities (large and small) to promote equality for LGBTQIA* populations. But I will admit I am frustrated by this plural pronoun being used for this purpose. It's true we have used "they" in vague generalizations in singular context for years (e.g., Someone is going to bring the pizza, I hope they come soon). But that isn't the same, imho, as using "they" to refer to a very specific person. That's where the confusion comes. I'm not currently teaching young kids, so I'm not sure what I would do (to respond to the OP's question). If it came up because someone had a difference in preferred pronouns and was visiting, I would certainly use those preferred pronouns. I'm not sure I would teach it out of context, however. I teach graduate students, and we address these types of things within the context of the class.

I recently was asked to write a recommendation letter for someone and I asked that person for preferred pronouns to use. The preferred pronouns were they/them. It was really difficult to write a clear letter because of that pronoun use. I found myself using that person's name much more frequently than I normally would in a letter to prevent confusion.

It sounds like several people were called "trash" for asking questions or expressing other opinions. That's not cool at all.
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Old 07-18-2019, 12:47 AM
 
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I can't imagine reading or writing using they / them as singular, but not having a plural 3rd person pronouns form or using they / them as both singular and plural. Seems like it would be difficult to comprehend the meaning of something of you aren't sure if the author means 1 person or several.
We seem to do just fine with "you" being specific singular, general singular, and specific and general plural. "They" just seems weird because it's a part of language in flux right now and we're currently in the rapids portion of the journey.

I personally would prefer a different pronoun but I am also confident it's a thing we're all capable of getting over eventually because that's what we do as English speakers.

But I do think part of the issue is also because this one just happens to be very politically charged. Sso even if you're an LGBQT ally, the stress around it affects you. When there is confusion about plural and singular "you," you clarify and go on about your day. When there is confusion about "they," there's always a chance you're going to offend someone, which makes the whole thing so very fraught.
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Old 07-18-2019, 06:29 AM
 
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With hate crimes and murder rates dramatically spiking for non-binary individuals, I feel it's the least we can do to use preferred pronouns when addressing people.
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Old 07-18-2019, 08:46 AM
 
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They/them used to be plural. That rule has expired.
*clapping* it really is that simple, people! The rules have changed. That happens.

I have no issues at all embracing whatever makes people feel comfortable and accepted. If that means calling someone by their preferred pronouns, so be it.
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Old 07-24-2019, 12:12 PM
 
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I think you are confusing academic grammar and cultural grammar. As a teacher you teach academic grammar where “they” is plural. A trans person has the right to choose how they are addressed. That is a cultural grammar use.

For you to suggest that a new pronoun is needed to refer to trans people is insulting. Not your place to do so.
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I had a whole weekend of they/them
Old 07-24-2019, 02:39 PM
 
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My DD had a lot of don't identify as cis gendered friends at her camp. I didn't know how they identify, but there was a lot of they is, their and them all in the singular during the two days parents could come visit.

The problem I had was looking at my DD's friends' art work, saying, "I really like her work." and have my DD snake hiss, "Their mom. THEIR."

Which is all fine and good, but the person never talked to me, so I couldn't find out preferred pronouns.

After the 5th snake hiss of "THEIR", I asked my DD what I should do so I didn't come across as an ignorant, unsympathetic clod? I see the name "Jane Doe", what pronoun should I use? Jane is usually a women's name.

I guess at camp everyone defaulted to they/their/them singular.

That actually took a big weight off my shoulders. Life is hard enough than to have people hacked off that I don't respect them as a person.

Finnish is a language with one pronoun. Lucky them! Lol..
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