Gender-specific and gender-neutral third-person pronouns
A third-person pronoun is a pronoun that refers to an entity other than the speaker or listener. A gender-specific pronoun is a pronoun associated with a particular grammatical gender, such as masculine, feminine, or neuter, or with a social or biological gender (or sex), i.e., male or female. A gender-neutral pronoun, by contrast, is a pronoun that is not associated with a particular social/biological gender. The English pronouns he and she are gender-specific third-person personal pronouns. The English pronoun they is a gender-neutral third-person pronoun that can refer to plural antecedents of any gender and, under certain circumstances, to a singular antecedent that refers to a male or female (but not inanimate) entity.
Many of the world's languages do not have gender-specific pronouns. Others, however – particularly those that have a system of grammatical gender (or have historically had such a system, as with English) – have gender specificity in certain of their pronouns, particularly third-person personal pronouns.
Problems of usage arise in languages such as English, in contexts where a person of unspecified or unknown (social) gender is being referred to but commonly available pronouns (he or she) are gender-specific. In such cases a gender-specific, usually masculine, pronoun was traditionally used with a purported gender-neutral meaning; such use of "he" was also common in English until the latter half of the 20th century but is now regarded as outmoded or viewed as sexist. Use of singular they is another common alternative, but is not universally accepted.
There have been some attempts to introduce invented gender-neutral pronouns.
Pronouns such as who and which are not discussed here, though similar but different consideration may apply to them.
Some languages of the world (including Austronesian languages, many East Asian languages, the Quechuan languages, and the Uralic languages) do not have gender distinctions in personal pronouns, just as most of them lack any system of grammatical gender. In others, such as many of the Niger–Congo languages, there is a system of grammatical gender (or noun classes), but the divisions are not based on sex. .
In other languages – including most Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic languages – third-person personal pronouns (at least those used to refer to people) intrinsically distinguish male from female. This feature commonly co-exists with a full system of grammatical gender, where all nouns are assigned to classes such as masculine, feminine and neuter. However in some languages, such as English, this general system of noun gender has been lost, but gender distinctions are preserved in the third-person pronouns (the singular pronouns only, in the case of English).
In languages with grammatical gender, even pronouns which are semantically gender-neutral may be required to take a gender for such purposes as grammatical agreement. Thus in French, for example, the first- and second-person personal pronouns may behave as either masculine or feminine depending on the sex of the referent; and indefinite pronouns such as quelqu'un ("someone") and personne ("no one") are treated conventionally as masculine. (See Grammatical gender § Gender of pronouns.)
Issues concerning gender and pronoun usage commonly arise in situations where it's necessary to choose between gender-specific pronouns, even though the sex of the person or persons being referred to is not known, not specified, or (for plurals) mixed. In English and many other languages, the masculine form has traditionally served as the default or unmarked form; that is, masculine pronouns have been used in cases where the referent or referents are not known to be (all) female. This leads to sentences such as:
- In English: If anybody comes, tell him. Here the masculine pronoun him refers to a person of unknown sex.
- In French: Vos amis sont arrivés — ils étaient en avance ("Your friends have arrived – they were early"). Here the masculine plural pronoun ils is used rather than the feminine elles, unless it is known that all the friends in question are female (in which case the noun would also change to amies and the past participle would change to arrivées).
As early as 1795, dissatisfaction with this convention led to calls for gender-neutral pronouns, and attempts to invent pronouns for this purpose date back to at least 1850, although the use of singular they as a natural gender-neutral pronoun in English is much older.
The English language has gender-specific personal pronouns in the third-person singular. The masculine pronoun is he (with derived forms him, his and himself); the feminine is she (with derived forms her, hers and herself); the neuter is it (with derived forms its and itself). The third-person plural they and its inflected and derived forms (them, their, themselves, etc.) are gender-neutral and also used to refer singular, personal antecedents (e.g. "Where a recipient of an allowance under section 4 absents themself from Canada, payment of the allowance shall ...")
Generally speaking, he refers to males, and she refers to females. He and she are normally used for humans; use of it can be dehumanizing, and thus inappropriate, but it is sometimes used for a baby when there is no antecedent like son or daughter and its sex is irrelevant or distracting. It is normally used for animals, but he or she can be used for an animal when the speaker wants to indicate its sex and there is a higher degree of empathy with the animal, as is more likely with pets, domesticated animals, and other "higher" animals, such as elephants. He or she is used for an animal that is referred to by a proper name (e.g. "Fido adores his blanket".).
For the use of he for referring to a person of unspecified sex, as well as the various alternatives to this convention, see the discussion in the sections below.
The other English pronouns (the first- and second-person personal pronouns I, we, you, etc.; the third-person plural personal pronoun they; the indefinite pronouns one, someone, anyone, etc.; and others) do not make male–female gender distinctions, that is, they are gender-neutral. The only distinction made is between personal and non-personal reference (someone vs. something, who vs. what, etc.).
Historical and dialectal gender-neutral pronouns
Historically, there were two gender-neutral pronouns native to English dialects, ou and (h)a. According to Dennis Baron's Grammar and Gender:
In 1789, William H. Marshall records the existence of a dialectal English epicene pronoun, singular "ou": "'Ou will' expresses either he will, she will, or it will." Marshall traces "ou" to Middle English epicene "a", used by the 14th century English writer John of Trevisa, and both the OED and Wright's English Dialect Dictionary confirm the use of "a" for he, she, it, they, and even I. This "a" is a reduced form of the Anglo-Saxon he = "he" and heo = "she".
Baron goes on to describe how relics of these sex-neutral terms survive in some British dialects of Modern English (for example hoo for "she", in Yorkshire), and sometimes a pronoun of one gender might be applied to a person or animal of the opposite gender.
