Help for Grammar Nerds: AP Stylebook Adds “They” as Singular Pronoun

The headline along is enough to make some grammar nerds fidget nervously: AP Stylebook Embraces ‘They’ as Singular, Gender-Neutral Pronoun.

I was watching some grammar nerds – and yes, I count myself as one – discuss the difficulty of this.

Two points: (1) You already do this all the time: “I wonder who left their phone behind. I bet they’ll really want it back.” You know the phone doesn’t belong to a group, and if you don’t know this person’s gender, ‘they’ is an easy default. Someone objected that there is a difference in spoken (informal) verses written (formal) writing, to which I can only reply: either respecting people’s identities is important enough to change some grammar rules or it isn’t. I think it is.

(2) The real issue, I’ll insist, is whether or not you actually respect and acknowledge the multiply- or non-gendered as REAL. If you’re having trouble calling a single person by the pronouns “they”, it may be because you don’t actually believe in their gender identity as multiple or not gendered or non binary.

In which case, that’s the thing to work on. Once you respect multiply or non gendered people as legit identities, “they” as a singular pronoun is pretty obviously the most pragmatic solution to the English language’s lack of a gender neutral singular pronoun.

Helen Boyd

is the author of My Husband Betty and She's Not the Man I Married.

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