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Posted Jul 6, 2010 9:25 UTC (Tue) by rsidd (subscriber, #2582)
In reply to: s/driver/documentation/ by csamuel
Parent article: A line in the sand for graphics drivers

"They" is often ungrammatical when used for this purpose. At best, it leads to grammatical but horribly contorted sentence constructions. "She" is fine by me: no matter how much and how often "she" is used, it will take a while to overcome existing bias, leave alone historical bias. It's ok to refer to Dave, or other males, now and then as "she": it's certainly no worse than referring to a woman as "he", which happens to women all the time, and it does force readers to think about sexist language.

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Posted Jul 6, 2010 10:44 UTC (Tue) by nix (subscriber, #2304) [Link]

What? People of unknown gender are singular they; people of known male/female gender are he/she. The unfortunate convention of referring to single people of unknown gender as 'he' is bad enough (and can nearly always be substituted with singular they or in extremis the clumsy 'he or she'), but referring to specific single people of known gender with the opposite-gendered singular personal pronoun is like spikes in the eyes. It's *always* wrong.


Posted Jul 6, 2010 10:54 UTC (Tue) by rsidd (subscriber, #2582) [Link]

What's "singular they"? Would you write "they sees fit" or "they merges some patch"? Doesn't sound like English to me.

Of course, you can use plural they if you make all references plural. This is usually awkward and sometimes impossible.


Posted Jul 6, 2010 11:36 UTC (Tue) by nye (guest, #51576) [Link]

>What's "singular they"?

Possibly you should have looked it up before proceeding.

When you talk about using the 'plural they', you are of course obliquely referring to the fact that 'they' remains morphologically plural in all (correct) uses, however its usage to refer to a singular subject is well established.

It has been the preferred style for decades, an accepted style for centuries, and an existing style in English since so long ago that the language is barely recognisable.

If you can present an example sentence where using 'he' or 'she' is grammatically correct, but 'they' is not, then I would be interested to hear it.


Posted Jul 6, 2010 11:56 UTC (Tue) by farnz (subscriber, #17727) [Link]

"Singular they", as used by authors from Shakespeare onwards, is things like "they see fit" and "they merge a patch". It's simply the same pattern as "singular you"; or art thou one of the people who insisteth that "you" must be reserved for the plural form, and who joketh about "you sees fit" and "you merges a patch"?


Posted Jul 20, 2010 17:10 UTC (Tue) by pdundas (guest, #15203) [Link]

Thou speakest wisely. But prithee tell, surely thou wantedst to say "thou insistest" or "thou jokest"?

I joke / thou jokest / he joketh, et ceterea...


Posted Jul 20, 2010 17:17 UTC (Tue) by pdundas (guest, #15203) [Link]

Doh! Thou art right. I shall don mine coat, and quit this thread.


Posted Jul 6, 2010 23:49 UTC (Tue) by csamuel (✭ supporter ✭, #2624) [Link]

It's "they see fit" (or "they saw fit" for past tense), "they are merging some patches" ("they merged some patches" for past tense).


Posted Jul 16, 2010 7:48 UTC (Fri) by dododge (subscriber, #2870) [Link]

Just as more background material: the OED lists the singular use of "they" as "often used" and gives numerous examples back to 1526 "Yf..a psalme scape ony persone, or a lesson, or else yt they omyt one verse or twayne."

For further reading they reference Jespersen's "Progress in Language", which discusses it in more detail and gives many more examples. You can find scans of the 1909 2nd edition at, with the relevant text in section 24 on pages 27-30.


Posted Jul 6, 2010 11:06 UTC (Tue) by farnz (subscriber, #17727) [Link]

Traditionally, in English, you use the plural form as a highly respectful singular. So, for 1st person, you have the "royal we" - or use of 1st person plural for a singular entity. For second person, we've completely lost the 2nd person singular (thou), in favour of always using the 2nd person plural in its role as the respectful 2nd person singular. We also use 3rd person plural as a respectful 3rd person singular in English.

Arguably, the fix to the existing habit of subconsciously sexist language is not to just flip the sexism round some of the time, but to make the same move for 3rd person as we've made for 2nd person - drop he/she/it when referring to a singular entity (except when gender is important), and use the 3rd person plural form ("they are" instead of "he/she/it is") in its traditional role as a respectful singular.

So much grammar correction, so little correct!

Posted Jul 7, 2010 21:22 UTC (Wed) by baldridgeec (guest, #55283) [Link]

Or better still one could utilize a form which is less oft seen in informal English, but easily remembered by a student of linguistics or esp. Romance languages - the third person indefinite personal pronoun. It exists for precisely this sort of case.

So much grammar correction, so little correct!

Posted Jul 7, 2010 21:26 UTC (Wed) by farnz (subscriber, #17727) [Link]

Except that the modern English usage of "one" places it as a variation on the first person, not the third - one tends to use it not to mean "an unidentified individual", but to mean "an individual from the set that I would cover if I were to use we".

So much grammar correction, so little correct!

Posted Jul 7, 2010 21:51 UTC (Wed) by baldridgeec (guest, #55283) [Link]

Is that really accurate? My observation has been that one tends to use it on behalf of the group for which one is advocating in an argument, but I wouldn't want to rephrase the first half of this sentence using the phrase "I tend," because I'm not referring to myself, but to every instance I have ever heard or read in which the case was used.

(Rereading this before submission, I realize that you could just quote the above paragraph and respond with "QED." :) More meat follows below.)

I assume that that sort of observation (that it coincides with an individual from the first person plural set) stems from the fact that one does not often pose arguments which prescribe the behavior of groups which exclude oneself - that doesn't mean it can't happen though.

One may believe that one's computer is powered by hamsters on exercise wheels, but one would be incorrect. :)

So much grammar correction, so little correct!

Posted Jul 8, 2010 10:20 UTC (Thu) by farnz (subscriber, #17727) [Link]

It's a difficult one (the joys of a language defined by usage, not prescribed by an academy); in my experience the use of "one" is either a "posh way of saying I", or "this is what should happen in an ideal world, not necessarily what anyone in particular does". Singular they feels slightly weird, but doesn't come with that baggage.

Of course, this is all based on past experience - and continued use of "one" as a gender-neutral singular would change the implications. If only programming languages had a similar habit of changing to adapt to what is meant, not what it used to mean :)

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