Hilary Mantel said recently that she had been ‘misgendered’ in a university publication by being referred to as ‘they’, not ‘she’. She says she was not singled out; all other alumni were similarly referred to as 'they', not 'he' or 'she'.

From La Republica

"I recently found myself ‘misgendered.’ I received a university publication, with news items relating to alumni, where I was referred to as ‘they,’ not ‘she.’ My books were ‘their books.’ I wasn’t singled out – the other alumni were similarly treated."

"I thought, ‘Being a woman means a lot to me. My sense of it has been tested. I have thought deeply about it. I value it, even though it has meant struggle and pain. I do not want my womanhood confiscated in print. It is not right to deprive an individual of identity on a whim, and make him or her into something neuter, plural. I have not given my consent to become a grammatical error.’"

So my question is: where it's known that 'they' is being used for the singular, which of the following is now considered grammatically correct: “They are a graduate”? Or “They is a graduate”?

  • 5
    Is you kidding?
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 20, 2021 at 12:06
  • 1
    Gender and pronouns are areas where there is a lot of debate and very little consensus around what is right. If they is singular then grammatically it should be “they is” but given the most common usage of they is plural, “they are” is the most common usage, even when being used as singular. Commented Sep 20, 2021 at 12:06
  • @tchrist Some people claim to use 'themself' so this are not totally crazy.
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 20, 2021 at 12:41
  • This question appears to be a duplicate, although that is complicated because there are several similar questions that either weren't fully answered or were purely about indefinite singular "they" which is only one form of singular "they" (the other being a person with pronouns they/them). But if you look hard enough you can find an answer (spoiler: use plural verbs). Does this answer your question? Why isn’t singular ‘they’ used with 3Sg verb forms?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 20, 2021 at 12:43

1 Answer 1


Singular they takes the same verb forms as plural they: you'd say they are a graduate.

Compare with the royal or editorial we: you'd say we are not amused rather than we am not amused.

  • 1
    Not disagreeing with you but interested - when using the royal we, the effect is slightly different as there is actually an intended implied plurality (even though that may not reflect the truth) whereas singular ‘they’ is not meant to imply the same. I think this possibly makes the analogue not quite effective. Commented Sep 20, 2021 at 12:11
  • 7
    You might be better off comparing with singular you, which takes are rather than is.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Sep 20, 2021 at 12:17
  • Some (published) examples or references would be useful.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 20, 2021 at 12:29
  • APA confirms that you use the plural verb e.g. "Kai is a nonbinary person. They attend university in their home state of Vermont and are majoring in chemistry."
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 20, 2021 at 12:39
  • 1
    @Lawrence Absolutely, I believe the precedent to be absolutely applicable.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Sep 20, 2021 at 17:20

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