It and one as gender-neutral pronouns
Whereas "he" and "she" are used for entities treated as persons (including supernatural beings and, sometimes, sympathetic animals, especially pets), the pronoun "it" is normally used for entities not regarded as persons, though the use of "he" or "she" is optional for animals of known sex. Quirk et al. give the following example, illustrating use of both "it" and "her" to refer to a bird:
- The robin builds its nest in a well-chosen position ... and, after the eggs have hatched, the mother bird feeds her young there for several weeks.
The pronoun "it" can also be used of children in some circumstances, for instance when the sex is indefinite or when the writer has no emotional connection to the child, as in a scientific context. Quirk et al. give the following example:
- To society, a baby's sex is second in importance to its health.
but also the more colloquial
- When the new baby comes, it's going to sleep in Lil's room.
"It" may even be used when the child's sex is known. In the following story, the characters refer to the boy-child at the center of the narrative as a "he", but then the narrator refers to it as an "it":
- "He looks like nobody but himself," said Mrs. Owens, firmly. ... It was then that ... the child opened its eyes wide in wakefulness. It stared around it ...
In this case, the child has yet to be developed into a character that can communicate with the reader.
However, when not referring specifically to children, "it" is not generally applied to people, even in cases where their gender is unknown.
Another gender-neutral pronoun that can be used to refer to people is the impersonal pronoun "one". This can sometimes be used to avoid gender-specification issues; however, it cannot normally substitute for a personal pronoun directly, and a sentence containing "he" or "she" would need to be rephrased, probably with change of meaning, to enable "one" to be used instead. Compare:
- Each student should save his questions until the end.
- One should save one's questions until the end.
In everyday language, generic you is often used instead of one:
- You should save your questions until the end.
It may be that forms of the pronoun he had been used for both sexes during the Middle English and Modern English periods. "There was rather an extended period of time in the history of the English language when the choice of a supposedly masculine personal pronoun (him) said nothing about the gender or sex of the referent." An early example of prescribing the use of he to refer to a person of unknown gender is Anne Fisher's 1745 grammar book "A New Grammar". Older editions of Fowler also took this view.
- The customer brought his purchases to the cashier for checkout.
- In a supermarket, a customer can buy anything he needs.
- When a customer argues, always agree with him.
This may be compared to usage of the word man for humans in general (although that was the original sense of the word "man" in the Germanic languages, much as the Latin word for "human in general", homo, came to mean "male human"—which was vir, in Latin—in most of the Romance languages).
- "All men are created equal."
- "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."
- "Man cannot live by bread alone."
While the use, in formal English, of he, him or his as a gender-neutral pronoun has traditionally been considered grammatically correct, such use may also be considered to be a violation of gender agreement.:48
- The Massachusetts Medical Society effectively blocked membership of female physicians on the grounds that the society's by-laws used the pronoun he when referring to members.:46
- The Persons Case, the legal battle over whether Canadian women counted as legal persons eligible to sit in the Senate, partially turned on use of "he" to refer to a (generic) person qualified to be a senator.
Its use in some contexts has also been ridiculed, or criticized as absurd or "silly":
"... everyone will be able to decide for himself whether or not to have an abortion."
"... the ideal that every boy and girl should be so equipped that he shall not be handicapped in his struggle for social progress …"
"... She and Louis had a game—who could find the ugliest photograph of himself"
- William Safire in his On Language column in The New York Times approved of the use of generic he, mentioning the mnemonic phrase "the male embraces the female". A reader replied with an example of use of the purportedly gender-neutral he:
"The average American needs the small routines of getting ready for work. As he shaves or blow-dries his hair or pulls on his panty-hose, he is easing himself by small stages into the demands of the day."
To redress the perceived imbalance resulting from use of generic he, some authors now adopt a generic she instead, or alternate between she and he. This and some other ways of dealing with the problem are described below.
- A secretary should keep her temper in check.
- A nurse must always be kind to her patients.
This avoidance of the "generic" he is seen by proponents of non-sexist writing as indicating that the purportedly gender-neutral he is in fact not gender-neutral since it "brings a male image to mind".
Since at least the 14th century, they (including derivatives and inflected forms, such as them, their, theirs, themselves, and themself) has been used, with varying degrees of general acceptance, to refer to a singular antecedent. This usage is often called the singular they. Today, it is unexceptional and is not generally regarded as incorrect.
- I say to each person in this room: may they enjoy themselves tonight!
- Anyone who arrives at the door can let themself in using this key.
- "If a person is born of a . . . gloomy temper . . . they cannot help it."— Chesterfield, Letter to his son (1759)
- 'Tis meet that some more audience than a mother, since nature makes them partial, should o'erhear the speech — Shakespeare, Hamlet
- There's not a man I meet but doth salute me / As if I were their well-acquainted friend — Shakespeare, Comedy of Errors
- If some guy beat me up, then I'd leave them.
- Every bride hopes that their wedding day will go as planned.
Alternatives to generic he
The generic, or universal, use of he as described above has been a source of controversy, as it appears to reflect a bias towards men and a "male-centric" society, and against women. The 19th and 20th centuries saw an upsurge in consciousness and advocacy of gender equality, and this has led in particular to preferences for gender-neutral language. Alternatives to generic he have consequently gained in popularity. The chief of these are described in the sections below.
He or she, (s)he, etc.
The periphrastics "he or she", "him or her", "his or her", "his or hers", "himself or herself" are seen by some as resolving the problem, though they are cumbersome. These periphrases can be abbreviated in writing as "he/she", "(s)he", "s/he", "hse", "him/her", "his/her", "himself/herself", but are not easily abbreviated in verbal communication. With the exception of "(s)he" and "s/he", a writer still has the choice of which pronoun to place first.
