Writers should use the singular “they” in two main cases: (a) when referring to a generic person whose gender is unknown or irrelevant to the context and (b) when referring to a specific, known person who uses “they” as their pronoun.
When referring to a generic person whose gender is unknown or irrelevant to the context, use the singular “they” as the pronoun. For example, if you use nouns like “person,” “individual,” or “everyone” or phrases like “every teacher” or “each nurse” in a sentence, use the appropriate form of the pronoun “they” as needed.
Each student submitted their art portfolio to the committee.
Each student submitted his or her art portfolio to the committee.
If you are writing about a specific, known person, always use that person’s pronouns. The person’s pronouns might be “she/her,” “they/them,” “he/him,” or something else—just ask to find out! It is also good practice for an individual to volunteer what pronouns they use so that others do not have to ask.
If a person uses “she” or “he,” do not use “they” instead. Likewise, if a person uses “they,” do not switch to “he” or “she.” Use the pronouns the person uses.
Kai is a nonbinary person. They attend university in their home state of Vermont and are majoring in chemistry. Kai’s friend River is a transgender woman. She attends the same university and is majoring in physics.