They vs. Them – What’s the Difference?

Marcus Froland

Understanding the nuances of pronoun usage is essential to mastering American English grammar. One common question that arises when discussing pronouns is the difference between they vs them. To address this topic, let’s explore the roles of singular they and object pronoun them in American English.

Understanding Pronouns in American English

In American English, pronouns are more than just grammatical conveniences – they carry significant implications about gender and identity. Traditionally, pronouns include he/him/his for males and she/her/hers for females. However, the use of gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them/theirs and neopronouns like ze/hir/hirs and xe/xem/xyrs aim to create an inclusive language that acknowledges the whole spectrum of gender identities.

Developing inclusive language is essential to ensure everyone feels respected and valued for their unique identity. The need for gender-neutral pronouns has grown along with the broader understanding and acceptance of nonbinary and genderqueer identities. It is vital to be aware of the expansive range of pronouns used to create a more inclusive society.

Below is a table highlighting some common gender-neutral pronouns and their usage in sentences:

Pronoun Subject Object Possessive Example Sentence
They/Them They Them Their They left their bag on the table.
Ze/Hir Ze Hir Hirs Ze went to hir favorite bookstore.
Xe/Xem Xe Xem Xyrs Xe brought xyr own lunch today.

It is essential to ask individuals their preferred pronouns to ensure you respect their identity. Popularizing the use of gender-neutral and inclusive pronouns promotes understanding, fosters empathy, and encourages a more inclusive society.

“An individual’s pronouns are a reflection of their identity. By recognizing and respecting each person’s preferred pronouns, we contribute to a more understanding and inclusive world.”

Several resources are available to learn more about pronouns in American English and how to use them correctly. Being open to learning and adapting your language promotes inclusivity and education around gender identities, fostering a more understanding society.

The Evolution of Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Throughout history, the English language has seen significant changes in how we address and refer to individuals. The evolution of gender-neutral pronouns, such as singular ‘they’ and neopronouns, exemplifies the growth of our society in recognizing the diverse array of gender identities and fostering inclusivity.

The Historical Journey of Singular ‘They’

Tracing back to the 14th century, the journey of the singular ‘they’ has been long and storied. This ubiquitous pronoun has appeared in the works of literary titans like Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. Originally an elegant solution for anonymous or unknown gender references, singular ‘they’ evolved into an accepted pronoun, accommodating individuals outside the traditional gender binary.

Renowned dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster have acknowledged the validity of using ‘they’ as a singular pronoun. This recognition of gender language evolution testifies to the contemporary social progression towards inclusivity for all gender identities.

Modern Adaptations: Neopronouns in Today’s Language

The evolution of singular ‘they’ paved the way for more recent linguistic adaptations such as neopronouns. These newly coined pronouns, like “ze/zim/zis” and “xe/xem/xirs,” are particularly embraced within trans and nonbinary communities. Understanding the nonbinary pronouns history and its growth highlights how perception and communication of gender identity have transformed over time.

Neopronouns are increasingly visible and are used to convey respect for individuals’ gender identities.

Language adaptations such as neopronouns showcase our society’s evolving commitment to acknowledging personal identity and championing pronoun diversity, transcending the binary gender labels. As modern pronoun usage continues to expand, it underlines the importance and benefits of adaptive language within our ever-growing, multilateral world.

Practical Applications of ‘They’ and ‘Them’

Using they/them as gender-neutral pronouns has become more common in recent years to accommodate the growing need for inclusive language. There are several practical applications of ‘they’ and ‘them’ in everyday communication that demonstrate respect for personal preference and identity, as well as adapt to group interactions, professional settings, and situations where someone’s gender might not be known.

  1. Addressing unknown gender: When referring to someone whose gender is not known or unspecified, using the singular they avoids presumptions and promotes inclusivity.
  2. Nonbinary and gender-diverse individuals: For those who do not identify within the binary gender spectrum, they/them serves as an inclusive pronoun that acknowledges their identity.
  3. Group interactions: In group settings, using they/them fosters an environment where everyone feels respected and acknowledged, regardless of their gender identity.
  4. Professional environments: Embracing the use of they/them in professional settings demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusion, fostering a comfortable and respectful workplace.

