Last Updated on May 24, 2021
The Associated Press announced recently it will allow the use of the ‘singular they’ pronoun in certain cases.
The Associated Press updated its style guide, which is used by newsrooms around the world to establish and maintain continuity in writing, and the latest change concerns a controversial pronoun known as the singular they.
There was a time, of course, when pronouns like they and them referred to groups of people since the words themselves are plural.
As the issue of gender identity came to greater light over the years, and disputes surfaced over how to refer to someone with pronouns who did not wish to be referred to as the gender into which they were born, using they and them to refer to those folks became a suggested option.
A proposed alternative involved a string of made-up words that specifically avoid gender but that I can’t see ever being adopted because they’re sound ridiculous and are far more confusing to the majority of readers who’ve never even heard of them.
The post in the upcoming edition of the AP Style Guide, which is due out in May, reportedly adds this:
They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and-or gender-neutral pronoun, when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy.
The post will also suggest that rewording to avoid either awkward or clumsy passages “usually is possible and always is preferable.”
AP does not recognize those alternate pronouns like ze/hir/hirs, ze/zir/zirs or xe/xem/xyr.
So in cases where Mary may not identify as female, or may claim not to identify as either gender, the singular they may be a possible substitute. Official guidance is to use the person’s last name rather than a pronoun. But that can become redundant and just as awkward in longer pieces.
Yes, I’m a “grammar nerd,” but I also realize that the singular they has been around since the time of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen and yet their writing is still lauded to this day.
Not every story that happens to involve someone with a nontraditional gender identity will be about gender identity. So, it seems to me, the singular they is the least disruptive way to handle those situations.
The Washington Post Style Guide advocated the use of the singular they in 2015 and in January of 2016, the American Dialect Society voted it the “Word of the Year.”
Now can we all just get along and accept that the singular they isn’t as wrong as we might have been taught? Doing so would make a lot of people’s lives a lot easier.