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AP Stylebook Updates: Singular ‘They’ Now Acceptable

28 March 2017

From Grammar Girl:

singular they: The AP Stylebook now allows writers to use they as a singular pronoun when rewriting the sentence as plural would be overly awkward or clumsy. Example: The Obama administration told public schools to grant bathroom access even if a student’s gender identity isn’t what’s in their record.

The style also allows writers to pair they with everyone in similar situations.

In stories about people who identify as neither male nor female or ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her: Use the person’s name in place of a pronoun, or otherwise reword the sentence, whenever possible. If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun. Be sure that the phrasing does not imply more than one person.

his, her. AP style used to be to use he when gender is not known. This entry now refers to the entry on they, them, their.

. . . .

Oxford Comma (aka serial comma). The new Stylebook emphasizes that clarity is the bottom line. Although the normal style is to avoid the serial comma, use one if it is needed for clarity. This is not a style change, but a clarification because the editors noted that some writers were confused.

Link to the rest at Grammar Girl

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16 Comments to “AP Stylebook Updates: Singular ‘They’ Now Acceptable”

  1. Works for me. “his/her” is awkward.

    • Sure is (or should that be “surely is”?). I always break rules when writing, but the his/her thing was a pain in the arse. Guess I can now abandon s/he, too.

  2. I’ve been using it for years and have advocated for it with my grammando friends. Some hate it, most think it’s useful. Since we ditched the default to he/him, we needed they/them, period.

  3. Rules follow usage.

  4. Whenever I find myself wanting a singular “they”, I try recasting the sentence in the plural. It is usually easy and catches my meaning. I will probably keep doing it. I don’t have anything against the singular they– it sounds right to me– but I’d rather not deal with those who think it is anathema.

  5. ive used ‘they’ ‘their’ etc all my life, was told it was wrong by august and gusty winded people in nu yak publishing. I wrote into my contracts no one touches my work, take it or leave it. I loathed having to displease people, but there is a line regarding ‘home language’… English is not my first lanuguage, and my home language, in English, is idiosyncratic language.Too late anyways, lol, I’m not changing it. There’s no divine reason I know of to strip people of their home language ways that makes their voice unique. I have NO idea why the Chicago and other style manuals exist, except to strip voices of their rootstock. I know, I know, others like those manuals ALA etc. I know them well. And loathe their boiling everyone into the same stew.

  6. While there may be examples where a sentence would indeed become awkward or clumsy without the use of “singular their” the example provided is not one of them.

    The example:

    The Obama administration told public schools to grant bathroom access even if a student’s gender identity isn’t what’s in their record.

    Should have been rewritten:

    The Obama administration told public schools to grant bathroom access even if students’ gender identities differ from those provided in their records.

    Beware, lest “awkward” and “clumsy” become catchwords to justify lazy writing. Words only become awkward or clumsy in context, which, in most cases, the writer also controls.

    My formal-writing goal is to help readers focus on the content rather than on usage. If the usage jars, a rewrite is in order. One day, I’m sure “singular their” will be so commonly used that no one will think twice about it. Since we’re talking about it, we’re clearly not there yet.

  7. I’m told that using he/she is a tantamount to a hate crime. People over-react.

  8. Now, if we could ditch “whom” and just use “who” for sub/obj, that would be lovely in terms of simplification. Who used the way You is. Yes.

    • I second that suggestion.

    • But it is so useful to distinguish one CHARACTER from another – one is more grammatically precise, and uses whom; another is more colloquial, and uses who.

      As long as you have a deliberate plan, and are consistent, even if readers don’t realize exactly why, they will know which character is which. Stylistic considerations.

      If you are NOT consistent, readers will know something is wrong, and not be able to pinpoint exactly what much of the time, but won’t like it IF they notice. Those who don’t notice, of course, won’t care.

  9. Does everything have to be politicized these days? Does even the AP Stylebook have to use a politically charged sentence as an example of singular ‘they’? Or is that just the blogger’s example sentence? STOP THIS NONSENSE! I don’t want to be hammered with propaganda even when I’m merely researching a definition or whether my grammar is correct.

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