The American Psychological Association (APA), which sets the accepted style for writing about anything in the social and behavioural sciences, has officially accepted the singular ‘they’.
Acceptance of ‘they’ as a pronoun for just one person has been growing in recent years, but the APA hasn’t exactly been on the leading edge of language progression. It’s a big deal when it shifts position.
On the APA blog, content development manager Chelsea Lee writes that the formerly forbidden usage is now a necessity if we’re aiming to be properly inclusive.
Lee explains that the change, which is reflected in the seventh edition of the APA publication manual, should be made in two cases: (1) when referring to a generic person whose gender is unknown or irrelevant to the context and (2) when referring to a specific and known person who uses “they” as their pronoun.
An example of the first case:
Each student submitted their art portfolio to the committee.
Each student submitted his or her art portfolio to the committee.
An example of the second case:
TJ, who is a nonbinary person, commutes from Amersham to London. They were asked to participate in the working hours survey.
Now, I’m not shocked by this, but I’ve historically been awfully judgey towards people who use singular ‘they’ in their writing. In casual speech, it was always pretty common and acceptable to say “somebody’s gonna put their eye out”, but in writing it seemed doltish and ignorant. In writing, it had to be “someone’s going to put his or her eye out”.
But who’s ignorant now, huh? Me, apparently.
Some grammarians still won’t let go, but most of us can accept that time brings changes. And many of us passionately accept that people should be granted the respect of being addressed as they choose.