Is it correct to say "The list of reports a user will see may depend on the permissions group(s) they are in."?

I have asked the writer to change the text to say "users" to match "they", but he is resisting.

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    I think the downvotes are a bit harsh here. It's not exactly a hanging offense if OP couldn't find the original question before asking. And with 26 votes for that question, and 28 votes for the top answer, surely there can be no other reason to downvote this one. Jun 27, 2013 at 21:52

1 Answer 1


Depends on the formality of the piece. In actuality, this use has been acceptable for a long time in formal and informal writing, but sometimes a less-informed superior may not be aware of this. In that case I suggest the following guideline:

Informally, "they" is an acceptable gender-neutral third person singular pronoun. Formally, "they" would not be acceptable here as it is exclusively for third person plural prounoun use, and it should be reworded somehow--your suggestion would be the easiest.

(Edited to take into account both the actual legality of singular they as well as the possibility of superiors unaware of this)

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    Only by people who don’t know English, I’m afraid. Singular they has been used by the best of formal writers, and all speakers.
    – tchrist
    Jun 27, 2013 at 21:32
  • I'm a native English speaker in the US and that is not always the case. Here you can see some exceptions. Jun 27, 2013 at 21:35
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    @ called2voyage: I make no claims for my own credentials when it comes to pronouncements about whether or not a usage is acceptable in "formal contexts", but Barrie in your link, and tchrist here, certainly ought to know about such things. My own theory is that pettifogging middle management in offices (who usually know little about the finer points of language) are prone to nitpick over perfectly acceptable usages which they assume are simply informal "lapses". Probably they've never read, for example, Jane Austen Jun 27, 2013 at 21:48
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    @FumbleFingers And I have no doubt that they are correct as far as true convention is concerned, but the post author needs to be aware that it is not always acceptable--even if it is made so by management who nitpick over nothing. Jun 27, 2013 at 21:51
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    @ called2voyage: I absolutely agree when you put it like that. As nohat's excellent answer to the original question says, It's not ungrammatical per se on the basis of analysis of actual usage using reasonable linguistic methods. But use it at your own risk of being criticized by the self-righteous but misinformed. Jun 27, 2013 at 21:54

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