Annals of singular "they"

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Shane Hickey, "The innovators: the app promising the perfect-fitting bra", The Guardian 1/10/2015:

The sizing technology works via an iPhone app. To use it, a woman must take two pictures of themselves while wearing a tight fitted top in front of a mirror. The phone is held at the bellybutton and a picture is taken from the front and the side. Software developed by Thirdlove then draws up measurements by calculating the distance between the mirror and the contours of the body.

Maybe an editor changed "women" to "a woman" and neglected to change "themselves" to "herself". But I prefer to think that it's just another brick in the singular-they wall — and maybe a vote for "themselves" as the reflexive form?

[h/t Bob Ladd]



  1. Lazar said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 12:01 pm

    It seems weird to maintain themselves for singular they, while you, having undergone the same singularizing process, is paired with yourself. Themself has even received the endorsement of Canada – what more do you need?

  2. BZ said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 12:54 pm

    I don't think the singular you underwent the same process as singular they, though the end result may or may not turn out to be the same. There was never any gender ambiguity with "thou". Also, I wonder when the form "yourself" developed. If it is true that the early printing presses were at least in part responsible for the transition between "thou" and "you" by using the letter "y" for the "th" sound, presumably "thyself" would have turned into "yyself". Was there ever a period when singular "yourselves" was used?

  3. FM said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 1:02 pm

    @Lazar: Sure, 'themself' sounds logical. But I'm a native speaker of singular 'they', and 'themselves' is the only option for me, at least in the reflexive sense. The emphatic example in the Wikipedia article

    "It is not an actor pretending to be Reagan or Thatcher, it is, in grotesque form, the person themself." —Hislop (1984); quoted in Fowler's

    would sound equally weird with "themselves", perhaps because you wouldn't find this kind of syntax colloquially.

  4. Daniel Barkalow said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 2:22 pm

    There's also the possibility that the article was written with "themself" but a spellchecker incorrected it to "themselves" (like my browser's spellchecker would like to do).

  5. Robert said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 2:34 pm

    This strikes me as an overzealous, if not silly, case of avoiding gender-biased pronouns. Here the antecedent, whether it's woman or women,
    is unambiguously female, so using "her" is perfectly acceptable.

    [(myl) You've missed the point, twice.

    In the first place, it's clear from the text of the story that no zeal is involved. This is apparently just another case where the writer is most comfortable using "they" to refer to an indefinite antecedent, even if it's singular and of known gender.

    And in the second place, it's not a matter of what would be "acceptable", to you or anyone else, but rather how people are choosing to talk and write.]

  6. Ellen K. said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 2:53 pm

    For me, "themselves" there is wrong. Doesn't work. Number mismatch. "Themself" would be fine.

    @Robert, it may strike you that way, but it seems to me it's excededly unlikely to actually be that way. Using singular they for a generic individual, regardless of whether we can make an assumption about gender, is a very old usage, and comes naturally to many English speakers. And some (though not me) pair it with "themselves".

  7. Xtifr said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 2:55 pm

    @FM: "themself" is perfect acceptable to me; I used it for years before I started noticing that spell-checkers were flagging it. (Which only started happening once I started using software with always-on spell-checkers, since my spelling is good enough that I rarely bothered with spell checkers before that.)

    @Robert: It would be silly if done deliberately to avoid gender bias, but I think the point here is that it probably wasn't done deliberately. This is quickly becoming the everyday speech of the 21st c., and people hardly notice when it happens.

  8. John Roth said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 3:13 pm

    It strikes me as wrong too, and that has nothing to do with the difference between themself and themselves. It's because the antecedent is really singular rather than being an exemplar of a set of people each considered as an individual. That is, it's a specific, although unknown, person who is doing the procedure.

    Given that there's no issue with the gender, I'd regard she as acceptable. If there was an issue with the gender, I'd be reaching for a real gender-neutral pronoun, and would use one for my own private notes.

    Of course, I'm in my 70s, and not all that up on the current usages.

  9. Bill R said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 3:24 pm

    Am I alone in preferring 'theirself' to 'themself' here? The latter sounds clumsier to me and the former more "refined" (whatever that means.)

    And if the aim is to be gender-neutral, why specify "woman" at all to begin with? Why not say, "a customer must take…"?

  10. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 3:45 pm

    Bill R: I definitely prefer "themself" or "themselves". "Theirself" sounds to me like the stigmatized "hisself".