In addition to these applications, the use of they/them can be applied to various scenarios where traditional gender pronouns may be inappropriate or limiting.

“In my writing, I prefer to use ‘they’ as a singular pronoun because it respects the diverse gender identities of my readers.” – Author Jane Goodall

Understanding the nuances of pronoun usage is essential in today’s society. Language should reflect the evolving needs and preferences of its users, and the growing adoption of they/them for singular they usage signifies a positive shift towards a more inclusive linguistic landscape.

‘They’ vs. ‘Them’: Breaking Down Usage and Grammar

In this section, we will analyze the correct usage of the singular pronoun ‘they’ and the inclusive object pronoun ‘them,’ highlighting their roles in providing clarity and inclusivity in modern English grammar. We will discuss when to use ‘they’ as a singular pronoun and how to apply ‘them’ as an object pronoun.

When to Use ‘They’ as a Singular Pronoun

The singular pronoun ‘they’ is used when referring to someone whose gender is unknown, irrelevant, or does not align with traditional binary gender pronouns like ‘he’ or ‘she.’ For instance, making a statement about an individual whose gender identity you don’t know:

“Someone left their umbrella here, I hope they come back to get it.”

Grammatical authorities, such as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style, have endorsed the singular usage of ‘they’ as an inclusive and acceptable alternative to traditional binary gender pronouns.

‘Them’ as an Object Pronoun: Usage in Sentences

The object pronoun ‘them’ refers to the object of a sentence or to individuals previously mentioned. ‘Them’ is employed after prepositions and as the object of a verb, regardless of the gender of the referent, including those outside traditional gender norms. Consider the following examples:

  1. Could you submit your report to them by the end of the day?
  2. I spoke with Alex and gave them the news.
  3. Can you put the books back on the shelf for them?

As demonstrated, ‘them’ can be applied to represent any gender, including individuals who don’t identify with binary gender pronouns, ensuring linguistic clarity and inclusivity.

Pronoun Usage Example
They (singular) Used when referring to someone whose gender is unknown, irrelevant, or non-binary “If anyone has questions, they can ask the instructor.”
Them (object pronoun) Used as the object of the sentence or verb, regardless of gender “Morgan completed the task, so I thanked them.”

By understanding the grammatical rules and proper usage of ‘they’ and ‘them,’ you can employ these pronouns effectively to create a more inclusive language that respects gender diversity.

Glimpsing the Impact of Pronouns on Inclusivity

Pronouns hold incredible power in fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance in today’s increasingly diverse world. Using the appropriate pronouns, including gender-neutral options, helps establish an inclusive and affirmative environment for individuals with diverse gender identities. In this section, we will explore the significance of pronoun inclusivity and its effects on both language and society.

  1. Promoting empathetic communities
  2. Reducing misgendering incidents
  3. Greater awareness of diverse gender experiences
  4. Inclusive language evolution

As societal attitudes towards gender continue to evolve, so does our understanding of the importance of using accurate and inclusive pronouns. In this context, pronoun inclusivity not only helps individuals feel valued but also fosters a more compassionate and empathetic culture.

“In a world where language and naming are power, silence is oppression, is violence.” – Adrienne Rich, renowned poet and essayist

The impact of inclusive pronoun usage goes beyond mere politeness; it can profoundly impact a person’s psychological well-being. When someone’s gender identity is acknowledged and respected, it fosters a sense of self-worth, belonging, and validation. Conversely, misgendering or neglecting to use the correct pronouns can result in feelings of alienation, anxiety, and depression.

Non-Inclusive Language Inclusive Language
Assuming gender based on appearance Respecting expressed gender identity
Exclusively using binary pronouns (he/she) Using gender-neutral pronouns (they/ze/xe)
Misgendering or dismissing pronoun preferences Correcting mistakes and prioritizing pronoun accuracy

Ultimately, the language impact of pronoun inclusivity is twofold: it helps foster a more compassionate society while simultaneously encouraging the continued evolution of language to better represent our diverse world. As language continues to evolve, so too does our ability to understand, accept, and celebrate the myriad of gender identities that make up our global community.

Respecting Personal Identity Through Pronoun Use

Respecting pronouns and personal identity plays a vital role in creating inclusive and welcoming social environments. By inquiring respectfully about someone’s preferred pronouns, you can ensure that you’re acknowledging and validating their self-identified gender. In this section, we’ll discuss the best practices for asking someone about their pronouns and demonstrating respect for their personal identity.

