Progress on pronouns

March 30, 2017 1:51 PM

By Sarah Carpenter, Assignment Editor

For the first time, the Associated Press has recognized ‘they’ as an acceptable singular and/or gender-neutral pronoun (see below), which demonstrates how necessary it is for language to adapt.
The AP’s new style guide says that, for gender-neutral subjects, “use the person’s name in place of a pronoun, or… explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun.”
As conversation surrounding gender neutrality and fluidity become more common in society, it becomes clear that English is lacking in this department.
English does not have a gender-neutral pronoun, and yet pronouns are essential to proper syntax.
We are given two options: he or she/ him or her. Yet this leads to instances where someone might come across a genderqueer person and be forced mid-sentence to guess at which binary gender identity to ascribe them.
Genderqueer people have the right to exist, and our language needs to adapt to describe them.
The word ‘they’ has become a useful pronoun to apply to gender-neutrality.
The only problem is that we know it to be the pronoun to express plurality.
I get why this would be awkward for some people to use in reference to a single person.
But, we just have to get past this tradition.
There have been efforts to invent new pronouns, like ze or xe, but it’s more difficult to get an entirely new word to be adapted than it is to alter the meaning of a word already in use.
Language must be able to evolve as we do. As more trans or gender-neutral people express their preferred pronoun, ‘they’ as a singular pronoun will become more and more prevalent.
As a journalist, I’m grateful that the AP recognized the need for such a pronoun as cause to change what it means to be correct by their standards.
As journalists begin to spread this usage of “they,” it will become a new standard usage, and fewer people will become weary of being grammatically incorrect.
Sarah Carpenter is a staff writer at the Laney Tower. E-mail her at

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