Alternation of she and he
Authors sometimes employ rubrics for selecting she or he such as:
- Use the gender of the primary author.
- Alternate between "she" and "he".
- Alternate by paragraph or chapter.
- Use he and she to make distinctions between two groups of people.
Some groups and individuals have invented, borrowed and used non-standard pronouns, hoping, with little success as of yet, that they will become standard(formal). Various proposals for such changes have been introduced since at least the 19th century. For example, abbreviated pronouns have been proposed: 'e for he or she, h' for him or her in object case, and 's for his or her(s) or its. These include "zhe" (also "ze"), "zher(s)" (also "zer" or "zir"), "shi"/"hir", and "zhim" (also "mer") for "he or she", "his or her(s)", and "him or her", respectively; 'self (for himself/herself); and hu, hus, hum, humself (for s/he, his/hers, him/her, himself/herself).
According to Dennis Baron, the neologism that received the greatest partial mainstream acceptance was Charles Crozat Converse's 1884 proposal of thon, a contraction of "that one" (other sources date its coinage to 1858 or 1859):
Thon was picked up by Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary in 1898, and was listed there as recently as 1964. It was also included in Webster's Second New International Dictionary, though it is absent from the first and third, and it still has its supporters today.
"Co" was coined by feminist writer Mary Orovan in 1970. "Co" is in common usage in intentional communities of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, and "co" appears in the bylaws of several of these communities. In addition to use when the gender of the antecedent is unknown or indeterminate, some use it as gender-blind language and always replace gender-specific pronouns.
Pronouns and LGBTQ people
For people who are transgender, style guides and associations of journalists and health professionals advise use of the pronoun preferred or considered appropriate by the person in question. When dealing with clients or patients, health practitioners are advised to take note of the pronouns used by the individuals themselves, which may involve using different pronouns at different times. This is also extended to the name preferred by the person concerned. LGBTQ advocacy groups also advise using the pronouns and names preferred or considered appropriate by the person concerned. They further recommend avoiding gender confusion when referring to the background of transgender people (for instance by using Private Manning to avoid a male pronoun or name).
In terms of gender-neutral titles, as alternatives to Mr. or Miss/Mrs./Ms., a number of different titles may be used, including "Mixter/Mixer/Mx." or "Ind./Individual".
The following table summarizes the foregoing approaches.
|Nominative (subject)||Oblique (object)||Possessive determiner||Possessive pronoun||Reflexive|
|He||He is laughing||I called him||His eyes gleam||That is his||He likes himself|
|She||She is laughing||I called her||Her eyes gleam||That is hers||She likes herself|
|One||One is laughing||I called one||One's eyes gleam||That is "that one's"||One likes oneself|
|They||They are laughing||I called them||Their eyes gleam||That is theirs||They like themselves|
|Conventions based on traditional pronouns|
|She/he||She/he is laughing||I called him/her||His/her eyes gleam||That is his/hers||She/he likes him/herself|
|S/he (compact)||S/he is laughing||I called him/r||His/r eyes gleam||That is his/rs||S/he likes him/herself|
|Apostrophe||'E is laughing||I called h'||'S eyes gleam||That is 'rs||'E likes h'/h'self|
|E: (Spivak, 1983)||E is laughing||I called Em||Eir eyes gleam||That is Eirs||E likes Emself|
|Ey: (Elverson, 1975)||Ey is laughing||I called em||Eir eyes gleam||That is eirs||Ey likes eirself|
|Hu: (Humanist, 1982)||Hu is laughing||I called hum||Hus eyes gleam||That is hus||Hu likes humself|
|Jee: (Jayce, 2011)||Jee is laughing||I called jem||Jeir eyes gleam||That is jeirs||Jee likes jemself|
|Ney: (Dicebox, 2010?)||Ney is laughing||I called nem||Neir eyes gleam||That is neirs||Ney likes nemself|
|Peh: (Dicebok, 2012?)||Peh is laughing||I called pehm||Peh's eyes gleam||That is peh's||Peh likes pehself|
|Per: (Piercy, 1979)||Per is laughing||I called per||Per eyes gleam||That is pers||Per likes perself|
|Thon: (Converse, 1884)||Thon is laughing||I called thon||Thons eyes gleam||That is thons||Thon likes thonself|
|Ve: (Hulme, c. 1980)||Ve is laughing||I called ver||Vis eyes gleam||That is vis||Ve likes verself|
|Xe: (Rickter, c. 1973)||Xe is laughing||I called xem||Xyr eyes gleam||That is xyrs||Xe likes xemself|
|Yo: (regional, c. 2004)||Yo is laughing||I called yo||—||—||?|
|Ze, hir: (Bornstein, n.d.)||Ze (Zie, Sie) is laughing||I called hir||Hir eyes gleam||That is hirs||Ze (Zie, SIe) likes hirself|
|Ze, mer: (Creel, 1997)||Ze is laughing||I called mer||Zer eyes gleam||That is zers||Ze likes zemself|
|Ze, zir: (unknown, c. 2013)||Ze (Zie, Sie) is laughing||I called zir/zem||Zir/Zes eyes gleam||That is zirs/zes||Ze (Zie, Sie) likes zirself/zemself|
|Zhe: (Foldvary, 2000)||Zhe is laughing||I called zhim||Zher eyes gleam||That is zhers||Zhe likes zhimself|
In most Indo-European languages (though not in the modern Indo-Iranian languages) third-person personal pronouns are gender-specific, while first- and second-person pronouns are not. The distinction is found even in languages which do not retain a masculine–feminine grammatical gender system for nouns generally, such as English and Danish. Sometimes the distinction is neutralized in the plural, as in most modern Germanic languages (gender-neutral third-person plural pronouns include English they and German sie), and also in modern Russian (where the equivalent pronoun is они oni). However some languages make the distinction in the plural as well, as with French ils and elles, and Czech oni and ony, respectively masculine and feminine equivalents of "they". It is traditional in most languages, in cases of mixed or indeterminate gender, to use the masculine as a default.