    And as Ellen K. said, I don't the aim is to be gender-neutral.

  11. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 5:36 pm

    With a generalising singular they, 'themselves' is well established, as in 'someone might trip and hurt themselves'. It's only when singular they is used for a named or specified individual that this begins to sound odd. I would say that 'a woman' in this context is more parallel to 'someone' (it's a generic woman, not a particular woman), so 'themselves' is fine.

  12. dw said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 5:39 pm

    Ellen K

    Using singular they for a generic individual, regardless of whether we can make an assumption about gender, is a very old usage

    Do you have a "very old" example of singular they used to refer to generic individual of known gender (as here)?

  13. James said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 5:53 pm

    My ear and usage also agrees with Ellen K's: 'themself', not 'themselves', for the singular.
    I remember someone expressed alarm at 'themself' when I used it, a few years ago, and I had to look in a dictionary to see whether it was even recognized as a word. (It is — 14th century!)

  14. bks said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 5:54 pm

    I've heard women (in the movies) refer to their breasts as the boys. To my ear that almost recovers the grammaticality of the sentence.

  15. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 7:01 pm

    Here's a similar example: "Judith will arm you with tools that will help you navigate those choices, including a list of questions every woman should ask themselves."

    Also this one found via google books, "Every woman should ask themselves, after the loss of your spouse, can you still afford the luxury of that beloved and familiar residence?" From a 2011 book by Vera Lewis entitled "What Happens to Me After He's Gone: A Financial Guide for Pastor's Wives and Women Everywhere." This may be particularly noteworthy because the author's bio indicates that Mrs. Lewis was "Co-Founder of the Bethlehem Church of God In Christ, located in Fort Worth, TX which was founded by her visionary husband, the late Elder James David Lewis," and I'm gonna go out on a limb and speculate that she's probably not from the segment of American society with a self-conscious dedication to "progressive" views on gender-role issues and an equally self-conscious dedication to signalling that commitment via patterns of pronoun use. Indeed, the congregation's website (the COGIC is fwiw a historically black-majority Pentecostal denomination) uses the rather striking and new-to-me title "First Lady" for the pastor's wife, with the current incumbent of that office being Mrs. Lewis' daughter. Quite a nice vernacular usage, imho, but probably a bit too "gendered" for those who would use "themselves" in order to reject binary etc etc etc.

  16. Lazar said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 7:22 pm

    @bks: I've more frequently heard "the girls".

  17. Guy said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 8:08 pm

    As far as I know, I've been a "themself"-sayer my whole life. I never consciously noticed that I say it and never really considered whether there was anything odd about it until, like xtifr, I noticed it being flagged by spell-checkers. I'm actually curious if there's any good data on the prevalence of "themself" in speech.

  18. Guy said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 8:22 pm

    @Bill R

    As far as I'm consciously aware, "theirself" is not in my personal lexicon. One time I did accidentally write "theirselves" before immediately correcting myself when presenting a complete personal pronoun paradigm for an English-learner, but that was most likely a production error inspired by the irregularity of the paradigm when writing them all sequentially, and I wouldn't infer that I produce it naturally in speech from that (though I don't have anyone follow me around all day with a recording device). I have heard "theirself" and "theirselves" from other people, but I don't get the impression that it's very frequent.

  19. Guy said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 8:42 pm


    "There's not a man I meet but doth salute me
    As if I were their well-acquainted friend"

    That's from Shakespeare's "A Comedy of Errors"

    (Cribbed from an older Language Log post: )

  20. Bloix said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 10:46 pm

    "You've missed the point, twice."
    No, he's disagreeing with you. It's your blog and all, and you certainly get to tell people that they're wrong, but please don't pretend that anyone with a view that differs from yours is too stupid to understand your position. It's not an attractive look.

    [(myl) Sorry, but I disagree. The original article (which the commenter apparently didn't read) shows no evidence of being an "overzealous, if not silly, case of avoiding gender-biased pronouns". Indeed the author clearly has no concern for avoiding gender-based pronouns at all. Consider the second sentence:

    The idea of going bra shopping used to be a long way down Heidi Zak’s list of priorities.

    “The way that a woman normally gets fitted for a bra is that there is an older lady who is going to measure you with a measuring tape,” she explained.

