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How do you say they are in french but in singular form?

I was trying to write the sentences " A good friend is kind and gentle. Also, they are understanding..." I was wondering if anyone knows how to write the "They are" part. In English this is still singular (talking about one person), but as far as I am aware, in French 'il sont' would be plural.

April 27, 2018



I think this "they" is specific to English because "friend" can be both masculine and feminine. From the words "a friend", you cannot tell whether the noun refers to a man or to a woman. The pronoun "they" allows to leave the question of gender open.

This is not the case in French. You already have to decide if you talk about "un ami" (masc.) or "une amie" (fem.) when you write the full noun. Therefore, you would simply continue with the appropriate pronoun.


In English isn't "he" used as the pronoun when describing hypothetical situations? With it implied, sometimes even stated that he means he/her?


This was traditionally true, but it's changing because of gender norms. It no longer seems acceptable to assume male as the default. This is one reason we are seeing much more of the singular "they."

I don't think French has an equivalent - they would still use male if the gender is unknown (and here, if the gender is actually unknown, would have said un ami, not une amie).

I'm not sure what is happening in French for people who identify as neither male or female (people like that in the US often use "they" as a singular pronoun).


In recent years, "they" has been used as a singular pronoun in order to avoid the awkwardness of describing a woman (friend, for example) as "he". I've read and used it a lot.

Here's the explanation on Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they

Singular they is the use in English of the pronoun they or its inflected or derivative forms, them, their, theirs, and themselves (or themself), as an epicene (gender-neutral) singular pronoun. It typically occurs with an antecedent of indeterminate gender, as in sentences such as:

"Somebody left their umbrella in the office. Would they please collect it?"[1]
"The patient should be told at the outset how much they will be required to pay."[2]
> "But a journalist should not be forced to reveal their sources.

(Cross-posted with Betsy)


Yes, they/their seem to be quite colloquial in use but technically not correct like callionek said.


Until I read this post, I had never heard of a singular "they." I always thought it was incorrect. I don't even like using "they" in the vague sense, unless I want to be extremely casual or humorous. I often find myself asking others, "Who's is they?" I am a native American English speaker and I am very good with grammar. I checked Wikipedia and it definitely sounds like a new thing. They ;-) must be right!


I have never really considered myself good with grammar, I kind of just go with what sounds right, but I think I remember learning about this somewhere. Its possible that "they are" is actually plural and you need to use a third person pronoun like "he" or "her". In your first sentence you are saying, "A good friend is". A, lack of "s" after friends and is all signify singularity. Your next sentence should be "Also, he is understanding..." or use her or even say "he/her", if you want.

Or you can keep the second sentence but change the first to "Good friends are kind and gentle".


GymKennaSwin is right. A singular "they" is not technically correct in English. We use it all the time when we don't want to specify the gender of the person we're talking about, but it's not translatable because it's not grammatically correct in formal English. The correct form in English would be "He or she is..." Or, you can make it plural and say, "good friends are... they are..."

There is also the problem that Heike333145 noted: you have to choose the gender for the term "friend". If you want to be generic, you probably want to use the masculine form here as that would be more commonly used for generic people. So, you have two options:

  1. Plural. Les bons amis (or les bonnes amies) sont... Ils (elles) sont aussi...

  2. Singular. Un bon ami (une bonne amie) est... Il (elle) est aussi...

Sorry, there's not really an answer to your question.


In many cases you can use the "On" form which is a gender-neutral third-person pronoun used as in english we'd say "one". "One who is understanding..." For when you are not talking about a specific person.

However since the word "friend" denotes a specific person and is not gender neutral, it requires you to pick a gender. You wouldn't be able to use On; you would have to keep your pronouns consistent. In this case since french is a gender-biased language you should go with Il or Ils plural as it covers mixed groups. No matter how many women there may be, if there's a single man involved it requires a masculine pronoun.


"Ils comprennent" means they understand and they are understanding, but not necessarily in the sense of being empathetic (not sure about that). In your English sentence, you change from singular in the first sentence to plural in the second. I'd advise picking singular or plural and sticking with it throughout your piece. The usage of "on" (above) is a good idea. Using the third person, single "on" would work nicely here: "On comprend."


To say that they are empathetic, you have to say:"Ils sont compréhensifs". I'm French, don't worry about that, even if it sounds a bit weird you'll be understood.


Try this: "Un bon ami est gentil et doux. Il est aussi sympa."

It's like English, when you don't want to specify (or don't know) whether it's a man or a woman, use he. ("They" is okay in informal speech, especially in situations when a person insists that he/she/it does not want to be called a "she" or a "he" but in reality you should use "he" in such situations in formal written English. In French it works the same way.)

The Spanish, as I understand it, have invented a new plural third-person personal pronoun that I was not taught in school for mixed groups. ("elles", which avoids both"ellos" and "ellas") I'm not aware of any such word for English or French. I also do not remember coming across "elles" in the spanish section of duolingo, so it may not have received the imprimatur of La Real Academia Española.

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