For example, in French,
- First person singular je ('I'), me, moi ('me')
- Second person singular (familiar) tu, te, toi ('you')
- First person plural nous ('we', 'us')
- Second person plural vous ('you')
- Third person possessives leur ('their') and son/sa/ses (depending on the gender and number of the item possessed), 'his', 'her' 'its', 'their' (masculine-gender object)/ 'his', 'her' 'its', 'their' (feminine-gender object) / 'his', 'her' 'its', 'their' (objects)
are all gender-inclusive; but
- Third person pronouns il ('he'), le ('him'), ils ('they', referring to an all-male or mixed-gender group) are all masculine.
- Third person pronouns elle ('she'), la ('her') and elles ('they', referring to an all-female group) are all feminine.
The choice of possessive pronoun in many Romance languages is determined by the grammatical gender of the possessed object; the gender of the possessor is not explicit. For instance, in French the possessive pronouns are usually sa for a feminine object, and son for a masculine object: son livre can mean either "his book" or "her book"; the masculine son is used because livre is masculine. Similarly, sa maison means either "his house" or "her house" because "maison" is feminine. Non-possessive pronouns, on the other hand, are usually gender-specific.
As in French, Catalan also determines the gender of object but not of the possessor, by possessive pronouns - seu stands for a masculine object (el seu llibre), while seva, seua or sa stands for a feminine object (la seva mansió).
Portuguese works with two sets of pronouns. One of them (seu/teu for masculine and sua/tua for feminine) follows the same rules as French and Catalan, with the gender determined by the object (o seu livro and a sua casa); in the other set (dele for masculine and dela for feminine), the gender is determined by the possessor as in English, so o livro dele is possessed by a masculine being and o livro dela is possessed by a feminine being.
Italian is similar to French, with phrases such as il mio/tuo/suo libro not implying anything about the owner's sex or the owner's name's grammatical gender. In the third person, if the "owner's" sex or category (person vs thing) is an issue, it is solved by expressing di lui, di lei for persons or superior animals or di esso for things or inferior animals. Lui portò su le valigie di lei (He brought her luggage upstairs). This rarely happens, though, because it is considered inelegant and the owner's gender can often be inferred from the context, which is anyhow much more important in an Italian environment than in an English-speaking one.
In contrast, Spanish possessive pronouns agree with neither the gender of the possessor nor that of the possession (but they do agree with number of the possession). In the third person, the possessive pronoun su(s) is used. Example: Su libro could mean either "his book" or "her book", with the gender of the possessor being made clear from the context of the statement. Pronouns referring to people (or any noun) in Spanish have gender – él for "him" and ella for "her". Only when referring to an indefinite antecedent is the neuter ello used, and since Spanish is a pro-drop language, it usually only appears in prepositional phrases, like para ello, "for it". Grammatical person is inflected in verbs, so subject pronouns are generally used when necessary to make a distinction or add emphasis. For example, the verb vivir ("to live") may be conjugated in the third person as Vive ("He/she/it lives") and be a complete sentence on its own. To make a distinction, one might say "Ella vive en Madrid pero él vive en Barcelona" – "She lives in Madrid but he lives in Barcelona". If it is absolutely necessary to provide a subject when referring to an unnamed object, a demonstrative can be used instead of a pronoun: ¿Qué es eso? ("What is that?"). An acceptable answer would be Eso es un libro or Eso es una revista ("That's a book", "That's a magazine"), with the genderless eso as subject in both cases.
However, when the pronoun is used as a direct object, gender-specific forms reappear in Spanish. The sentence "I can't find it", when referring to the masculine noun libro (book) would be "No lo encuentro", whereas if the thing being looked for were a magazine (revista in Spanish, which is feminine) then the sentence would be "No la encuentro".
Icelandic uses a similar system to other Germanic languages in distinguishing three 3rd-person genders in the singular - hann (masculine gender), hún (feminine gender), það (neuter gender). However it also uses this three-way distinction in the plural: þeir (m. only), þær (f. only), þau (n., which includes mixed gender). It is therefore possible to be gender-specific in all circumstances should one wish - although of course þau can be used for gender-inclusiveness. Otherwise the form used is determined grammatically (i.e., by the gender of the noun replaced). In general statements the use of menn could be preferable as it is less specific than þau.
In Norwegian, a new word was proposed, hin ('sie' or 'hir') to fill the gap between the third person pronouns hun ('her') and han ('him'). Hin is very rarely used, and in limited special interest groups; it is not embraced by society as a whole. A reason for the marginal interest in a neuter gender word is the constructed nature of the word, and that the word is homonymous with several older words both in official language and dialectal speech, such as hin ('the other') and hinsides ('beyond'). One can also use man or en or den (en means 'one'). These three are considered impersonal. Amongst LGBT interest groups the use of the word 'hen' after the Swedish implementation in 2010 is now in use
In Swedish, the word hen was introduced in the 2010s as a replacement of the gender-specific hon ("she") and han ("he"). It can be used when the gender of a person is not known or when it is not desirable to specify them as either a "she" or "he". The word was first proposed in 1966, and again in 1994, with reference to the Finnish hän, a personal pronoun that is gender-neutral, since Finnish completely lacks grammatical gender. However, it did not receive widespread recognition until around 2010, when it began to be used in some texts, and provoked media debates and controversy.
