I saw on facebook recently where its states and individuals birthday for all to see and comment the use of "their", which seemed inappropriate to me. Upon further investigation on my singular male friend celebrating his birthday. Facebook had:

Today is their birthday.

uhmm... "their" birthday implies plural to me, so what is the correct use here? Is facebook right or am I right?

I figured: Today is his birthday or gender-less Today is its birthday.

  • This question has been asked before in ELU, hasn't it? – Blessed Geek Apr 1 '15 at 6:16
  • LOL @ "today is its birthday". Nice try, April 1st. – RegDwigнt Apr 1 '15 at 10:23

The singluar they has been in use in the English language for at least 600 years.

And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame, They wol come up...

-The Canterbury Tales, G. Chaucer (ca 1400)

Every Body fell a laughing, as how could they help it.

-Tom Jones, H. Fielding (1749)

There are countless examples throughout the centuries. I have never come across the name of the grammarian who first attempted to declare this perfectly normal usage "wrong".

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  • Even more to the point, somehow those self-appointed grammarians who rage against the singular they still happily use the singular you. They will say ridiculous things like "you are" when talking about just one person. Hilarious, those folks. – RegDwigнt Apr 1 '15 at 10:27

In this case, Facebook right.

Facebook is correct in using "their", as, when referring to a person whose gender is unknown, you would use "their" rather than "it". "It" is a term used when talking about an item or object, whilst "their" is used when talking about humans or living creatures. While "their" can be used when referring to multiple people (as it usually is), one would be grammatically correct when saying "It's their birthday".

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  • But facebook knows gender when it asks you to create a profile? The algorithm to match the pattern Male/Female to a simple lookup table of his/her would not be a big stretch. – Jonathan Gamez Apr 2 '15 at 5:35

Languages evolve and English is in the process of adopting "they", "them", "their" as singular pronouns when the gender is indeterminate.

For example, "When a student is late, they need to take their butt to the principal's office where the principal will interrogate them".

If you tried to use the "correct" grammar, you'd get "When a student is late, he or she needs to take her or his butt to the principal's office where the principal will interrogate him or her".

Too awkward.

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