Merriam-Webster adds gender-neutral 'they' to dictionary

nito100/iStock/Getty ImagesAn X with a checkmark indicates a gender option other than ‘male’ or ‘female.’
  • Merriam-Webster announced on Tuesday that its definition of “they” would include its usage as a singular pronoun for gender-nonbinary people.
  • The singular “they” has become an increasingly common option for people who don’t strongly identify as either male or female and want to avoid the more strictly gendered pronouns “he” and “she.”
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One of the most important English-language dictionaries just expanded its list of pronouns to include an increasingly common option for people who prefer to avoid the strictly gendered “he” and “she.”

On Tuesday, Merriam-Webster tweeted that its definition of “they” would now include its usage as a nonbinary pronoun for a person whose gender identity is neither fully male nor female.

Using “they” as a singular pronoun has become common for people who identify as gender nonbinary, or who don’t strongly identify as strictly male or strictly female. Nonbinary people may want to avoid gendered pronouns like “he” and “she” or “his” and “hers,” as those pronouns might not capture how someone views themselves or wants to express themselves to others.

Gender-neutral “they” (and “them” and “their”) provides one of many possible alternatives to gender-specific pronouns.

A recent blog post on the Oxford English Dictionary’s website pointed out that the singular “they” has long been used in the English language – tracing it back as far as a 14th-century romance – and that it wasn’t until much later that grammarians started frowning upon using “they” to refer to one person.

This isn’t the first time in recent years that Merriam-Webster has updated its definitions to be more inclusive of LGBTQ communities. As more US states legalised same-sex marriage, the dictionary updated its definition of “marriage” to reflect a more gender-neutral usage.

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