The use of the singular “they” is becoming more common not only in spoken but in written English and can prove to be useful to drafters in a legislative context to eliminate gender-specific language and heavy or awkward repetition of nouns.
1. Consider using the third-person pronouns “they”, “their”, “them”, “themselves” or “theirs” to refer to a singular indefinite noun, to avoid the unnatural language that results from repeating the noun.
2. Do not use “they” to refer to a definite singular noun.
3. Ensure that the pronoun’s antecedent is clear.
There is a set of excellent examples showing how they can work well in quite specific cases, and other cases where it doesn’t.
It’s not just a question of avoiding gender-specific language – sometimes an indefinite noun includes he, she and it. For example, a person will sometimes cover artificial/legal persons. But there’s a difference between a Canadian legislative drafter with the support of the government website and a European translator into English.
I’ve often felt the need for this in translation of statutes, but in translation you have no chance of redrafting, so the result may be inelegant either way.