The Epicene Pronoun and Singular They

Who’d a thunk it😱

Nicholas C. Rossis

Grammar - singular they and epicene pronouns | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's book

Back in 2016, I had written about the appeal and long history of singular they. I recently found myself referring to this old post on Quora, during an argument with someone who claimed its use was a mistake.

“Singular they” is a so-called epicene (or common) pronoun: the pronoun we use when we don’t know the gender of the person or persons in question. But is it the only one?

In a related thread, Jack Arthur Gayer describes what other options English speakers have had through history. As he explains, for decades in formal writing it was common for an unknown party to be written as “he,” but this wasn’t always the case. There used to be a singular third-person pronoun — a, not the article but a blend of Middle English’s he and she.

While many (including me) argue “they” is the best Epicene Pronoun and suggest…

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