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I encountered a sentence, it says "If the current player is unable to make a move, they lose the game". I wonder whether they usage is correct.

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Yes, this is correct. While "they" is usually plural, there is a singular form of they as well, which acts as a gender neutral pronoun.

You could substitute this singular "they" with the phrase "he or she", although you have to match the count and change "lose" to "loses".

If the current player is unable to make a move, he or she loses the game.

This sentence is functionally identical to the one you encountered, however many people find the phrase "he or she" to be needlessly awkward and long.

Note that this is an actual shift in the language, and a fairly recent one. 100 years ago, the singular they would not have been considered acceptable, and you would be required to use "he or she", or more commonly just "he" as a catchall for both genders. This gender inclusive use of "he" is no longer considered acceptable and has led to the rise of the singular they as a substitute.

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  • The Oxford English Dictionary people, in a blog, trace singular they back to 1375, where it appears in the medieval romance William and the Werewolf. It's older than many people think. public.oed.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-singular-they May 31, 2022 at 7:48
  • Yes, it's old. It's also new. Singular they was used hundreds of years ago, then it fell out of use for a few hundred years, and now its coming back again. Language changes aren't necessarily linear... it can go back and forth like this. Jun 2, 2022 at 4:16

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