Is it acceptable to write: A person can develop their talent. or a person can develop their uniqueness? In this case the person is used as a general term, not a specific person.

  • One can develop one's talent is the more traditional formulation. But here "one" means "a person". What you have written is therefore perfectly acceptable.
    – Ben
    Aug 19, 2014 at 13:26
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    Person used like this is not plural; it is generic. Aug 19, 2014 at 14:45
  • It's not that "person" is plural, it's that the plural pronoun is being used as if it were singular to avoid the gender issue.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 19, 2014 at 17:03
  • Since many people (still) object to this use of they, you might want to avoid it if you want to play it safe. However, considering the genre you are writing in, I don't think this should concern you; more people will probably object to uniqueness. Aug 20, 2014 at 14:19

2 Answers 2


The question here is not really whether or not person can be used in the plural, but whether or not they (and its relatives) can be used in the singular. "Singular they" has a long and strong tradition in English, going back to a time long before the idea of gender neutrality became a concern. Feel free to use it in any formal or informal writing where it is not prohibited by a style guide (or an editor with strong, though misguided, opinions). Yes, some self-appointed grammar mavens may crow and grumble. Let them; they think it's fun, and you'd be doing them a favour.

  • 10
    +1 and just tell those self-appointed mavens that you'll stop using the singular they the very second they stop using the singular you. Same thing, really.
    – RegDwigнt
    Aug 19, 2014 at 10:38
  • @RegDwigнt "..using the singular you. Same thing, really", You are a moderator, Reg, is that supposed to be a joke?
    – user88080
    Aug 19, 2014 at 11:02
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    @bobie - Not at all. At least singular they goes back to Middle English; replacing thou, thee (and ye, for that matter) with you is, relatively speaking, newfangled sloppiness that should be eradicated.
    – bye
    Aug 19, 2014 at 14:13
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    I would stress that singular they is used only in the generic singular. "If someone comes in give them a leaflet" is correct, "if Sam comes in give them a leaflet" is not Aug 19, 2014 at 15:32
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    @RichardTingle they might be appropriate if you don't know if Sam is male or female! It's much less appropriate for George or Victoria. Aug 20, 2014 at 9:41

This is not a plural as much as a nonspecific singular. "Their" is being used as a singular they and as such does not imply plural.

This is an unusual case as you are referring to a single, but unknown person as an example of people in general, I would probably say that this is correct but there are better methods of phrasing this for clarity, such as:

One can develop one's talent

As mentioned by @Ben in the comments. This is a more specific way of making it obvious you are using an nonspecific singular.

  • Could you please elaborate on what you would understand to be “better” methods? I can certainly concur that if one were to take pedantry and a certain upper-class air as “better”, your method of phrasing could share that epithet.
    – oerkelens
    Aug 20, 2014 at 12:23
  • @oerkelens What I meant by better, which itself is ironically unclear, is that the suggested phrase is clearer and has no ambiguity, in the original phrase "their" could in theory refer to anyone, while one can only refer to the subject themselves.
    – Vality
    Aug 20, 2014 at 12:26
  • @oerkelens As the original phrase could feasibly refer to a teacher as "a person" and the teacher's class as "their" for example.
    – Vality
    Aug 20, 2014 at 12:28
  • You would need quite some context to make that interpretation a realistic one... you would have to introduce at least the patients of the development (in casu, your class). With the sentence standing on it's own, the only possible referent for their is a person.
    – oerkelens
    Aug 20, 2014 at 12:33

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