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One of my friends asked me to solve the following question. The problem is, if you start with the following sentence:

He or she wants you to leave him or her alone.

Is it OK to replace him or her with them? As in:

He or she wants you to leave them alone.

marked as duplicate by tchrist, ScotM, Drew, oerkelens, Edwin Ashworth Mar 20 '15 at 16:46

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  • Related: Is there a correct gender-neutral, singular pronoun (“his” versus “her” versus “their”)? Whether it is okay or not depends on whom you ask; if you ask me, it's fine. – choster Mar 19 '15 at 17:58
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    If you're going to replace one, you should replace both: "They want you to leave them alone." – Hellion Mar 19 '15 at 18:06
  • @Hellion Surely not. The example is He OR she not He and she. There is a problem here. If I say Jack and Jill want you to leave them alone, that would be interpreted as 'Jack and Jill' as a collective couple want you to leave them alone. If I said Jack or Jill want you to leave them alone that could mean both of them (plural), or it could be the singular they which is being used. So to disambiguate you would need to say Jack or Jill wants to be left alone. – WS2 Mar 19 '15 at 22:43
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    @WS2 isn't this a straightforward case of "singular they" as gender-indeterminate pronoun? – Hellion Mar 19 '15 at 23:40
  • @Hellion He or she wants you to leave them alone as I see it, could mean one of two things. It could mean a) either he or she wants you to leave both of them alone, or b) either he or she wants you to leave him or her alone. You wanted to say They want you to leave them alone, which is something else again. – WS2 Mar 20 '15 at 1:10
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Yes, it is okay. Any criticism of doing so is moot.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they

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    Then you would want to replace "he or she" as well. The sentence "He or she wants you to leave them alone." creates unnecessary confusion due to the mismatched pronouns. – Nick2253 Mar 19 '15 at 18:32
  • From how OP stated the question, it appears to me there was a single, gender-indeterminate person wanting to be left alone by person X. In this case, it is not confusing because the single they is clearly evident. If the question was meant to imply there were two people (one male, one female) who wanted to be left alone, and the speaker was unsure which wants to be left alone, then I would agree with you, @Nick2253. The ambiguity regarding the number of people the speak refers to causes some confusion. From my 'terp, it's the first scenario. – Robert Simpson Mar 20 '15 at 20:11

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