A Gamble on Gender: Perceptions of the Singular “They” Pronoun among College-Age Students



How to Cite

Cheesebrough, J. (2022). A Gamble on Gender: Perceptions of the Singular “They” Pronoun among College-Age Students. Global Insight: A Journal of Critical Human Science and Culture, 3. https://doi.org/10.32855/globalinsight.2022.002


This paper discusses a study that was carried out with the aim of discovering the perceptions of the singular “they” pronoun (both general and specified) among college students with a focus on the interaction of the gender of the participant with their perceptions. The linguistic variables considered were the level of acceptability of different pronouns, pronouns used by participants, and direct perceptions of the singular “they,” while the social variables were gender, age, first language, and academic year. The hypotheses are as follows: men would find the singular “they” (both forms) less acceptable than women and nonbinary genders, and in the overall data, the general singular “they” would be rated lower than the pronouns he and she, and the specified singular “they” would be rated lower than that. The study utilizes an online survey targeting college students containing 30 questions about the acceptability of various pronouns, including questions that asked participants to rate sentences on how grammatically acceptable they were (1 being not acceptable, and 5 being very acceptable) and questions regarding social situations involving pronouns. Some general observations of the data are as follows: 94.9% of respondents have met someone who uses the singular they pronoun. Additionally, younger people are more likely to rate the specified singular they higher. Most relevantly, the general singular “they” was rated the same as the pronouns “he” and “she,” and the specified singular “they” was rated highly but significantly lower than any other pronoun asked about. This study helps to fill gaps in LGBT+ linguistics research and provides a wider knowledge base for this topic. Repetitions with larger sample populations would be valuable.