intermediate pronoun studies: themselves and themself

antecedent and pronoun alone don’t explain stuff — but in combination they do.

age and prescriptivism tell us something in particular about certain combinations of antecedent and pronoun.

people clustered into three groups.

  • Group 1: Speakers who kind of struggle with singular they no matter what, especially with a specific person — they also rated themself bad across the board. They did rate themselves pretty high with generic stuff (“everyone… themselves”) but that was pretty much the only thing they liked
  • Group 2: rated everything pretty high! They’re good with singular they, even with a specific person, and they don’t have a preference between themselves and themself
  • Group 3: rated themself pretty high, but rated themselves lower when it was about a specific person. (They were fine with “everyone … themselves” though!)

As expected, the groups had some patterns with demographics — but demographics didn’t totally determine what group someone ended up in.

So what does this all mean?

  • People use themself and themselves with singular they. If you’re trying to figure out which one to use — just go with your gut!
  • The way people use themself and themselves differently is slightly separate from whether people can use singular they for a specific person in general. If you’re someone who struggles with using they for a specific person, you might want to read my other posts about they/them pronouns. Don’t worry about themself vs themselves too much, in the meantime!

If you’d like to read more of my writing about pronouns, you might like my other posts on medium!



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