"Hen" is currently treated as neologism by Swedish manuals of style. Major newspapers like Dagens Nyheter have recommended against its usage, though some journalists still use it. The Swedish Language Council has not issued any general recommendations against the use of hen, but advises against the use of the object form henom ("her/him"); it instead recommends using hen as both the subject and object form. Hen has two basic usages: as a way to avoid a stated preference to either gender; or as a way of referring to individuals who are transgender, who prefer to identify themselves as belonging to a third gender or who reject the division of male/female gender roles on ideological grounds. In late July 2014, the Swedish Academy announced that in April 2015, hen will be included in Svenska Akademiens ordlista, the most authoritative glossary on the Swedish language. Its entry will cover two definitions: as a reference to individuals belonging to an unspecified sex or third gender, or where the sex is not known.
Traditionally, there are other variants of avoiding using gender-specific pronouns; e.g., "vederbörande" ("the referred person") and "man" ("one", as in "Man borde..."/"One should...") with it's object form "en" or alternatively "en" as both subjective and objective since "man"/"one" sounds the same as "man"/"male adult" although they are discernible through syntax. "Denne" ("this one") may be used to refer to a non-gender-specific referent already or soon-to-be mentioned ("Vederbörande kan, om denne så vill,..."/"The referent may, if they wish,..."). One method is rewriting into plural, as Swedish like English has only gender-neutral pronouns in plural. Another method is writing the pronoun in the referent's grammatical gender ("Barnet får om det vill."/"The child is allowed to, if it wants to." "Barn" is neuter, thus the use of the third-person neuter pronoun "det"); some nouns retain their traditional pronouns, e.g., "man"/"man" uses "han"/"he," "kvinna"/"woman" uses "hon"/"she," and "människa"/"human being" uses "hon"/"she." While grammatically correct, using "den/det" to refer to human beings may sound as if the speaker considers referred human beings to be objects.
The Persian language has no distinction between animated male and female. 'he' and ' she' are expressed by the same pronoun u (او). Singular inanimate as 'it' is referred by an (آن).
Uniquely among Indo-European languages, Tocharian A (also known as Eastern Tocharian) distinguishes gender in the first person, using näṣ for the male speaker and ñuk for the female speaker.
Singular personal pronouns are gender-specific (hi, "she"; e,ef,fe,fo,o, "he"). The singular possessive pronoun ei is the same word for both genders, but in some instances it mutates the following word differently depending on whether it means "his" or "her".
- ei modryb, her aunt; ei fodryb, his aunt; but
- ei nith, his or her niece.
Written Chinese has gone in the opposite direction, from non-gendered to gendered pronouns, though this has not affected the spoken language.
In spoken standard Mandarin, there is no gender distinction in personal pronouns: the pronoun tā (他) can mean "he", "she", or "it". However, when the antecedent of the spoken pronoun tā is unclear, native speakers will assume it is a male person. In 1917, the Old Chinese graph tā (她, from nǚ 女, "woman") was borrowed into the written language to specifically represent "she" by Liu Bannong. As a result, the old character tā (他), which previously also meant "she" in written texts, is sometimes restricted to meaning "he" only. In contrast to most Chinese characters coined to represent specifically male concepts, the character tā is formed with the ungendered character for person rén (人), rather than the character for male nán (男)."
The creation of gendered pronouns in Chinese was part of the May Fourth Movement to modernize Chinese culture, and specifically an attempt to assert sameness between Chinese and the European languages, which generally have gendered pronouns. Of all the contemporary neologisms from the period, the only ones to remain in common use are tā (它) for objects, tā (牠, from niú 牛, "cow") for animals, and tā (祂 from shì 示, "revelation") for gods. Although Liu and other writers tried to popularize a different pronunciation for the feminine tā, including yi from the Wu dialect and tuo from a literary reading, these efforts failed, and all forms of the pronoun tā retain identical pronunciation. This identical pronunciation of the split characters holds true for not only Mandarin but also many of the varieties of Chinese. There is a recent trend on the Internet for people to write "TA" in Latin script, derived from the pinyin romanization of Chinese, as a gender-neutral pronoun.
The Cantonese third-person-singular pronoun is keui5 (佢), and may refer to people of any gender. For a specifically female pronoun, some writers replace the person radical rén (亻) with the female radical nǚ (女), forming the character keui5 (他). However, this analogous variation to tā is neither widely accepted in standard written Cantonese nor grammatically or semantically required. Moreover, while the character keui5 (佢) has no meaning in classical Chinese, the character keui5 (他) has a separate meaning unrelated to its dialectic use in standard or classical Chinese.
There are no pure gender specific third-person pronouns in Korean. In translation or in creative writing in the modern Korean, the coined term "geu-nyeo" ("geu", a demonstrative meaning 'that' and "nyeo", a Chinese character 'woman') is used to refer to a third-person female and "geu" (originally a demonstrative) is used to refer to either a male third person or sometimes a neutral gender.
Just like Korean, pure personal pronouns used as the anaphor did not exist in traditional Japanese. In the modern Japanese, 'kare' and 'kano-jo' are thought to be the masculine and feminine third-party pronouns, respectively. Historically, however, 'kare' was a word in the demonstrative paradigm (i.e., a system involving demonstrative prefixes, ko-, so-, is-, and a-), used to point to an object that is physically far but psychologically near. The feminine counterpart 'kano-jo', on the other hand, is a combination of 'kano' (adjective version of ka-) and 'jo' (woman), coined for the translation of its Western equivalents. It was not until Meiji era that 'kare' and 'kano-jo' were commonly used as the masculine and feminine pronoun in the same way as their Western equivalents. Although their usage as the Western equivalent pronouns tends to be infrequent, 'kareshi' and 'kano-jo' are commonly used today as ways of saying 'girlfriend' and 'boyfriend'.
