Reader j.j. sent me this link to a post at Language Log, which seems to be a place where language mavens hash out arcane topics. I’ll put the item at issue as a screenshot (click on it to see the entry and then the remainder of this very short piece (indented) so you can look up the links.
“They sneezes?” Well, if someone uses the plural “they” because they’re polygendered or bi-gendered (there are of course several dozen genders that could use “they”), then why not “sneeze” rather than “sneezes”? Is it an error? Here’s the rest of the article:
I’m guessing that this was originally “said to someone after he sneezes”. And then an (appropriate) decision was made to change all generic third-person animate pronouns to they, implemented via some kind of pattern-action rule, run by a computer program or an over-worked low-level employee.
There are more than a few other examples Out There. Some of them seem to be attributable to imperfect translation from another language. Others seem to represent the same kind of pronoun-updating as the cited dictionary entry:
- Have clients identify high risk behaviors and suggest modifying behaviors.
- For example, a child comes to school with a cold. They sneezes and covers it with his hand. They high fives with a friend. They wipes his hands after with a handkerchief then goes to class. What did the child do that was risky? What should they have done instead?
The last bit after the dot is a direct quote from the source.
I still don’t understand why anybody thinks this is proper. If you feel plural, you use the plural verb. This must be a mistake, right? It has to come from mistaking someone’s plural gender with their status as a single individual.
What say you?