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.
Arguments for using they/them as a singular sometimes arise with an indefinite pronoun (anyone, everyone, someone) or unspecified/unknown gender (a person, the victim, the winner). Examples of rewording:
- All the class members raised their hands (instead of everyone raised their hands)
- The foundation gave grants to anyone who lost a job this year (instead of anyone who lost their job).
- Police said the victim would be identified after relatives are notified (instead of after their relatives are notified or after his or her relatives are notified).
- Lottery officials said the winner could claim the prize Tuesday (instead of their or his or her prize).
In stories about people who identify as neither a man or a woman or ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her: use the person’s name in place of a pronoun, or otherwise reword the sentence, whenever possible. If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun. Be sure that the phrasing does not imply more than one person. Examples of rewording:
- Hendricks said the new job is a thrill (instead of Hendricks said Hendricks is thrilled about the new job or Hendricks said they are thrilled about the new job).
- Lowry’s partner is Dana Adams, an antiques dealer. They bought a house last year (instead of Lowry and Lowry’s partner bought a house last year or Lowry and their partner bought a house last year).
When they is used in the singular, it takes a plural verb: Taylor said they need a new car. Again, be sure it’s clear from the context that only one person is involved.
(Note for UW–Madison communicators: Additional techniques for achieving gender neutrality in your writing can be found in Section 5.255 of the Chicago Manual of Style.)
(Source: AP Stylebook)