Ok, I’ll say it: It has been hard for me to accept this newfangled trend of purposely linking a plural pronoun to a singular antecedent. Sure, I’ve done it myself accidentally more times than I would like to admit, but in days gone by I would never purposely refer back to a singular human with a plural pronoun. As an English major, I was indoctrinated to believe this was a major grammatical mistake and as such it should be avoided to prevent bloodletting from a red pen.
I’m not proud about it, but I’ve even crusaded against people who flaunted pronoun disagreement–and by the plural people I mean mostly my singular wife. She’s been confusing pronouns ever since we got married. I’ve given up trying to correct her, mostly to prevent her glower from overheating and causing wanton and reckless destruction to the area near my forehead.
That said, I bear some responsibility. Because I can’t afford to maintain two lawnmowers, she can’t participate in grass cutting despite statements of willingness like, “Can we cut the grass? The front yard looks like a hayfield.” In this case, the plural we defaults to the singular me because we only have one single-seater lawnmower. Whenever my current mower bites the dust, I’m going to look into the cost of a tandem mower. Then I can fulfill my wife’s wish of one day cutting the grass together as a unified we.
I used to think her incorrect usage was due to a flawed education, but given the number of times I’ve corrected her, I can only assume she has a flawed memory. Last night, for example, she said, “The kitchen reaks. Can we take out the trash?” But when I finally tied off the trash bag and excavated it from the kitchen trash can, I was the only one standing there trying to tame my gagging reflex.
But the point here is I’ve mellowed some. I no longer feel the need to correct my wife’s usage of the plural we. I’ve just come to accept she means the singular me. There’s more things to worry about than who is called what. And as Christians, who am I kidding? Pronoun confusion is baked into the very core of our central tentet–God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, three in one. Is the Trinity a he, it, or they? Who the heck knows?
All I know is that Jesus, presumably a (he/him/God), said that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. If my singular neighbor wants to be called a plural they, so be it. That sure beats walking a second mile.
15 thoughts on “God (he/it/they)”
While I am old enough that singular [they] still sounds weird to me in some contexts, I like the fact that it was the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year for 2015. Sometimes a speakable gender-neutral singular pronoun is really wanted, and [they] is the best candidate I have seen. Went into more detail in
Well stated, thanks!
Very good. Our Queen Liz always uses We. But I can’t get used to the new ways…seems grammatically incorrect …’they’ seems rude to me.
Well, there is no one more proper than Queen Liz, so if she uses it then I supposed it’s okay.
As an author of English-teaching textbooks, I’m heartily glad in theory to see the use of ‘they’ as a gender-neutral, singular pronoun. In practice, it still grates. It’s going to take some getting used to. Fortunately I’m no longer an editor, so in a sense it is Someone Else’s Problem. I just write the books.
As far as other people’s pronoun preferences go, I’m happy to accommodate any requirements, within the limits of my memory (so not very far at all, I guess). I don’t really see why we should all have to state our preferred pronouns, though, as seems to be becoming the practice on social media. What if my preference is not to have any pronouns?
Yeah, my memory is terrible too–seems like everybody just blurs together. You know, it’s funny, they drilled into us English majors not to use they and then use the proper “he or she” construction so we wouldn’t be sexist. Now, so we’re not being gender-biased, we’re supposed to use they again, so I guess we are back to being sexist? It’s all very confusing, but to each their own.
he/she/they must truly get a second lawn mower!
Amen to that!
Great point! I sometimes use the royal we when talking to my husband and asking him to do something too.
I learned to use the royal we when I was a supervisor, but like you find it handy when referring to something I want The Engineer (my husband) to do.
Royal we. Wow, I didn’t know there was already an official term for the singular we. Learned something new today.
Queens and kings of England have always referred to themselves in the plural. Think it has to do with the idea that they represent the country.
The royal we, I like the term. Never heard it called that before, but it makes sense. I can imagine the queen using it.
Love it! Love reading your material. So entertaining and so talented!
Thanks Shelly, Hope yall are staying warm. It finally turned winter here in NC and we’ve still got snow on the ground.