    And as it happens, I agree with the commenter's reaction to the usage — I find "themselves" jarring (in "a woman must take two pictures of themselves"), and would have written "a woman must take two pictures of herself". But the point of the post was not my preferences or the commenter's preferences, or whether some more conventional alternative would have been "acceptable". Rather, the point was a simple observation about how the language is coming to be used.

    So the commenter did miss the point, and missed it twice. Perhaps I should have pointed this out more diplomatically, but …]

  21. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    January 11, 2016 @ 11:12 pm

    Reminds me of back when I was an undergraduate and one of my professors made the point that singular they could only be used in cases where the gender was unknown. (His example was that you wouldn't say "Somebody left their purse in the ladies' room.") Later I was watching TV in my dorm and scored the mother of all counterexamples: a stand-up comedian told the story of his worst ever gig and his account featured the sentence, "And then somebody showed me their penis."

  22. Vanya said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 3:50 am

    Having a penis is no longer a definitive marker of gender. Many transsexual women still have theirs.

  23. Rob Wilson said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 6:01 am

    Elsewhere in the article is this:
    “They try it because they are being ‘this is crazy, of course this is not going to work’. Then they get a size and it is a half size and it seems really right.”

    … they are being…?
    New to me!

    [(myl) Yeah, should of been "they are being like 'this is crazy'", amirite?]

  24. Ray said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 7:38 am

    maybe (as the article suggests) the new term for all this "they"/"them" usage for singles (reflexively in front of their mirrors, no less!) can be called "Thirdlove"

  25. Bloix said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 9:53 am

    Thank you, myl, for your moderate and temperate response to my moderately intemperate comment.

    I am reading a recent popular linguistics book called Lingo, by Gaston Dorren, and this morning on the subway I came across a little joke. "On the great issues of their age, [linguists] tend not to speak out. When one of them does, he tends to be Noam Chomsky."

    Dorren set this up to avoid they ("when one of them does, he tends …" instead of "when they do, they tend …").

    But I noticed that I was half-expecting "when one of them does, they tend …".

    Conclusion: I don't like singular they and even I am coming to accept that it's on the way to being ordinary usage.

  26. michael farris said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 11:02 am

    As a native speaker of something like GAE I've often used 'they' to refer to a person whose sex was known (to me but not the person I was talking to though I'm not sure if that's relevant).

    For example (from when I worked in an office and a co-worker entered)

    Me: Somebody called for you but they didn't want to leave a message.

    Also, though I want to like and use themself it doesn't come naturally, I usually use 'themselves' as the reflexive.

    "A person has to decide for themselves."

    The usage in the sample here strikes me as awkward and I tend to think it's the result of faulty editing rather than really natural usage . If it were first written in the plural and then somebody changed that without checking the rest..

  27. ajay said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 11:41 am

    The thought occurs that, should these innovators be in need of another revenue stream, they will probably find it quite easy to monetise their database of close-up photos of the chests of women in tight-fitting tops.

  28. de said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 12:01 pm


    Thank you!

  29. Guy said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 12:26 pm

    @michael farris

    "They" would be the natural pronoun for me there, as well. I think it would feel super awkward to drop a new piece of information like a person's previously unknown gender into a pronoun selection. I think part of the reason for this is the function of pronoun gender in helping to identify the antecedent, so it feels odd (to me) to include new information that presents something of a red herring in finding it. "Somebody" usually gets "they", so in a context like "somebody called John, but he…" "he" feels to me like it really should refer to John, since he's the only identifiably male referent. "Some guy called, and he…" on the other hand, feels perfectly natural for me.

  30. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 1:28 pm

    There's nothing wrong or unnatural to my ear with "Somebody called but didn't want to leave a message," thus avoiding the whole issue. I expect I *might* use "they" in such a context where the sex of the caller was known to me but seemed irrelevant, but might equally well use he or she, as the case might be. I certainly do not share the intuition that it would be "super awkward" or even ordinary-level awkward to do the latter.

