Shakespeare used "they" with a singular antecedent (A Comedy of Errors, act 4, scene 3)

Think about the mistakes you've made in your life if you aren't even as progressive as a guy who died in 1616

@bgcarlisle Ouch and point taken. My daughter would quickly point out how many times I have stumbled over this one, not because I object, but because my brain is apparently hard-wired to be stupid when speaking out loud. I'll be sure to share this little tidbit next time I inadvertently get it wrong!

@bgcarlisle honestly there's a bunch of stuff Shakespeare beats the average U.S. Republican politician on and that's kinda terrifying

Is this what you mean?

There’s not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend,
And every one doth call me by my name:

@bgcarlisle singular they dates to three centuries earlier (seen in the «William of Palerne» translation, 1350: Hastely hiȝed eche wiȝt… til þei neyȝþed so neiȝh…) dating it to Middle English at least, and it shows up all along throughout the historical record.

it is literally older than (modern) English.

@bgcarlisle This is actually really important to me, because I've been looking for a solid concrete example of "they" with singular antecedent for a while and not found it. However, the only "they" I have found in "A Comedy of Errors", act 4, scene 3, is "they appear to men like angels of light", and the antecedent appears to be "wenches" (source: Perhaps I'm looking at the wrong text?

I'm asking as a non-binary person who's genuinely wanted this kind of example.


There’s not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend

A man ~ their

@bgcarlisle Ah, I was looking for "they" rather than "their", which explains why I missed it. Cheers!

@bgcarlisle Really, more than "cheers" is in order. I myself am non-binary and have long preferred "zie/zir" or other unsuccessful pronouns because even as a young child I found "they" an awkward way to fudge on pronouns. I use "they" basically because it's won out. And I've been on-side but chafed when every "proof of singular they" given was one of indefinite antecedent, either in numeracy or because "his or her" would better imply "they". So, thanks. I really kinda needed this.

@roadriverrail Please go shove this in the face of any language prescriptivists haha

Singular "they" is as legit as the Bard themself ;)

@philbarker @bgcarlisle The Bible has no particular religious authority to me, but is excellent evidence of literary standards for a time a translation took place. Many of the examples use indefinite antecedents, which are easy to come by but aren't IMHO strong arguments for singular they... "each" -> "his or her" -> "they", hence my interest in definites. But "his brother", like "a man" above, is definite and gendered, which makes it excellent material!

@bgcarlisle Carl Perkins, who professionally went from cotton picker to guitar picker in his teens, wrote the line "Who tells me they love me" in his original version of Y.O.U. in the 1950s, and he kept singing it that way:

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