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.”
Using “they” as a singular pronoun has become common for people who identify as gender nonbinary, or who don’t strongly identify as 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.
Gender-neutral “they” (and “them” and “their”) provides one of many possible alternatives to gender-specific pronouns.
A recent blog post on the Oxford English Dictionary’s website pointed out that the singular “they” has long been used in the English language — tracing it back as far as a 14th-century romance — and that it wasn’t until much later that grammarians started frowning upon using “they” to refer to one person.
This isn’t the first time in recent years that Merriam-Webster has updated its definitions to be more inclusive of LGBTQ communities. As more US states legalized same-sex marriage, the dictionary updated its definition of “marriage” to reflect a more gender-neutral usage.