How to Inquire About Someone’s Pronouns Respectfully

One effective way to inquire about someone’s pronouns respectfully is by first offering your own pronouns, setting the stage for reciprocity. For example, you could say, “Hello, my name is Jane, and I use she/her pronouns. May I ask what pronouns you use?” This approach not only helps foster a positive environment, but it also encourages open and honest communication.

When asking about pronouns, be sure to avoid making assumptions based on appearance. It’s better to be direct and ask questions like “What are your pronouns?” or “How may I address you?” rather than potentially misgendering someone by assuming their pronouns based on their looks.

Employing the following best practices can help ensure a respectful and inclusive pronoun inquiry:

  1. Lead with your own pronouns to create a comfortable atmosphere for sharing.
  2. Ask specific questions like “What are your pronouns?” or “How may I address you?”
  3. Avoid making assumptions based on appearance.
  4. Listen actively and attentively when someone shares their pronouns.
  5. Use their preferred pronouns consistently in your communication.

“Asking someone’s pronouns not only creates a more inclusive environment, it also shows them that you respect and appreciate their unique identity.”

Inquiring about pronouns should become a regular practice in all settings, from social interactions to professional environments. By incorporating these best practices into our everyday interactions, we can create a more inclusive society that celebrates personal identity and strives for understanding.

Mistakes and Misgendering: The Importance of Apology and Correction

Nobody is perfect, and it is natural to make mistakes when trying to adapt to the evolving landscape of pronoun usage. However, it is essential to understand the impact of misgendering on an individual’s mental well-being and emotional stability. When these slip-ups occur, it is crucial to apologize, correct the error, and move forward without dwelling on the mistake.

“The most significant compliment you can give someone is to honor their pronouns. In doing so, you honor their identity. It’s a simple act that can make a world of difference.” – Gender Spectrum

Learning from Mistakes: How to Move Forward Respectfully

While it’s important to be aware of the potential consequences of misgendering, it’s also essential to remain compassionate and understanding towards ourselves and others. Here are some steps to keep in mind when facing such situations:

  1. Apologize: If you mistakenly misgender someone, offer a brief and sincere apology, acknowledging your awareness of the mistake.
  2. Correct yourself: Immediately and subtly replace the incorrect pronoun with the right one, signifying that you value the individual’s identity.
  3. Keep the conversation going: Continue the conversation without dwelling excessively on the error, emphasizing that the interaction should be focused on the person, not the mistake.
  4. Learn and adapt: Accept the opportunity to expand your understanding of pronoun usage and incorporate this learning into future communication.
Step Action Purpose
1 Apologize Acknowledge the mistake and express sincerity
2 Correct yourself Show respect and value the individual’s identity
3 Keep the conversation going Maintain focus on the person, not the error
4 Learn and adapt Improve understanding and future communication

By following these steps and genuinely caring about learning from mistakes, you’ll be contributing not only to the well-being of those you interact with but also to the broader effort of normalizing inclusive language practices.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Pronouns in American English

As society continues to evolve, so too does language. With an increased focus on inclusivity in recent years, the future of pronouns in American English is likely to be one of expansion and acceptance. The growing visibility of nonbinary and genderqueer individuals in the media and society has driven the widespread adoption of gender-neutral pronouns, as well as the creation of neopronouns to accommodate a wider array of gender identities.

Language plays a vital role in shaping our perceptions of the world and our place in it. As we strive for a more inclusive and diverse society, the language we use will inevitably evolve to reflect these values. This has already begun, with dictionary inclusions of terms like “they” as a singular pronoun and the formation of language guidelines that support inclusive language practices. The acknowledgement and acceptance of nonbinary and genderqueer individuals’ identities will continue to drive changes to pronoun usage and understanding in American English.

The evolution of language is a process that requires active participation from everyone. As new pronouns gain acceptance, it is important for you to stay informed and updated, making a conscious effort to incorporate them into your daily speech and writing. In doing so, you can help foster a more inclusive society that values and respects a diverse range of gender identities. Embrace the ongoing language evolution and take part in creating a more inclusive future for all.