Merriam-Webster Adds Nonbinary 'They' to Dictionary


Merriam-Webster’s dictionary has added nonbinary “they” to the dictionary.  This pronoun is different from singular “they,” which has been in use for about 600 years as an alternative to “he or she” in instances where you don’t know the sex of the person being discussed.

“No one will buy this product if they don’t know what it does.” In that sentence, “they” refers to a singular, but you don’t know if it’s a “he” or a “she.”

People object to this on the grounds that “they” should be plural, darn it. But it’s both plural and singular because six centuries of usage made it so. Nonbinary “they” is similar. The “nonbinary” part is a reference to individuals who don’t identify themselves as either male or female.

The difference: Unlike singular “they,” which often refers to unknown or hypothetical individuals, nonbinary “they” can and often does refer to individuals whose identity is known but whose gender isn’t categorized as male or female. Here's some more on nonbinary "they" in my recent column. 


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