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The word everyone is a singular indefinite pronoun. But while tagging, why its subject pronoun is they which is plural? e.g.

Everyone wants to live, don't they?

Here, in the statement, the subject 'everyone' is a singular pronoun and it has used a singular verb 'wants'. But in the question part, the word 'they' is the subject pronoun of 'everyone' which is plural.

Why? Please explain.

This question is not a duplicate of Using "they" in tag questions with everybody / nobody etc. Because I want to know the reason of using plural subject pronoun in the case of singular pronoun as a subject in the statement.

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  • I can just about get my head around Everyone is here, isn't he? for a tag question, but it sounds clunky compared to ...aren't they? I have to say that second version feels more like an example of "singular they" to me, but I don't know whether that's part of the "explanation" being sought here. Jun 8, 2021 at 17:38
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    I expanded my original answer and added a notable reference in: Using "they" in tag questions with everybody/nobody etc
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 9, 2021 at 19:47
  • There's probably a historic reason for it, but not a rule-based one where you could derive "aren't they" as the correct choice. Many other tag questions ignore the common rules of English, like, "I'm a teacher, aren't I?" where you would naturally expect "... *amn't I". They simply have to be memorized.
    – gotube
    Jun 12, 2021 at 21:40

1 Answer 1

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The pronoun "they" is grammatically plural even when it denotes a single person (like it does in some general statements or if the person's gender is unknown - so-called "singular they"). They are, they do, they go, they write, etc.

Since a statement using "everyone", such as "everyone wants to live", is a general statement that applies to both men and women, you won't say either "he" or "she" in the tag but "they", which is neutral about their gender. (See what I did there at the end of that sentence?)

Singular they also comes in handy when you simply don't know what gender the person you're dealing with is: "Nickname123 made this comment on my blog. I think they're wrong."

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    I don't think gender is relevant here. The syntactic properties of the compound determinative "everyone" determine the agreement.
    – BillJ
    Jun 8, 2021 at 18:39
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    It's kind of the reason behind those syntactic properties. I find getting the underlying logic (if there is any, but in this case we're lucky because there is) more helpful to understanding things than just memorising "because-I-said-so" rules.
    – Divizna
    Jun 8, 2021 at 18:49
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    The prnoun they is not grammatically plural in this context, any more than the pronoun you is "grammatically plural" when it refers to one person.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 9, 2021 at 22:26
  • @BillJ this "they" is a third person singular pronoun that is neutral between masculine and feminine. (as written in section 10.50 of Quirk et al on page no 770) Jun 10, 2021 at 13:27
  • @Man_From_India Yes, but that's not why "they" is being used here. "Everyone" implies a plural set, and it's this that motivates plural "they" in the tag.
    – BillJ
    Jun 10, 2021 at 13:44

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