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Re: They WAS Re: Odd orthography)

From:Tom Wier <artabanos@...>
Date:Friday, September 25, 1998, 4:22
Peter Clark wrote:

> ---Steg Belsky <draqonfayir@...> wrote: > > Talking about the gender-neutral "they", sometimes i find myself > > accidentally using it as a *singular* neutral pronoun, complete with > > singular-thirdperson verb conjugation, and sometimes pausing in the > > middle of a sentence with a singular subject in order to "pluralize" > it > > by continuing using "they". > I don't use this accidentally; I frequently use "they" as a third > person singular. For instance: > "If someone wants me, they can find me in the library." > Actually, that might not be a good example, as some might argue that > "someone" could function as a plural. How 'bout: > "If you go to the doctor, they can prescribe you some medicine." > That's good enough, I think. Although would I ever use the third > person verbal conjugation? No, I can't think of an instance where it > would sound right to use a verb that marks the third person (for > examples, walks) with "they". > If I'm not mistaken, there is some historical precidence for this > usage. (Old English experts?)
Yes, actually, it goes back at least some several hundred years, though I don't know exactly how far back (Ray, you know?). As for "someone", normal nonprescriptive English grammar would say that it's singular: considering that I find it unlikely that any native speaker here would say *"Do someone have my pen?" or something along those lines (of course, it's also singular historically, even transparently: it was formed with "some" + "one"). In the above sentence, "they" is no more being used in the plural than any other regularly recognized singular pronoun is. I think the best thing to do at this point in the language is to do what the Germans did with "sie/Sie" by officially recognizing "they [3p plural pronoun]" and "they [3p gender indeterminate singular pronoun" as separate entities (noting of course that the singular "they" would not use the -s ending*). We might remember the historical connection between the two, but I'm not certain that at this point in the language that that's necessary in terms of use. *(Note that it's not all that strange for the indeterminate form not to agree with the rest of the other 3p pronouns; cf. German "you [formal] go" = "Sie gehen" which is identical to "they go" = "sie gehen", where "Sie" does not conform either to singular *or* plural forms for the second person, respectively: "du gehst" and "ihr geht") ======================================================= Tom Wier <artabanos@...> ICQ#: 4315704 AIM: Deuterotom Website: <> "Cogito ergo sum, sed credo ergo ero." We look at [the Tao], and do not see it; Its name is the Invisible. - Lao Tsu, _Tao Te Ching_ Nature is wont to hide herself. - Herakleitos ========================================================