Making a case for a singular ‘they’

by Lauren Easton, director of media relations on March 24, 2017

During a panel at the American Copy Editors Society national conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Friday, it was announced that the 2017 AP Stylebook will include guidance on the limited use of “they” as a singular pronoun.

The addition is immediately available to AP Stylebook Online subscribers and will be included in the new print edition of the Stylebook when it is published on May 31. Key passages from the new entry include:

They, them, theirIn most cases, a plural pronoun should agree in number with the antecedent: The children love the books their uncle gave them.They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and-or gender-neutral pronoun, when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy. However, rewording usually is possible and always is preferable. Clarity is a top priority; gender-neutral use of a singular they is unfamiliar to many readers. We do not use other gender-neutral pronouns such as xe or ze…

Arguments for using they/them as a singular sometimes arise with an indefinite pronoun(anyone, everyone, someone) or unspecified/unknown gender(a person, the victim, the winner)…

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…

Previewing the 2017 Stylebook at the ACES conference, AP Stylebook editor Paula Froke highlighted a comprehensive entry on gender, which comprises terms such as “cisgender,” “intersex” and “transgender.” It reads in part: “Not all people fall under one of two categories for sex or gender, according to leading medical organizations, so avoid references to both, either or opposite sexes or genders as a way to encompass all people.” The entry also makes clear that “gender” is not synonymous with “sex.”

The 2017 AP Stylebook will include nearly 200 new and modified entries, some of which have already been released to AP Stylebook Online subscribers. Some of the additions presented at the meeting include:

LGBT, LGBTQ — Acceptable in all references for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning and/or queer. In quotations and the formal names of organizations and events, other forms such as LGBTQIA and other variations are also acceptable with the other letters in the acronym explained. I generally stands for intersex, and A can stand for allies (a person who is not LGBT but who actively supports the LGBT community), asexual (a person who doesn’t experience sexual attraction) or both. The word queer can be considered a slur in many contexts, so limit use of the word to quotes and names of organizations, following rules for obscenities, profanities, vulgarities as appropriate. Note that sex, gender and sexual orientation are not synonymous. See gay or gender.

flier, flyer — Flyer is the preferred term for a person flying in an aircraft, and for handbills: He used his frequent flyer miles; they put up flyers announcing the show. Use flier in the phrase take a flier, meaning to take a big risk.

esportsAcceptable in all references to competitive multiplayer video gaming. Use alternate forms like eSports or e-sports only if part of a formal name, like an organization or arena. Capitalize at the start of sentences. Like other collective nouns that are plural in form, esports takes singular form when the group or quantity is regarded as a unit. Some gamers are finding esports is a viable profession; nine esports were added to the competition.It is also acceptable to refer to individual esports events as games or events.

autonomous vehicles Describes cars or trucks that can monitor the road and drive for an entire trip without the intervention of a human. Also can be called self-driving. The term driverless should not be used unless there is no human backup driver. In cases where vehicles can perform some driving functions themselves but require human intervention for other tasks, such as changing lanes or driving at low speeds, use semi-autonomousor partially self-driving. As of mid-2017 there were no autonomous vehicles available to the public, but many with semi-autonomous capabilities.

The AP Stylebook is the definitive resource for journalists and a must-have reference for writers, editors, students and professionals. It provides fundamental guidelines for spelling, language, punctuation, usage and journalistic style.

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