They is plural.

Art Directors & lazy Copywriters beware. This is a grammar post. Account planners, you can consider this a topic for future focus groups.

As a Copywriter, I love that I can play fast and loose with grammar. Periods, em dashes, semicolons, and ellipses —colloquially known as dot-dot-dots— get thrown around with intentional, almost reckless, disregard for how much our Honors English Teacher would approve. Or disapprove.

Which, of course, is the reason that Mark Edwards and I ended up in a friendly discussion (i.e. loud argument) regarding the use of “they.” As a progressive nonprofit worker living in a very progressive city —San Francisco— and a freaking art student, it’s common place for me to use a genderless pronoun when referring to people. “He” and “she” often times become “they.” A copywriter should always be aware of their audience. Mark disagrees. And is right (arguably).

Technically, Copywriters should always be aware of their audience. They is plural.

But what is a copywriter to do when faced with the need for a singular gender-neutral pronoun? Default to the technically correct but pseudo patriarchal he? And piss off feminists, LGBT activists, and Freedom Fighters for Uni-sex Bathrooms? No, gender non-specific sir.

My (unqualified & unrequested) advice:

  • Know your audience.
  • Speak their language.
  • Even if it’s grammatically incorrect.
  • Learn the rules so you can break’em.
  • FTW

Oh and your teacher, boss, and partner are always right.

Even if they is wrong.

2 Responses to “They is plural.”

  1. Mark Edwards

    I still maintain good writers always can rewrite their way to noun-pronoun tense agreement.

  2. Tim Murakami

    I’m sure that a lot of people don’t understand how funny your comment is. THEY have a hard time with subtle jokes.


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