Language defines and shapes our reality, as much as identity, experience, and environment impact our language. Language evolves over time, adapting to the current culture and societal needs. Words come in and out of use, vogue, and relevance. Words even morph in significance and meaning. “They” is one such word.
Use a “singular they” as a pronoun when you want to convey the gender fluidity or transgender identity of the person whom you reference in your writing or speech.
In 2015, the use of “singular they” was voted Word of the Year “WOTY” by the renowned American Dialect Society. Its use amplifies our need for gender-neutral language or gender-inclusive language in our speech and writing:
Singular they is the use in English of the pronoun they or its inflected or derivative forms, them, their, theirs, and themselves (or themself), as an epicene (gender-neutral) singular pronoun. It typically occurs with an antecedent of indeterminate gender, as in sentences such as:
- “Somebody left their umbrella in the office. Would they please collect it?”
- “The patient should be told at the outset how much they will be required to pay.”
- “But a journalist should not be forced to reveal their sources.”
This version of they is the one that a person, transgender or cisgender, can use when they don’t feel like he or she fits quite right. This version of they is the one a person might use to refer to everyone they know just to jolt people into second-guessing some of the assumptions society has long had about gender—about all hims and all hers, about what destiny is really in store for any baby who is proclaimed to be a boy or a girl in the delivery room.
they: gender-neutral singular pronoun for a known person, as a non-binary identifier
Glamour Magazine recognized that “gender is an often sensationalized topic in our culture. People and media outlets alike are obsessed with analyzing celebrities who don’t follow narrow gender norms. Let’s continue having conversations about inclusive language and helping individuals no longer be viewed as “other” or “different.””
Read Glamour’s story highlighting how superstar Jennifer Lopez praised her daughter’s second child’s recognition by Youth Celebrate Diversity for her accomplishments and value as she naturally used the word they.
Learn more about or even get involved with groups like Youth Celebrate Diversity who advocate using gender-neutral pronouns for recognizing and honoring diversity, gender equity, and everyone’s uniqueness.
Student writers can be confident about using the gender-inclusive “singular They” pronoun in lieu of him or her in writing and speaking about a person who identifies outside of formerly-established male/female gender definitions.
Using “they” in place of “he” or “she” is now widely recognized by the literary world.
If you need more confirmation that you can and should use the singular they pronoun in your writing and speaking, even the AP Stylebook has adopted its use. At their national conference in March 2017, The American Copy Editors Society announced that the 2017 AP Stylebook will include guidance on the limited use of “they” as a singular pronoun.
It will take all of us to encourage and embed the use of they as a pronoun for people who are and identify anywhere on the spectrum of gender. While there are many existing and newly-created words being suggested for use instead of they as a singular pronoun, you can trust that using they will be widely accepted.
The media, academia, educators, authors, politicians, leaders, activists, and students like you to help change the language we use to eliminate bias and making people appear as “others.”
Visit AP Stylebook Online to Learn More About Using They
AP Stylebook Online
They, them, their — In 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…