    Maybe one way to think about it is to consider a few related points. 1. Including arguably irrelevant/non-salient information is quite common in all sorts of discourse contexts — even leaving aside the problem that not everyone (and not all participants in a given discourse) will have the same intuitions as to exactly which details are relevant versus irrelevant, including irrelevant information only violates a Gricean maxim when it is distracting or time-wasting beyond a de minimis level, and a gendered pronoun imho is not (among other things it doesn't add more syllables to the sentence). 2. Relevance/salience is not a binary quality but a continuum, so e.g. "some lady called but she didn't want to leave a message" highlights the caller's sex more than "someone called but she didn't" etc., so the latter construction may be appropriate when the caller's sex is less salient/relevant. Thus "burying" the new information about a particular individual's sex in a pronoun choice seems to me likely to be problematic or awkward only when the specification of sex is unusually relevant/salient/surprising such that the listener might have expected it to be, as it were, part of the headline rather than an incidental detail of the story. 3. We are obviously moving away from an ancien regime in which it was generally obligatory in English to specify via pronoun choice the sex of a specific individual human referent of known sex regardless of relevance-in-context, but we are a long way (for mainstream speakers) away from a new equilibrium where such specification is ungrammatical or even notably marked unless sex is obviously relevant-in-context (and, as suggested above, such a norm would be particularly hard to implement because people with varying social/political attitudes will predictably have differing intutions as to whether a given individual's sex is relevant in a given context). Indeed, point 3 also feeds back into point 1 a different way — because it has been and remains so common in English to specify sex via pronoun choice regardless of the specific relevance-in-context of sex, doing so is unlikely to violate the relevant Gricean maxim(s), because it is unlikely to leave the listener puzzling over what hidden significance the irrelevant information is intended to convey.

    Pointing the other way, I guess I should in fairness note an offsetting point 4, namely that as use of "they" for individuals of known sex becomes more common, it becomes less marked, and thus itself less likely to create difficulty by causing the listener to wonder what unusual in either the situation or the speaker's attitude toward the situation is implied by the pronoun choice.

  31. KevinM said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 3:08 pm

    Syntactical awkwardness hasn't been enough to push this change. But grammar was made for (hu)man(kind), not (hu)man(kind) for grammar. What's pushing the change now, I think, is (1) (h/t JW Brewer) a decreasing sense that it is urgent to rigidly categorize every person referred to by sex; and (2) an increasing fluidity in gender, as to social roles and even physical makeup.
    In the Nixon years, somebody asked a Justice (C.J. Rehnquist, I think) why they were dispensing with the title "Mr. Justice." His answer was "Figure it out." And pretty soon thereafter, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed.

  32. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 4:05 pm

    Maybe, but to circle back to the original example in the post, what's striking about the bra-sizing situation is the use of "they" when the sex of the referent is both known and relevant in context. Whatever the perceived benefits might be of declining to specify or focus on sex in other contexts don't explain that usage, so it seems to suggest more that once "they" becomes a common enough alternative in some contexts where one can see the argument for its aptness, it sort of drifts into a broader set of contexts where its arguable superiority to "she" no longer holds. (Parallel to Vanya's example above, there is no doubt some non-zero number of persons out there in the English-speaking world who find themselves for physiological reasons in need of a well-fitting bra but who do not find feminine pronouns consistent with their self-understanding of their gender identity, but I expect most if not all such persons would also object to being slotted into the generic category implied by "a woman," so the sentence is not going to feel "inclusive" from their perspective regardless of how the pronoun choice is handled.)

  33. bratschegirl said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 7:34 pm

    @bks I've also never heard "the boys" used by a woman in reference to breasts. I have often heard "the girls" used that way. I have a feeling that I've heard men use "the boys" to refer to testes, but don't recall where or when (and do I get points for avoiding saying that I couldn't put my finger on it?).

  34. Rod Johnson said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 9:04 pm

    I think I've noted here before that I've observed "themselve" in the wild as a singular form.

    Also, re bloix's find: of the following three examples, which sounds best?

    a. When one of them does, he tends to be Noam Chomsky.
    b. When one of them does, it tends to be Noam Chomsky.
    c. When one of them does, they tend to be Noam Chomsky.

    For me the answer is unambiguously b.

  35. Joyce Melton said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 9:59 pm

    To me, with a background based in Ozark English usage, the choice between himself/hisself/herself/themself/themselves/theirself/theirselves is a matter of register. I don't think I would have used singular they in the above example, I would have probably said herself because the context is semi-formal reporting and it just sounds more correct to me.

    In other cases, I might have chosen themself or themselves. This is a topic on the boundaries of acceptable use and by no means settled by any sort of consensus. Witness the discussion here.

    As Mark pointed out by posting this, the interesting thing is that this is a live topic and can be examined as examples come up.

