Everybody thinks that they…

Leggete il titolo… è un errore? Si passa dal singolare (everybody thinks) al plurale (they). Grammaticalmente è scorretto, ma è del tutto accettabile: è la regola del “singular they” e si usa quando non si conosce il genere del soggetto. In tempi di politically correct e gender equality è importante conoscere la regola, e usarla!

Mark Worden (Standard British accent)

Italians and other nationalities are often bewildered (1) by the fact that the British say, “Everybody thinks that they have a right to do something.” On paper this is a grammatical error, but it is part of English usage and it is completely acceptable. This construction is called “the singular they” and the reason why it is used, I think, is to avoid (2) having to specify that “everybody” is “he” or indeed “she” because people usually say “he” and this is considered disrespectful and sexist to the 51 per cent of the population who are in fact female. But “the singular they” is far older than feminism. It goes back many centuries and there are examples by… many famous British authors have used this. One is Jane Austen, but the most striking (3) example is the greatest writer of them all, William Shakespeare, who said, in A Comedy of Errors, Act IV, scene III:

“There’s not a man I meet, but doth salute me
As if I were their well acquainted friend.”

And so if Shakespeare makes this mistake – and he made this mistake 400 years ago, three or four hundred years ago – it is perfectly acceptable. Indeed most English people say “Everybody thinks that they” and if they hear somebody saying, “Everybody thinks that he or she,” they invariably imagine that it is a… a German tourist whose English is too good and in fact, if you say, “Everybody thinks that he,” it is proof that you are in fact a foreigner, so don’t be afraid of making the mistake “Everybody think that they” because it is no longer (4) considered a mistake.


Somebody left their umbrella in the office.”

(non sappiamo se quel “qualcuno” sia maschio o femmina)

If your child is thinking about a gap year, they can get good advice from this website.”

(non sappiamo se “il figlio” sia maschio o femmina)

A journalist should not be forced to reveal their sources.

(non sappiamo se “il giornalista” sia maschio o femmina)


1    bewildered: confusi, sorpresi
2    to avoid: evitare
3    striking: straordinario
4    no longer: non più

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