How does Microsoft Word handle non-binary grammar like they?

Microsoft Word has a powerful grammar checking system but how does it handle changes in English usage like the rise of non-binary or non-specific pronouns like ‘they’ and ‘them’?  We took put sample words and sentences in Word to see how ‘woke’ it is.

As a bonus, we’ll explain Pibling and Nibling that are already in the Word dictionary.

Our interest is only in how Microsoft Word’s grammar checking technology handles changes in the English language.

We know this topic can be confronting or confusing for many people, including some of us here at Office-Watch.com. Language changes over time and the English language seems more flexible than most.

We’re not making a judgement about gender-neutral terms, just examining how Word copes.  As it turns out, fairly well.

They Word in sentences

The words ‘They’ and ‘Them’ are expanding their use to become gender neutral third-person pronouns.  As Merriam-Webster notes, English has plural pronouns like everyone or someone but no singular version.  ‘They’ and ‘Them’ have filled that gap for centuries.

We found sentence examples online and put them into Word using the English (US) default settings:

Turns out Word copes nicely with They and Them in their expanded use.  No red or blue squiggly lines to mark spelling or grammar problems.

Inclusiveness in Word’s Grammar settings

Buried deep in Word’s Grammar settings (File | Options | Proofing | Writing Style | Settings | Grammar and Refinements | Inclusiveness are various options including:

  • Gender Bias
  • Gender-Specific Language

Some of the Inclusiveness / Bias options are currently only available to Office Insiders.

In Office 2016, choose ‘Grammar & more’ writing style. Under ‘Inclusive Language’ there’s a single option ‘Gender Specific Language’.

However, those options don’t check for gender neutral pronouns and suggest replacements like they/them.

Other Gender neutral terms

While researching this article we found other gender-neutral English language suggestions that haven’t reached widespread use.  It’s interesting that some of these words are already in Word’s English dictionary e.g. Pibling, Nibling, Ze and Sie.

Results in Word 365 with English (US) and default grammar settings.

Those words can be added to the Word custom dictionary (right-click | Spelling | Add to Dictionary).

Pibling and Nibling

In our informal survey, no-one knew Pibling nor Nibling but they are common enough to make the MS Word dictionary (see above).  If you’d like to expand your 21st Century vocabulary or add to your bank of trivia ….

Pibling can replace uncle or aunt.  E.g.  “My pibling gets into an argument whenever they come for dinner.”

Nibling can replace niece or nephew.  e.g. “Both nibling are in college and doing really well.”

(You’re welcome)

The mistake in Microsoft’s ‘common grammar mistakes’ list

How Word’s grammar check can let you down

Microsoft adds new ‘Death Threat’ template and more to Word

How to make your Word document more readable

Sources:

https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/word-of-the-year/they

https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/gender-neutral-pronouns

https://www.mypronouns.org/ze-hir

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/14/janelle-monae-non-binary-pronouns-they-them

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