When a user does not fill his "about me" section in his profile, the following sentence appears:

Apparently, this user prefers to keep an air of mystery about them.

To my knowledge (which are restricted I admit), it should be

Apparently, this user prefers to keep an air of mystery about him/himself.

I'm pretty sure that I'm wrong, however I really don't understand the use of plural in "them".

Could you please explain me the underlying grammar rule that justifies such a term? Also, I'd be happy to know if replacing them by him or himself would be correct.

  • 1
    This is one of the most commonly asked questions on the site. Singular they has been discussed back and forth hundreds of times here—there’s even a tag for it, which I’ve added to your question. Please have a look at some of the other questions in the category for more discussion. Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 12:06
  • 1
    @JanusBahsJacquet ok thank you for the advice. I'll do it. However, I have to say that I don't know what should I have searched in order to avoid a duplicate. Maybe you could point me out to some meta discussion about it. I know how to search if a math question was already asked but for english grammar I don't even know how to approach the problem (of checking if it is a duplicate).
    – Surb
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 12:21
  • 1
    It is annoyingly difficult to search for—many of our most-asked questions are (how do you search for whether to use ‘a’ or ‘the’ when both words are ignored by the searching algorithm?). Searching for things like this requires some level of grammatical knowledge. In this case, something like “singular them” would have given you a few hits that would ultimately lead to the canon question; but most things you would think to search for would give you very little. Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 12:28

1 Answer 1


When the gender of the person is unknown, 'them' can be used in the sentence. Though, 'him/himself' is also a correct.

Please refer this blog that talks about usage of plural pronoun as singular

  • 1
    ok I get it, thank you. But would then "him" or "himself" imply that the user is a male?
    – Surb
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 11:54
  • 1
    Not really, its more like a generalization. This may be compared to usage of the word man for humans in general. Its a style of writing and you can choose whichever you are comfortable with.
    – geekeffect
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 12:08
  • 1
    @zen an unintended implication of masculinity can't really be avoided by using a masculine pronoun as gender-neutral even if it's correct. The use of man for humankind is rather different as it's generally a mass noun in that context and a singular in other uses.
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 14:13
  • The link you provides states that you could "Recast the sentence to plural form" if the gender is unknown, but it includes not only using them but also changing the subject to plural, as the example they give suggest: “All people are entitled to their own opinions.” Shouldn't the correct form be "Some users prefer to keep an air of mystery about them., then? Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 16:43
  • @user1598390 The article also talks about an additional option. The sentence “All people are entitled to their own opinions.” is correct, along with the sentence "Each person is entitled to their opinion"
    – geekeffect
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 10:26

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