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“Singular They” and a Photo Praise

Last week’s post included discussion of passive voice. Before we get started with new material, I want to tell you about an affordable resource on passive voice. Author Dianne E. Butts, a long-time subscriber, reminded me that she offers the Kindle version of Cutting the Passive Voice: How to Convert Passive Voice to Active Voice to Improve and Add Power to Your Writing on Amazon for 99 cents. She said, when she first started writing, conference teachers would say not to use passive voice, and she didn’t really know what they were talking about. So now, she’s offering this booklet to help beginners.

grammar-389907_1280Information: “Singular They”

As a writer, you might ask what is “singular they?” Isn’t that a contradiction? After all, “they” is plural. Well maybe not any more. In a recent article (here), The Washington Post announced that “they/their” used as singular would be adopted in the paper’s official style guide. Example:

Every child needs to know their school is safe.

Weren’t we taught that singular pronouns go with singular nouns and plural with plural? The above sentence, by the old guidelines, would read:

Every child needs to know his or her school is safe.

Another option would be:

Children need to know their schools are safe.

The reason for using “their” as singular is rooted in the quest for gender-neutral pronouns. Heaven forbid that we should say “he or she.” So far, the other most-used style guides for books and magazines have not approved “singular they.” In a recent discussion in an online editing group, some editors were all for it, while others, like me, were resistant to this change.

Use the links below to read articles on this usage in:

Inspiration: Photo Praise

This summer, we went to Glacier National Park in northwest Montana. The mountains are always intimidating to me because our town’s elevation is about 300 feet above sea level. Compare that to 6,000 or 7,000 feet, and you see why I’m awed by the mountains. Here’s a photo that I took at St. Mary’s Lake in Glacier NP.


This view brought to mind an excerpt from a psalm of praise:

In his hand are the depths of the earth:
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! Psalm 95:4-6 (ESV)

Readers, how to do you feel about “singular they?” Have you had Bible verses come to mind when you visited a beautiful place? Comment on this post and share thoughts. If you get this post by email, please click on the title of the post to go to my site. Scroll down to Leave a Reply and comment there.

Photo source (grammar)

Photo source: lake scene, Emily M. Akin, 2016.

12 Responses to “Singular They” and a Photo Praise

  1. Donna Goodrich October 15, 2016 at 10:55 am #

    The two publishers I proofread for both use the singular they. Personally, I like it as it’s not as awkward as using he/she, her/his, etc. all the time. I know it’s not how I was taught, but things change (for example, graduated high school instead of graduating from high school).

  2. Laurean Brooks October 15, 2016 at 11:24 am #

    Emily, your posts provide good information for writers. I enjoy them.

    Until the gender war began, we used “he” as the pronoun to signify either gender. I understand why they want to use “they” as singular. Who wants to write “he or she” in every other sentence? It will drive you crazy after a while. LOL.

    If “he” is okay for the Bible, why is it wrong everywhere else?

    It’s a crazy world. LOL.

    Your picture goes well with the verse. Beautiful.

  3. Jean Ann Williams October 15, 2016 at 11:42 am #

    Thanks for this post, Emily. I agree they/their is less combersome to read than he/she.

  4. Paula October 15, 2016 at 12:54 pm #

    While I was taught (so long ago) to use gender-specific pronouns, I am leaning toward modern usage and style more and more. One reason I agree with the changes is that most of us, even though we may write it “correctly,” when we read a sentence with the new style, we understand what the writer means. If writing is clear, it works. In cases where using gender neutral writing confuses the sentence, then it may just need to be totally re-written. I confess that the change isn’t coming all at once and I resist it a little. But I also find words in the dictionary that I formerly would never have thought proper usage.

    The only person who likes change is a wet baby. (smile)

    As for thinking of Bible verses when presented beauty in God’s creation, I most often think of God’s word when I see wild animals strolling (or flying, or running) smack dab in the middle of the city in which I live. God puts them where he wants them, thereby giving a former country girl an opportunity to still enjoy critters of all kinds.

  5. Cecelia Lester October 15, 2016 at 2:07 pm #

    Emily: I do not like the “singular they” usage. I put in alongside the use of the word ‘that’ when talking about a person. Not good for my ear.

    I love your picture. And, yes, I sometimes think of certain scripture when I see a scene. “I will lift my eyes unto the hills, from whence comes my help.”

  6. Emily Akin October 15, 2016 at 6:29 pm #

    The publishers can choose to go with singular they, but I’m going to wait until the Associated Press and/or Chicago make a statement on it. I usually try to make the whole sentence plural, if possible.

  7. Emily Akin October 15, 2016 at 6:31 pm #

    Thanks, Laurie. As I mentioned to another commenter, I try to make the whole sentence plural in order to avoid singular they. As for pronouns, I think we’re in for a rocky ride. I didn’t realize my picture was too big for the MailChimp window. It made the body of the email way wider than the header.

  8. Emily Akin October 15, 2016 at 6:32 pm #

    Glad you agree with me. Ha, ha.

  9. Emily Akin October 15, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

    I guess they style guides will change eventually. Meanwhile, I’m going to avoid singular they.

    We are on the edge of town, so we’ve had possums, skunks, rabbits, squirrels, and even coyotes on occasion. I wonder sometimes what God was thinking when he made the skunk. I’m sure he had a reason…..

  10. Emily Akin October 15, 2016 at 6:37 pm #

    Glad you agree with me! There are a couple of agents’ blogs that I follow. I’ve seen singular they in those blogs, so I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until all the style guides go with it. I like your scripture, too.

  11. Dianne E. Butts October 18, 2016 at 2:11 pm #

    Thank you so much for the mention, Emily. And I love your photo. Thanks for the Scripture to go along with it. Nice to have a moment of worship during my hectic day today!

  12. Emily Akin October 19, 2016 at 7:54 am #

    You’re welcome, Dianne. I give you credit for providing affordable educational resources for aspiring writers.

    The photos are popular. I think I’ll use more of them in the inspiration section.

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