With the 2017 Stylebook print edition to be published May 31, AP has OK’d “they” as a singular pronoun. Editor Paula Froke announced the change at the recent American Copy Editors Society meeting in St. Petersburg, Fla. She said the new rule recognizes that “spoken language uses they as singular” and that the term can be applied when citing people who identify as gender neutral.
The new entry reads, “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.”
The previous entry said, “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.”
Froke said writers need to clarify that “they” refers to only one person. Colleen Newvine, product manager, said the singular “they” isn’t required, but is allowed.
Other 2017 Stylebook updates include:
- LGBTQ for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer, but the term queer can be a slur in many contexts, according to the editors, “so limit its use … to quotes and names of organizations.”
- Gender denotes a person’s social identity, while sex is defined as a person’s biological characteristics.
Rewritten Stylebook entries are:
- courtesy titles
- fact check/fake news
Under “fake news,” the Stylebook says: “The term fake news may be used in quotes or as shorthand for the modern phenomenon of deliberate falsehoods or fiction masked as news circulating on the internet,” the AP explains. However, do not label as fake news specific or individual news items that are disputed. If fake news is used in a quote, push for specifics about what is meant. Alternative wording includes false reports, erroneous reports, unverified reports, questionable reports, disputed reports or false reporting, depending on the context.
You can buy the print edition at the AP store (store.apstylebook.com) or via Amazon. The AP Online edition already reflects the new changes.
Don Bates, APR, Fellow PRSA teaches graduate PR writing and management courses at New York University.