Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Humans ought to treat others as a human being would treat others. Never should they bully and abuse anyone. Since the ultimate goal of them is to let everyone become capable of living an appropriate and decent life, they must pay special attention to the worse-off people, while at the same time encouraging excellence and creativity, making every individual capable of fulfilling his own goal.(self-made)

Here I am speaking of a kind of universal ethic for human beings. I am using the pronouns they/them because I want to put myself in the position of a disinterested spectator. I am concerned that representing mankind with they/them might be inappropriate.

share|improve this question

closed as unclear what you're asking by RegDwigнt Dec 8 '13 at 13:25

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

1  
No such issue at all. "I am from Timbuctoo. In Timbuctoo, they speak a strange dialect." (I am part of they here.) Well, assuming it's not an existential they in this example. –  Kris Dec 1 '13 at 6:31
    
Thank you, you are a good teacher! –  user51369 Dec 1 '13 at 6:34
    
I am putting this on hold because it seems to generate answers that are all over the map, and because the question is very strange in the first place. Please clarify why you think it could be inappropriate to use they for humans. (Though I guess even if you do, this will be a better question for our sister site for learners of the language.) –  RegDwigнt Dec 8 '13 at 13:27
    
“The ultimate goal of them” is something no native speaker, nor even moderately fluent non-native speaker, would have say. It must be “Their ultimate goal” instead. –  tchrist Dec 8 '13 at 14:28

2 Answers 2

To use they to represent a singular person (gender neutral) is accepted now. It should be acceptable, then, to refer to a human or humans in this manner.

  • A person should not seek to injure animals; since a human is sentient, they should respect sentience in other species.
  • Humanity should not seek to injure animals; since humanity is sentient, they should respect sentience in other species.

I would change a few words in your example, however, just for clarification and grammar. But not to change they/them. I also placed humanity in closer proximity to they in the third sentence to make it clearer whom was represented by they. I also changed his to a form of they for consistency.

Humans ought to treat others as they would want to be treated. They should never bully and abuse anyone. As the ultimate goal of humanity is to let everyone become capable of living an appropriate and decent life, they must pay special attention to those who are worse-off, while encouraging excellence and creativity, making every individual capable of fulfilling his their own goal.

share|improve this answer
    
Interestingly, I find the ‘they’ used in your example sentences to be somewhat unnatural, or at least confusing. I would assume, as is common in English, that ‘they’ refer back to the closest possible antecedent. Since that is ‘animals’, and since the actual antecedent is singular (which makes the link between anaphor and antecedent less obvious), I read the sentence as inferring that animals are sentient, which of course they are. It is almost a garden-path sentence in that respect. In your second sentence, ‘it’ would be more natural to me than ‘they’. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 8 '13 at 13:24
    
I am seeing a number of issues with this answer. Using they to represent a singular person is not accepted now; it has been accepted forever. However, they does not represent a singular person in OP's example. It refers back to human beings. Plural. Likewise, in your first example, as Janus points out, they refers to animals, not the person. Since you actually want to refer to the person, your example is a garden-path sentence. –  RegDwigнt Dec 8 '13 at 13:24

I would defer to the use of “they” and reword to be consistent to that & use the word “humanity” instead to more clearly state who the “they” is in the 3rd sentence.

Humans ought to treat others as a human being would treat others. They should never bully and abuse anyone. Since humanity’s ultimate goal is to let everyone become capable of living an appropriate and decent life, they must pay special attention to the worse-off people, while at the same time encouraging excellence and creativity, making every individual capable of fulfilling his own goal.(self-made)

share|improve this answer
    
-1 That's not the question, though. –  Kris Dec 1 '13 at 6:31
    
Thank you, you make them sound much better. –  user51369 Dec 1 '13 at 6:32
    
@Kris I believe it is a part of the question since the use of a pronoun in this case is to avoid using the noun “humans” or “humanity” over and over. By having a pronoun in one place, a noun in another & a pronoun again, the concept is reinforced in a way that conveys the larger message without tiring the reader. –  JakeGould Dec 1 '13 at 6:46
    
That would be proof-reading/ writing advice, wouldn't that be :) –  Kris Dec 1 '13 at 7:13

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.