First-person pronouns, 'ore', 'boku', and 'watashi', while not explicitly carrying gender, can strongly imply gender based on the inherent levels of politeness/formality as well as hierarchical connotation. While 'boku' and 'ore' are traditionally known to be masculine pronouns and 'atashi' is characterized as feminine, 'boku' is considered to be less masculine to its 'ore' counterpart and often denotes a softer form of masculinity. It is often used by girls who find the pronoun 'atashi' as being too feminine. In order to denote a sense of authority, males will tend to resort to 'ore' to display a sense of confidence to their peers.
Turkish does not have a system of grammatical gender and thus does not have any gender-specific pronouns. The Turkish singular third-person pronoun o (he/she/it) is completely gender-neutral and can be used to refer to masculine, feminine, and neuter nouns. The plural third-person pronoun onlar (they) is used the same way.
Turkish is also a null-subject language which means pronouns can usually be dropped while retaining the meaning of the sentence. For example, the sentences "O okuldan geldi." and "Okuldan geldi." both translate to "He/she/it came from school."
In most Afro-Asiatic languages only the first-person pronouns (singular and plural) are gender-inclusive: second and third person pronouns are gender-specific.
Thai pronouns are numerous. Here is only a short list.
|First person||Second person||Third person|
|Masculine||ผม (phom)||นาย (nai) (informal)||หมอนั่น (mhor nun) (derogative)|
|Feminine||ดิฉัน (di chan) ชั้น (chan)||นางนั่น (nang nun) (derogative)|
|Neuter||ฉัน (chan) เรา (rao)||คุณ (khun) เธอ (ther)||มัน (man), เขา (khao), แก (kae), ท่าน (than)|
The pronoun เธอ (ther, lit: you) is semi-feminine. It can be used when the speaker or the listener (or both) are female. It is seldom used when both parties are male.
The third neuter pronouns are used differently. มัน (man) is often used to refer to inanimate objects and non-human animate beings. However, this pronoun can also be used to refer to people in informal situations (e.g., a mother speaking about her child, or a person speaking about a close friend). The pronouns เขา (khao), แก (kae), and ท่าน (than) are often used in formal situations—with the latter being the most formal and แก (kae) being used to refer to a person older than the speaker.
These three pronouns can also be used to refer to a different grammatical person. เขา (khao) can be used in the first person, while แก (kae) and ท่าน (than) can be used in the second person.
Esperanto has no universally accepted gender-neutral pronouns, but there are several proposals. Zamenhof proposed using the pronoun ĝi (literally "it"). Some writers also use other established pronouns like tiu ("this" or "that") or oni ("one"). Still other writers use neologisms such as ŝli for this purpose.
- Gender marking in job titles
- Gender-neutrality in genderless languages
- Gender-neutrality in languages with grammatical gender
- Pronoun game
- Feminist language planning
- Lavender linguistics
- Fowler, H.W. (2015). Butterfield, Jeremy, ed. Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press. pp. 59, 372. ISBN 978-0-19-966135-0.
- Garner, Bryan A. (2016). Garner's Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press. p. 460. ISBN 978-0-19-049148-2.
- Garner, Bryan A. (2016). Garner's Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press. p. 195. ISBN 978-0-19-049148-2.
... resort to it cautiously because some people may doubt your literacy
- Siewierska, Anna; Gender Distinctions in Independent Personal Pronouns; in Haspelmath, Martin; Dryer, Matthew S.; Gil, David; Comrie, Bernard (eds.) The World Atlas of Language Structures, pp. 182–185. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-925591-1
- Corbett, Greville G. (2011). "Sex-based and Non-sex-based Gender Systems". In Dryer, Matthew S.; Haspelmath, Martin. The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library. Retrieved 2013-04-27.
- Garner, Bryan A. (2016). Garner's Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press. p. 821. ISBN 978-0-19-049148-2.
- Williams, John (1990s). "History — Modern Neologism". Gender-Neutral Pronoun FAQ. Archived from the original on December 5, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-01.
- Canadian government (12 December 2013). "Canadian War Veterans Allowance Act (1985) as amended 12 December 2013" (pdf). Government of Canada. R.S.C., 1985, c. W-3. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
- Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 488–489. ISBN 0-521-43146-8.
- As with all pronouns beginning in h, the h is dropped when the word is unstressed. The reduced form a is pronounced //.
- Williams, John (1990s). "History - Native-English GNPs". Gender-Neutral Pronoun FAQ. Archived from the original on December 5, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-01.
- Arthur Hughes, Peter Trudgill, Dominic Watt, English Accents and Dialects: An Introduction to Social and Regional Varieties of English in the British Isles, 5th edition, Routledge, 2012, p. 35.
- Liberman, Mark (2008-01-07). "Language Log: Yo". Itre.cis.upenn.edu. doi:10.1215/00031283-2007-012. Retrieved 2013-10-26.
- Mignon Fogarty. "Grammar Girl / Yo as a Pronoun.".
- Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney; Leech, Geoffrey; Svartvik, Jan (1985). A comprehensive grammar of the English language. Harlow: Longman. pp. 316–317, 342. ISBN 978-0-582-51734-9.
- Miller, Casey; Swift, Kate (1995) . Mosse, Kate, ed. The Handbook of Non-Sexist Writing (3rd British ed.). London: The Women's Press. p. 58. ISBN 0-7043-4442-4.
- Neil Gaiman, 2008, The Graveyard Book, p. 25.
- Wagner, Susanne (22 July 2004). "Gender in English pronouns: Myth and reality" (PDF). Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg.