  36. Xtifr said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 10:46 pm

    To follow up on my earlier comment: while I regularly use "themself" myself, I find the use of "themselves" here utterly unremarkable. It doesn't jar in the slightest. I mention this because my post appears directly below Ellen K's, which objects to the use of "themselves", but I hadn't seen that post when I wrote mine.

    On the other hand, "theirself" and "theirselves" sound completely bizarre to me. While they may occur in some regional dialects (Ozark, as Joyce Melton mentioned above), they do not seem to have made it to the US West Coast at all, as far as I can tell.

    And Rod Johnson: for your three examples, I'd rank them a, b, c, but the difference is minor at best. All three seem pretty acceptable to me. And a. seems to spoil the joke a bit. ;)

  37. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 12, 2016 @ 10:47 pm

    Rod Johnson: a or b, for me. I use "singular they" in some situations, but it doesn't sound right to me there. However, I wouldn't fall over with surprise if I heard someone say it.

    bratschegirl: You were doing fine till that last question. Now I feel viola-ted.

  38. Sam said,

    January 13, 2016 @ 1:32 am

    a. When one of them does, he tends to be Noam Chomsky.
    b. When one of them does, it tends to be Noam Chomsky.
    c. When one of them does, they tend to be Noam Chomsky.

    B is a different sentence from A or C in more than pronoun choice. In any case, I think the sentence got away with A here because it's capitalizing on the person's gender AND identity being known, and also because it's a joke–the punchline makes you go back a few words and realize why the otherwise curious "he" was chosen. I seem to accept "he" in the Chomksy sentence more than I would in "When one of them does, [he tends | they tend] to be male."

  39. Bob Ladd said,

    January 13, 2016 @ 1:39 am

    @Jerry Friedman: I see what you did there.

  40. Stacey Harris said,

    January 13, 2016 @ 3:03 am

    In my experience, singular-they is most commonly deployed, not so much in cases of gender of subject being unknown or irrelevant, but in cases in which it is desirable to use a distancing effect, to render the subject "faceless" or generic. "I had a long talk with an upset student today, but they went away satisfied," is what I would employ if I wasn't intending to continue the conversation; but if I wanted to more intensely personalize the imagery, because I was going to continue the topic, I would be more likely to use "he" or "she". (But I would also use "they" if I specifically wanted to avoid referring to the student's gender.)

    My lexicon prefers "themselves," but I had to think about it long. "Someone could slip and hurt themselves" works fine for me; "Someone could slip and hurt themself" feels a little awkward.

  41. Robot Therapist said,

    January 13, 2016 @ 3:05 am

    Rod Johnson: for natural usage, b, definitely.
    But a and c achieve comic effect, hence the use of c in the joke.
    The "it" in b is more like the "it" in "it's raining".

  42. Graeme said,

    January 13, 2016 @ 3:36 am

    Or perhaps a male sub-editor who just isn't used to thinking with a word like 'herself' and so without thinking opted for the neutral form?

  43. ajay said,

    January 13, 2016 @ 9:17 am

    The "it" in b is more like the "it" in "it's raining".

    Yes; the sentence is more like "When one of them does, it tends to be [the case that the linguist is] Noam Chomsky".

    Here's another example of using "it" which may be analogous:
    "Any messages while I was out?"
    "Yes, a woman called just after you left."
    "Oh, who was it?"
    "She didn't say."

    "Who was it" sounds much more natural than "who was she" to me, even though the sex of the caller has already been mentioned.

  44. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 13, 2016 @ 9:17 am

    I think the "someone could slip" example is maybe not the most illuminating because while the generic "someone" is syntactically singular it may be notionally plural or at least ambiguous as to number: presumably the concern is that one or more someones might slip and get hurt; there's no reason to think the number of victims will necessarily be capped at one. Whereas if a political pundit says something like "Whoever wins the Iowa caucuses may find themself/themselves hampered in subsequent primaries by the positions they took in order to pander to the ethanol lobby," it may yield better intuitions because the as-yet-unidentified "whoever" is in context necessarily (assuming no weird outcome like a tie!) singular/unique.

  45. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 13, 2016 @ 10:00 am

    NB also that in terms of intuitions as to the appropriate reflexive it might be more telling to analyze spoken usages, because "themself" in writing often gets autocorrected to "themselves" before a live copy-editor or proofreader even gets a chance to mess with a draft. (I had to just manually override autocorrect while typing this comment, to keep it from making the incoherent claim that "themselves" often gets autocorrected to "themselves.")

