How well does Inform 7 handle singular "they"?

Singular “they” is a bit of a weird beast in English, since it’s grammatically plural even when it’s semantically singular (*). This leads to some interesting verb agreement when it’s used generically…

When someone comes in here, ask them what they want.

…and also specifically…

Z looks up at you. They smile.

(Both verbs in each sentence have the same semantic subject, but the first one has a singular form to agree with “someone” and “Z”, and the second one has a plural form to agree with “they”.)

Does the Inform 7 English library have a good way of handling this?

My first thought is to put a new grammatical property on objects (alongside “masculine”, “feminine”, “neuter”, “plural-named”, and “ambiguously plural”), called “singular-they” or the like. The objects would then be singular-named and ambiguously plural, so that they get singular verbs by default but are recognized as “they” by the parser. And when the pronoun-printing machinery prints a subject pronoun for a “singular-they” object, it also sets the prior naming context to plural, switching to plural verbs.

Is this a good way to handle it, or is there a more straightforward solution?

(*) The same is true of singular “you” and singular “we”, but those are easier to handle because they’re unlikely to appear alongside names.


Did you have any luck with your experiments? I’m about to have a look at the English Language library to learn how it deals with pronouns in general, and with pronouns like ‘you’. See if I can’t make something happen.

Surely there should also be a way to introduce new pronouns, and whatever it is, it’s probably simpler. But like you, I also want this to be a thing. You’re not wrong about singular ‘they’ being a strange beast, though; both in English, and for computers! :grin: