It's official: AP style bible says "they" can be singular

The AP Stylebook, the style bible for many newspapers and other media, has turned the plural pronoun "they" into a third person singular pronoun when it's convenient or as a gender neutral singular pronoun. In other words, sometimes a "he" or a "she" can be a "they."

Counterintuitive and less clear, that is. But I suppose it's the inevitable march toward perfect political correctness.

The revision states:

Time to redo all the pronoun graphics for teaching the children pronouns.

Time to redo all the pronoun graphics for teaching the children pronouns.

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.

It used to say:

Their is a plural possessive pronoun and must agree in number with the antecedent. Wrong: Everyone raised their hands. Right: They raised their hands. See every one, everyone for the pronoun that takes singular verbs and pronouns.

Thankfully "xe" or "ze" haven't yet become acceptable. True, language is a living, breathing thing that marches in step to whatever fashionable tune is being played at the moment. But English does have some problems when it comes to pronouns. My favorite problem is the second person plural "you" that is exactly the same as the second person singular "you."  When conversing with a group of people, context can fail to delineate who's "you." My suggestion is that we adopt the Southern solution--"ya'll." Sure, not acceptable in the East Coast salons, but it's a step toward clarity.

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Filed under: Culture, Language

Tags: AP stylebook, pronouns, they, you


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  • They must becoming the Queen's English. British s#x books from the 1980s had such expressions as "pleasure your partner with what they best like." The doctors were not otherwise advocating 3 ways.

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