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Using "them" for non-gender-specific singular

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How do you feel about this? Opinions seem to differ.  I'm writing a story in second person and I say something like, "Will you see someone waving?" and then "Will you hug them?"

I don't see how I can use "her" or "him" since that makes it so specific. I'd rather be all-inclusive, so that anyone can feel comfortable reading this to their child.

It's for a picture book for pre-K to K if that makes any difference.
#1 - September 30, 2015, 06:07 PM
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Personally, it's one of my pet peeves. For years, I would correct my students over and over again for using they and them as singulars. it was a losing battle and now I just cringe and move on. Of course, that might just be me and my grammar gene.

Does it have to be one person waving?
Can you change it something like "Will you run and jump and hug?"
#2 - September 30, 2015, 06:24 PM
Young Henry and the Dragon (2011, Shenanigan Books)

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Personally, I am fine with it, since it is becoming much more common, and certainly it is the way people really do speak. But the English teacher part of me still pauses. That said, I currently read many, many picture books to my 15 month old girl-- so I like the idea of being inclusive. I've noticed that many picture books use masculine pronouns, and I wish they didn't. Ack, why can't the English language have a gender neutral singular pronoun!? Would it be possible to alternate? (Not sure how often such phrases come up in your story.)
#3 - September 30, 2015, 06:26 PM

My philosophy of grammar is more along the structural theory lines--language changes. "Them" is widely accepted in speech. Writing has not caught up to that, as is usual in language grammar changes. And this isn't all bad, because seeking the correct grammar can often force greater clarity in academic work, etc. But, to me, a picture book is meant to be read aloud and can definitely follow spoken patterns of language. So I would be fine with "them". But not all editors will be.
#4 - September 30, 2015, 06:33 PM

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It would bug me.

Let's blame Mr. Dreiling at VHS.  ::-)
#5 - September 30, 2015, 06:42 PM
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Yeah, it bugs me. I like Jeanne K's solution.

I also do not worry about the idea that someone might not feel included. A story is specific, but the emotions universal, so I have to write the story with details that make it come alive.

Vijaya
#6 - September 30, 2015, 07:11 PM
TEN EASTER EGGS (Cartwheel/Scholastic, 2015)
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It bugs me a lot less than it used to. I think that's because I hear and say it so often that often I no longer "see" it in writing.

My guess is that not long from now, "they" and "them" will gain an accepted added designation -- they will be the gender-neutral singular pronouns and this will become part of formal, correct -- even preferred --  English usage. I think we're already quite a ways down this road, and all it will take is Webster to add it to the dictionary.
#7 - September 30, 2015, 07:36 PM
Adventures of Jenna V. Series
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Thank you so much for your feedback everybody!  :flowers2

I know. I feel like it's wrong. But at the same time, I think that it will probably be acceptable soon enough (as Marcia said). Facebook already uses it. I just want a mother or father to be able to read the story and I'd rather not specify. Hmmmm. I guess I'll have to think a bit. After all, the illustration will have to show a gender anyway.

Thanks again!
#8 - September 30, 2015, 07:47 PM
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I had it drilled into me so much in school that it jumps out at me. But it's also something you can discuss with your agent or an interested editor, and doesn't sound like a deal-breaker at all.

Have you played around with making the whole thing plural--like: Will you see people waving?
#9 - September 30, 2015, 10:05 PM

Lately I've gotten more comfortable with its use in casual prose, but honestly it would bother me in a PB I was reading to a child who was in the stage of developing language.

I like Jeanne's suggestions.
#10 - September 30, 2015, 11:04 PM

Thanks for the helpful suggestions!

Sounds like it would stick out too much. Which is what I figured. Ah, the clarity of morning.
#11 - October 01, 2015, 04:47 AM
NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, GRIMELDA series,
CITY SHAPES, DORIS THE BOOKASAURUS, ONE SNOWY DAY, PIZZA PIG, and more...
http://www.dianamurray.com

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