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The Associated Press Stylebook has been updated to include guidelines on gender neutral pronouns.
Michaela Morgan

30 Mar 2017 - 11:47 AM  UPDATED 30 Mar 2017 - 11:47 AM

The Associated Press has announced new entries to its official stylebook, including the word ‘they’ as a singular pronoun or gender-neutral pronoun.

“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,” the new entry states.

However, while ‘they’ is now accepted by AP, journalists have been advised to avoid ‘xe’ or ‘ze’.

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“Clarity is a top priority; gender-neutral use of a singular they is unfamiliar to many readers. We do not use other gender-neutral pronouns such as xe or ze.”

The lead editor of the AP Stylebook Paula Froke says the new advice was offerered for two reasons: “Recognition that the spoken language uses they as singular and we also recognise the need for a pronoun for people who don’t identify as a he or a she.”

“We specify that you need to make clear in the context that the ‘they’ in question is just one person,” Froke said.

“We don’t, among our own staff, want to open a floodgate. But we recognise a need for it, so we want to open it a bit.”

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AP Stylebook product manager Colleen Newvine says writers do not need to use the singular but “if you find it best, it’s allowed.”

“Some people will be furious; others won’t think we’ve gone far enough,” Newvine said.

The new entries were announced at the American Copy Editors Society conference in Florida this week and also included several other words related to gender.

“We have a new umbrella entry on gender and sex, noting that not everyone falls under one of two genders,” said Froke.  

“That particular entry also notes that language around gender is evolving. Because this language is ever evolving, newsrooms and organizations outside of AP may have to make their own decisions.”

The ‘LGBT’ entry was also amended and now reads ‘LGBTQ’.