Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Anya Hogoboom

Committee Members

Iyabo Osiapem

Leslie Cochrane

Aiko Kitamura


As the usage of personal pronouns other than he and she becomes more mainstream, debates about their usage have become more and more common. Many of the reasons discouraging their use are rooted in negative attitudes toward people who prefer to be referred to as such (Patev, et al 2019). However, prior research has also found that perceptions of singular gender-neutral pronouns like they/them as being grammatically confusing can be an obstacle toward their use, even by people who otherwise hold positive opinions towards transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals (Patev, et al 2019). Given the role that language use plays in gender inclusion, this study aims to see if individuals can be trained to perceive “they," “them," “their," and other pronouns in the set, as more grammatically acceptable. In particular, I examine whether people view the singular “they’” as more grammatical after being given explicit instruction about the rules of their use by comparing grammaticality judgments of sentences using these pronouns before and after receiving training explaining grammar rules. I compare these judgments to those of people who receive diversity-focused trainings, as is the norm for many organizational trainings. While participants in both groups demonstrated an increase in their acceptability ratings of these sentences two weeks after completing the training, the groups improved to a similar degree, indicating that it is the act of thinking about pronoun usage, rather than any particular justification for its acceptability, that affects grammaticality perception. Furthermore, this indicates that this perception of grammatical confusingness is likely an overt justification for covert sociolinguistic attitudes against the use of such pronouns, rather than a true reflection of the mental grammar.