Stylebooks Finally Embrace the Single ‘They’

Two major style manuals are now allowing the singular use of “they” in certain circumstances. While this is a victory for common sense, the paths taken are unusual in the evolution of usage. From a report on Columbia Journal Review: Both manuals, the Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style, emphasize that “they” cannot be used with abandon. Even so, it’s the middle of the end for the insistence that “they” can be only a plural pronoun. To recap: In English, there is no gender-neutral pronoun for a single person. In French, for example, the pronoun on can stand in for “he” or “she.” English has no such equivalent; “it” is our singular pronoun, so devoid of gender that calling a person “it” is often considered insulting. We could use “one,” but that is a very impersonal pronoun. Consider this sentence, for instance. “Everyone needs to be sure to tighten ____ safety belt before approaching the cliff.” The article adds: For hundreds of years, anyone writing formally would default to “he.” Advances in women’s rights led to the clumsy “he or she.” Many writers alternate “he” or “she.” This twisting and turning is because what’s known as “the epicene they” has been considered incorrect. […] But that’s not the “they” the style guides have let loose. Simply, the singular “they” will be allowed if someone prefers that pronoun.


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