Is the following sentence correct?

Confirm that someone is who they say they are

Not sure why "who they say they are" is used, as the antecedent to they is someone which is a singular pronoun and uses the singular form of be (is).

1 Answer 1


This is an example of "singular they". Here it is being used, apparently, to avoid the need to use a gendered pronoun to refer ro a person of unknown or unspecified gender.

This is now a common usage. It has been used by respected writers of English since the 14th century, but is now much more common than it used to be. A few decades ago this sentence would have been likely rendered as :

Confirm that someone is who he says he is.

  • 5
    I think it's probably more helpful to say that generic he has become extremely unusual in the past few decades. As you say, singular they has been accepted for centuries (mostly alongside generic he), although from the 18th/19th centuries there was a trend for it to be proscribed in formal writing (although it continued to be used even in that context by respected writers). The main change is that many speakers no longer view generic he as acceptable (finding it sexist), and so singular they has just taken up the slack left by that absence
    – Tristan
    Jul 4, 2022 at 9:31
  • 3
    it's not especially relevant to this particular case of course, but still possibly worth noting, but most of the time when you see people in the media complaining about singular they today they are talking about its use for known individuals who prefer not to be referred to as either he or she (such as myself). This usage is mostly found in the 21st century, but there are occasional uses as early of Shakespeare for known individuals (albeit ones who are more commonly referred to as either he or she)
    – Tristan
    Jul 4, 2022 at 9:35

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .