This is NOT a question about whether they/them is acceptable as a singular pronoun. I know some of you will have to die before you give that argument a rest, but I am starting here with the presumption that them/them IS an acceptible alternative to refer to non-binary gendered people. On to the question...

I was writing about a person who prefers the pronoun "they/them":

Talk to Abigail when they are a resident.

After I wrote it, I realized (assuming here in 2016 that "they" can serve as a singular pronoun - and more so here in 2017) that technically there is a lack of subject verb agreement. More correctly, I should write:

Talk to Abigail when they is a resident.

But of course that sounds terrible and wrong to my ear.

As they/them becomes an acceptable singular pronoun, do we amend the subject-verb agreement rules to use a plural verb with this singular subject?

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    I can only speculate but I think that if "they" becomes accepted as a third person singular form in English we may use the plural verb form. In cases I know of where this sort of substitution has occurred, for example in German and Italian polite forms of "you", the verb agrees with the pronoun. In fact the same thing is true in English where "thou art" was replaced by "you are" not "you art".
    – Al Maki
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 15:59
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    I have used the singular they in informal speech since I was a child in the 1960s, and it has been used in English for the last 400 years, so I would say they is already accepted as a third person singular form, and has been for quite a while. The only people who currently use "they is" for the singular form also use "they is" for the plural form, and this is not going to change. Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 16:33
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    I don't necessarily buy @JohnLawler's claim that the antecedent needs to be nonspecific and indefinite (although I only have a vague understanding of what these conditions are). The following seems fine: "The person you've been thinking about all day arrives in your shop. They order a coffee from you." The person you've been thinking about all day is (I think) both definite and specific, and they sounds fine (to me).
    – DyingIsFun
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 18:43
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    @Chris H: According to my internal grammar, you still can't use it. "Somebody named Leslie called; they said to call them back" sounds fine to me. But "Leslie called; they said to call them back" does not. Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 20:20
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    I don't see how the earlier questions that this one supposedly duplicates are more than tangentially relevant. They focus on the issue of the legitimacy (or not) of singular "they"; this one asks whether singular "they" logically should take a singular verb. It is thus closer in spirit to (but not a duplicate of) "The hidden flaw in 'singular they'—what to do about reflexive pronouns?" I have voted to reopen the question.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 0:37


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