- Patricia T. O'Conner; Stewart Kellerman (July 21, 2009). "All-Purpose Pronoun". The New York Times.
- Fowler, H.W. (2009) . A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Original 1926 edition with an introduction and notes by David Crystal. Oxford University Press. pp. 648–649. ISBN 978-0-19-958589-2.
- Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 492. ISBN 0-521-43146-8.
- Miller, Casey; Swift, Kate (1995) . Mosse, Kate, ed. The Handbook of Non-Sexist Writing (3rd British ed.). London: The Women's Press. pp. 46–48. ISBN 0-7043-4442-4.
- Reference to Meaning of Word "Persons" in Section 24 of British North America Act, 1867. (Judicial Committee of The Privy Council). Edwards v. A.G. of Canada  A.C. 124 Archived March 28, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.. Human Rights in Canada: A Historical Perspective.
- Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage. Penguin. 2002. p. 735. ISBN 9780877796336.
- Safire, William (28 April 1985). "On Language; You Not Tarzan, Me Not Jane". The New York Times. pp. 46–47.
- Adendyck, C. (7 July 1985). "[Letter commenting on] Hypersexism And the Feds". The New York Times.
- Fowler, H.W. (2015). Butterfield, Jeremy, ed. Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press. p. 814. ISBN 978-0-19-966135-0.
- Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 494. ISBN 0-521-43146-8.
- Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope Earl of (1759). "Letters to his Son, CCCLV, dated 27 April 27, 1759". The Works of Lord Chesterfield. Harper (published 1845). p. 568..
Quoted in Fowler, H.W.; Burchfield, R.W. (1996). The New Fowler's Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press. p. 779. ISBN 9780198610212.
- Pullum, Geoffrey (13 April 2012). "Sweden's gender-neutral 3rd-person singular pronoun".
... our pronoun they was originally borrowed into English from the Scandinavian language family ... and since then has been doing useful service in English as the morphosyntactically plural but singular-antecedent-permitting gender-neutral pronoun known to linguists as singular they
- Michael Newman (1996) Epicene pronouns: The linguistics of a prescriptive problem; Newman (1997) "What can pronouns tell us? A case study of English epicenes", Studies in language 22:2, 353–389.
- Dale Spender, Man Made Language, Pandora Press, 1998, p. 152.
- "Ne doesn't like tem zeeself". economist.com. The Economist. August 2010. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
according to Mr Baron's count there have been 'more than 100 attempts to coin a gender-neutral pronoun over the course of more than 150 years', including heesh, hse, kin, ve, ta, tey, fm, z, ze, shem, se, j/e, jee, ey, ho, po, ae, et, heshe, hann, herm, ala, de, ghach ...
- Writing about literature: essay and translation skills for university, p. 90, Judith Woolf, Routledge, 2005
- john commented on the word thon (2007-10-11). "thon - definition and meaning". Wordnik.com. Retrieved 2013-10-26.
- Baron, Dennis (1986). "10, The Word That Failed". Grammar and Gender. Yale University Press. p. 201. ISBN 0-300-03883-6.
- Baron, Dennis. "The Epicene Pronouns". Retrieved 2010-06-22.
- Kingdon, Jim. "Gender-free Pronouns in English". Retrieved 2010-06-22.
- "Skyhouse Community – Bylaws". Retrieved 2010-06-22.
- "Bylaws – Sandhill – 1982". Retrieved 2010-06-22.
- "Bylaws – East Wind – 1974". Retrieved 2010-06-22.
- "Bylaws – Twin Oaks". Retrieved 2010-06-22.
- "Visitor Guide – Twin Oaks Community: What does all this stuff mean?". Retrieved 2010-06-22.
- Division of Public Affairs (September 2011). "Style Guide" (PDF). Vanderbilt University. p. 34. Retrieved 2013-09-17.
Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.
- Associated Press (2015). "transgender". The Associated Press Stylebook 2015. ISBN 9780465097937.
Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.
- Sponsored by the American Medical Association and The Fenway Health with unrestricted support from Fenway Health and Pfizer. "Meeting the Health Care Needs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) People: The End to LGBT Invisibility" (PowerPoint Presentation). The Fenway Institute. p. 24. Retrieved 2013-09-17.
Use the pronoun that matches the person's gender identity
- "Therapists with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Clients" (Word Document). Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. 2010. p. 2. Retrieved 2013-09-17.
transsexuals prefer to be referred to using the pronoun of identified gender, regardless of their level of transition
- Elizondo, Paul M. III, D.O.; Wilkinson, Willy, M.P.H.; Daley, Christopher, M.D. (13 November 2015). "Working With Transgender Persons". Phychiatric Times. Retrieved 2013-09-17.
If you are not sure which pronoun to use, you can ask the patient
- (PDF). January 2010. pp. 2 and 5 http://www.fenwayhealth.org/documents/the-fenway-institute/handouts/Handout_7-C_Glossary_of_Gender_and_Transgender_Terms__fi.pdf. Retrieved 2015-11-13.
listen to your clients – what terms do they use to describe themselves... Pronoun preference typically varies, including alternately using male or female pronouns using the pronoun that matches the gender presentation at that time.Missing or empty
- "Competencies for Counseling with Transgender Clients" (PDF). Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Counseling. 18 September 2009. p. 3.
honor the set of pronouns that clients select and use them throughout the counseling process
- "Frequently Asked Questions on Trans Identity" (PDF). Common Ground – Trans Etiquette. University of Richmond. Retrieved 2013-09-17.
Use the correct name and pronoun- Most names and pronouns are gendered. It's important to be considerate of one's gender identity by using the pronouns of the respective gender pronouns [sic] , or gender-‐neutral pronouns, they use
- Glicksman, Eve (April 2013). "Transgender terminology: It's complicated". Vol 44, No. 4: American Psychological Association. p. 39. Retrieved 2013-09-17.
