Answered By: Theresa Bell
Last Updated: Nov 15, 2017     Views: 625

In general, informal use, "they" is often used "to refer to a person whose gender is irrelevant or unknown" (Lee, 2015, para. 5); however, this usage is usually avoided in formal writing and authors are instead encouraged to find an alternative approach. For example, the APA Style rules have not yet shifted to incorporate using "they" as a singular, third-person pronoun (para. 10), and instead offer the following alternatives:

  • Make the sentence plural: "Participants indicated their preferences."
  • Rewrite the sentence to replace the pronoun with an article (a, an, or the): "The participant indicated a preference."
  • Rewrite the sentence to drop the pronoun: "The participant indicated preferences."
  • Combine both singular pronouns (he or she, she or he, his or her, her or his, etc.): "The participant indicated his or her preferences." (However, avoid overusing this strategy, as it can become cumbersome upon many repetitions.) (para. 6)

“They” can be used as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun when the writer strives for gender inclusivity and a recognition of gender diversity. In those contexts, authors may wish to provide an explanation of this usage of “they” so that audience understands the pronoun choice.

For more information, please see "The Use of Singular 'They' in APA Style" from the APA Style Blog.


Lee, C. (2015, November 16). The use of singular "they" in APA Style [Blog post]. Retrieved from