AP Stylebook adds singular ‘they’ to accommodate transgender, gender-neutral community

By Alli Huppert

After years of consideration, the Associated Press now recognizes the singular form of they/their/them. The journalism cooperative added the new rule to its online stylebook last month and will add it to the 2017 AP Stylebook in May.

The AP changed this guideline to recognize evolving language for transgender and gender-neutral individuals.

Merrill Perlman, a former New York Times editor and The Society for Editing (ACES) board member, agrees with the addition of this rule and says the stylebook will continue to evolve.

“The 2017 stylebook has made great strides in raising awareness about people who are transgender, non-binary, questioning, gender nonconforming, etc.,” Perlman said. “People in those communities are quite vocal, so I’m sure that if these terminologies are not acceptable, AP will hear about it and will adapt.”

Perlman, who wrote an article for Columbia Journalism Review on the topic, predicts AP will change other guidelines soon for commonly misused phrases.

“Some of the words that I think AP will have to loosen before too long include ‘staunch’ (acceptable in some dictionaries in place of ‘stanch’); ‘hone in on’ (a frequent replacement for ‘home in on’); ‘gauntlet’ for the ordeal in place of ‘gantlet’; and ‘just desserts’ in place of ‘just deserts,’ despite their having very different meanings,” she said. “Those are so commonly misused that few people know what the “correct” spelling or phrase is.

“I think it won’t be long before AP loosens that standard and allows it in more generic situations, because having two guidelines for one word is always confusing,” she said.

The spoken singular form of they is another example of an often-misused rule. An example of this is “Everyone likes their mom.” While this sounds correct, everyone is a singular noun so the sentence should read: “Everyone likes his or her mom.”

AP now accepts using they with singular nouns, but advises writing around it if at all possible. Since the previous example sounds choppy, AP advises rewording to something like “All kids like their mom.”

Allowing the singular form of they has been debated for a while, but Perlman said she has no problem with it as long as it isn’t in formal writing.

“After all, nearly everyone uses it when speaking,” she said. “The only reason to avoid it, in my view, is that it rubs many people the wrong way, like split infinitives, which aren’t wrong but are hated by many people.”

Many journalistic stylebooks have added or changed their entries relating to gender and sexuality as society continuously changes. An article by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) mentions the addition of transgender and transsexual in the AP Stylebook in 2013. The article also mentions the New York Times entry about sexual preference and sexual orientation added in 2013.







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