Use whatever name and gender pronoun the person prefers
- "Transgender FAQ". Resources. Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved 2013-09-17.
should be identified with their preferred pronoun
- "NAMES, PRONOUN USAGE & DESCRIPTIONS" (PDF). GLAAD Media Reference Guide. GLAAD. May 2010. p. 11. Retrieved 2013-09-17.
It is usually best to report on transgender people's stories from the present day instead of narrating them from some point or multiple points in the past, thus avoiding confusion and potentially disrespectful use of incorrect pronouns.
- "Journalists: Commit to Fair and Accurate Coverage of Transgender People, including Pvt. Chelsea Manning". Transgender Law Center. 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-17.
Avoid pronoun confusion when examining the stories and backgrounds of transgender people prior to their transition. In Private Manning's case, she may simply be referred to as Private Manning.
- Capitalized E, Eir, Eirs, Em. The change from ey to E means that, in speech, the Spivak subject pronoun would often be pronounced the same as he, since the h of he is not pronounced in unstressed positions.
- Williams, John. "Technical - Declension of the Major Gender-Neutral Pronouns". Gender-Neutral Pronoun FAQ Archived February 22, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
- Black, Judie (1975-08-23). "Ey Has a Word for it". Chicago Tribune. p. 12.
- Used in several college humanities texts published by Bandanna Books. Originated by editor Sasha Newborn in 1982.
- Jayce's Gender-Neutral Pronouns
- "A Pronoun Proposal". 2010. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
- Dicebox's gender neutral or "gender irrelevant" pronoun. (2003)
- "Explication of Peh". Dicebox. 2012-09-28. Retrieved 2014-11-08.
- MediaMOO's "person" gender, derived from Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1979), in which people of 2137 use "per" as their sole third-person pronoun.
- proposed in 1884 by American lawyer Charles Crozat Converse. Reference: "Epicene". The Mavens' Word of the Day. Random House. 1998-08-12. Retrieved 2006-12-20.
- Proposed by New Zealand writer Keri Hulme some time in the 1980s. Also used by writer Greg Egan for non-gendered artificial intelligences and "asex" humans.
Egan, Greg (July 1998). Diaspora. Gollancz. ISBN 0-7528-0925-3.
Egan, Greg. Distress. ISBN 1-85799-484-1.
- A discussion about theory of Mind Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.: a paper from 2000 that uses and defines these pronouns
Bornstein, Kate. My Gender Workbook. ISBN 0-415-91673-9.
- Creel, Richard (1997). "Ze, Zer, Mer". APA Newsletters. The American Philosophical Association. Retrieved 2006-05-15.
- Gender-Neutral Pronoun FAQ Archived June 25, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
- Foldvary, Fred (2000). "Zhe, Zher, Zhim". The Progress Report. Economic Justice Network. Retrieved 01-05 2010. Check date values in:
- "Should we be using "hen," as well as "she" and "he" in Norway? [norwegian]". Aftenposten. Aftenposten. 2015-05-01. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
- Benaissa, Mina (29 July 2014). "Svenska Akademiens ordlista inför hen". Sveriges Radio.
- Fortson, Benjamin W. (2010). Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (2nd ed.). Chichester, United Kingdom; Malden, Massachusetts: John Wiley & Sons; Blackwell Publishing. p. 407. Retrieved 12 May 2011.
- Ettner, Charles (2001). "In Chinese, men and women are equal - or - women and men are equal?". In Hellinger, Maris; Bussmann, Hadumod. Gender Across Languages: The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men. 1. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 36.
- Liu, Lydia (1995). Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity--China, 1900-1937. Stanford University Press. pp. 36–38.
- Victor Mair (2013), "He / she / it / none of the above," Language Log, April 19, 2013.
- "Chinese Character Database: Phonologically Disambiguated According to the Cantonese Dialect". Chinese University of Hong Kong. 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-16. The entry for "佢" (Humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk) notes its use as a third-person pronoun in Cantonese, but the entry for "姖" (Humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk) does not; it only gives the pronunciation geoi6 and notes that it is used in place names.
- Japanese: Revised Edition, Iwasaki, Shoichi. Japanese: Shoichi Iwasaki. Philadelphia, PA: J. Benjamins, 2002. Print..
- Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology: Cultural Models and Real People, Okamoto, Shigeko, and Janet S. Shibamoto. Smith. Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology: Cultural Models and Real People. New York: Oxford UP, 2004. Print..
- Japanese Personal Pronouns, Maciamo. "Personal Pronouns in Japanese - Wa-pedia." Wa-pedia. Wa-pedia, n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2014..
- Wagner, Susanne (22 July 2004). "Gender in English pronouns: Myth and reality" (PDF). Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg.
|Look up Appendix:English third-person singular pronouns or Appendix:List of protologisms/third person singular gender neutral pronouns in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Gender-Neutral Pronouns, a style guide
- Gender-free Legal Writing
- The Epicene Pronouns: A Chronology of the Word That Failed (link updated 5-31-06)
- Bennett, Jessica (January 31, 2016). "She? Ze? They? What's In a Gender Pronoun". New York Times.
- Footnotes: pronouns
- On the Creation of "She " in Japanese
- Regender can translate webpages to use gender-neutral pronouns.
- Is there a gender-neutral substitute for "his or her"?
- Grammar Girl, Quick and Dirty tips for Better Writing / Yo as Pronoun.
- FGA: "xe", "xem", and "xyr" are sex-neutral pronouns and adjectives
- The dictionary definition of Appendix:English third-person singular pronouns at Wiktionary