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I was reading an article to improve my English and I noticed that the writer wrote "no one raised their hand," so could you tell me if the sentence below is correct or not and why?

"I looked around the room, and there was an awkward silence. No one raised their hand."

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You may be confused because "no one" is singular, but "their" is plural. Except it isn't. In recent decades "they" and "their" have been used increasingly for the singular when the gender of the antecedent is unknown or indeterminate. The traditional rule was to use the masculine gender in such cases, but people have been increasingly uncomfortable with that, for example with saying "no one raised his hand" when the group of people who didn't raise their hands includes both men and women.

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    It's also known as epicene in grammar context of singular they. Quite related. – Maulik V Sep 24 '20 at 6:56
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    The usage of singular they is not new in English, but yes it is increasingly common. – Dark Malthorp Sep 24 '20 at 13:25
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    The other alternative to gender neutral “his” or singular “their” is “his/her”, although this is also increasingly going out of fashion – Tim Sep 24 '20 at 18:30
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    @naught101 books.google.com/ngrams/… - you are the right age to view "their" as the more standard phrasing – Neil Slater Sep 25 '20 at 8:17
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    While using "their" is common and wouldn't sound wrong to anyone hearing it, perhaps another, gender-neutral version of the phrase would be "...No one raised A hand." – vancy-pants Sep 25 '20 at 17:38
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It depends what you’re trying to say. If you’re trying to say that no hands went up while you were looking round the room, then “no one raised their hand” is correct. But if you want to say that while you were looking round the room you didn’t see any hands that had already gone up, it would be “no one had raised their hand”.

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    +1 for the insight that the question might not have related to the use of "their"! – CCTO Sep 24 '20 at 13:55
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The singular usage of "they" is supported by respected American and English dictionaries.

You could escape from this particular argument by saying, "No-one raised a hand."

However I see nothing wrong with saying, "No-one raised their hand". Merriam-Webster explicitly allows this usage.

2: his or her : HIS, HER, ITS —used with an indefinite third person singular antecedent

anyone in their senses — W. H. Auden

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/their

Merriam-Webster is probably the most respected dictionary of American English.

Note that W.H. Auden was highly literate, a poet, who died September 29, 1973, so we are not talking about recent or uneducated usage.

Note: @Mike Scott has pointed out in a comment that The use of “they” as a singular dates back to the 14th century. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they#Older_usage


Here's the British usage from lexico.com, an offshoot of the famous Oxford Dictionaries.:

their

Belonging to or associated with a person of unspecified sex.

‘she heard someone blow their nose loudly’

‘Anyone who wants to voice their displeasure over that lot has to do a lot of voicing.’

etc.

https://www.lexico.com/definition/their

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It's a very common expression. Check this tweet, for example. So, to answer the question, yes, it's correct.

Also, you can simply say, "I looked around, and there was..."

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    Can tweets be used as reliable sources for grammar questions? – Eric Duminil Sep 24 '20 at 14:25
  • @EricDuminil Nope, they cannot be unless you are sure of the example and English! – Maulik V Sep 25 '20 at 3:38
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    If the tweet is deleted one day, we will never know what was written. – Mari-Lou A Sep 26 '20 at 7:00
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No one raised their hand = No person raised his or her hand.

Yes, it's grammatically correct.

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    This doesn't add anything new. Can you explain "why" it is grammatically correct? Why is the plural pronoun (their) used instead of "his or her"? – Mari-Lou A Sep 26 '20 at 7:03

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