  46. Keith M Ellis said,

    January 14, 2016 @ 2:30 am

    "In my experience, singular-they is most commonly deployed, not so much in cases of gender of subject being unknown or irrelevant, but in cases in which it is desirable to use a distancing effect, to render the subject 'faceless' or generic."

    Yeah, isn't this subject of an earlier post that was linked in the previous post on this topic? That this version of singular they — a usage combined with known gender — appears when the subject is generic? That's the answer to Robert's complaint — this isn't deliberate and ideological, it's just an example of a usage that defaults to singular they when being non-specific about people.

    If that's the case, however, there's still the matter of woman rather than person. I think that woman reveals that the usage was almost certainly not ideological and that, while imagining bra-sizing, gender was at the forefront of the writer's thoughts. So why not use herself? Because singular they is the default for generic subjects for this writer and using the gendered pronoun would have implied greater specificity than the writer wished.

  47. Chas Belov said,

    January 14, 2016 @ 4:20 am

    "someone might trip and hurt themselves" sounds wrong to me, not even pedantic, just wrong
    "someone might trip and hurt themself" sounds correct and in line with my usage

    "To use it, a woman must take two pictures of themselves" sounds wrong
    "To use it, a woman must take two pictures of themself" sounds acceptable
    I might use that or I might use "To use it, a woman must take two pictures of herself"

    I realize self reporting is notoriously inaccurate. (Real-life example: "Tell me how you pronounce m.o.u.n.t.a.i.n" "Mown-tin" "Now used it in a sentence." "The bear went over the mown?in" (where ? is a glottal stop))
    (Where "mow" rhymes with "cow")

    I've been using singular they and themself for a long time.

    I believe at some time in the past I would have consistently rendered the second example as "herself" for an unknown person known to be female.

    However, at some point I started at least sometimes using "they" or "themself" for any unknown person whether or not gender was specified.

    It's entirely possible I will end up no longer using "himself" or "herself" for any unknown person whether or not gender was specified, and only reserving it for when the person and their preferred gender identification are known to me.

  48. Rod Johnson said,

    January 14, 2016 @ 9:30 am

    Yes, my question about "it" was not intended to reference the joke value. I was just noting that we have used it in a gender-neutral sense for a long time, and no one has criticized it as "politically correctness" grounds as far as I know. I don't know how to characterize its use exactly.

    Examples (my acceptability judgments):
    a Who was it?/ ?Who was she? / *Who were they? [singular they]
    b Who is it? It's me. / *I'm me.
    c One of us is lying, and it's not me. / *and he's not me / *and they're not me.

    So it seems to me there's some context in which they is not the singular gender-neutral pronoun of choice. I guess you could analyze it as an elliptical version of a cleft sentence ("it's me who is at the door") but that seems kind of arbitrary.

    (Re (b): this is a very common phenomenon with my Chinese students: "Dear professor: I am Chen." (From a student I know well and see often.))

  49. Bean said,

    January 14, 2016 @ 11:27 am

    @DvB: I would TOTALLY say "Someone left their purse in the ladies' room". I probably wouldn't write it though.

    WRT themselves, themself, themselve, is it just more or do others have this problem: during hockey season I frequently mispronounce plural words that should end in -ves as -fs. This is thanks to the existence of the, ahem, Toronto Maple Leafs. It screws with my intuition of how to pluralize -f words. Also a contributor is surely elf/elfs/elves. I'm sure I use "themself" in speech but again would never write it…

  50. Devon said,

    January 14, 2016 @ 2:51 pm

    Makes me wonder why haven't we been bemoaning the *lack* of gender differentiation in plural pronouns.

  51. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    January 17, 2016 @ 9:48 pm

    @BZ: Judging from and, singular you predates both yourself and yourselves by a wide margin; so early adopters of singular you were never forced to choose between an already-standard form and a more-logical neologism.

  52. Gaston Dorren said,

    January 18, 2016 @ 8:23 am

    Agreed. In my original copy (this particular chapter, unlike most others, was not translated from Dutch) I wrote neither he nor they but that linguist. The editor preferred a personal pronoun, and I suspect that he is not too keen on singular they. Personally, as a writer I consider it a heaven-sent stylistic device, but then, as a non-native speaker I'm probably less finicky.

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