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

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  • Merriam-Webster announced on Tuesday that it would include "they" 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 afternoon, Merriam-Webster tweeted that it would now include "they" as a nonbinary pronoun for a single person whose gender identity is neither fully male nor female. The dictionary's definition of the pronoun now includes the usage.Advertisement

Using "they" as a singular pronoun has become common for people who identify as gender nonbinary, or not strongly identifying as either 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. The gender-neutral options of "they," "them," and "their" provide one of many possible alternatives to the gender-specific pronouns.

A recent blog post on the Oxford English Dictionary's website points out that the singular they has a long history of use in the English language, tracing it back as far as a 14th-century romance. The OED notes that it wasn't until much later that grammarians started frowning on the use of they for a single person.

This isn't the first time in recent years that Merriam-Webster has updated its definitions to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community. As more US states legalized same-sex marriage, the dictionary updated its definition of "marriage" to reflect a more gender-neutral stance.