Gender-specific and gender-neutral pronouns

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A gender-specific pronoun is a pronoun associated with a particular grammatical gender, such as masculine, feminine, or neuter, or with a social gender (or sex), such as female or male. Examples include the English third-person personal pronouns he and she.

A gender-neutral pronoun, by contrast, is a pronoun that is not associated with a particular grammatical or social gender and that does not imply, for instance, male or female. Many English pronouns are gender-neutral, including they (which in certain contexts can also refer to a singular antecedent such as everyone, a person, or the patient).

Many of the world's languages do not have gender-specific pronouns. Others, however – particularly those that have a pervasive 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 sex or 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 is sometimes used with intended gender-neutral meaning; such use of he was also common in English until the middle of the twentieth century but is now controversial. Use of singular they is another common alternative, but is considered by many to be descriptively ambiguous or confusing, and demands illogical verb agreement[1][not in citation given] Some attempts have been made, by proponents of gender-neutral language, to introduce invented gender-neutral pronouns.


Some languages of the world (including Austronesian languages, many East Asian languages, the Quechuan languages, and the Uralic languages[2]) 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.[3] Pronouns in these languages tend to be naturally gender-neutral[citation needed].

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 appears 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 (in the plural case) 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).

See also Grammatical gender: Mixed and indeterminate gender.

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.[4]


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). These are described in full in the article on English personal pronouns.

Generally speaking, the masculine pronoun is used to refer to male persons (and some higher animals, such as pets); the feminine to refer to female persons and female animals, and sometimes figuratively in referring to such items as ships and countries; and the neuter to refer to inanimate objects and concepts, animals of unspecified or unimportant sex, and sometimes children of unspecified sex. For full details, see Gender in English. 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[edit]

Historically, there were two gender-neutral pronouns native to English dialects, ou and (h)a.[5] According to Dennis Baron's Grammar and Gender:[6]

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.

In some West Country dialects, the pronoun er can be used in place of either he or she, although only in weak (unstressed) positions such as in tag questions.[7]

More recently, in the city of Baltimore, and possibly other cities in the United States, yo has come to be used as a gender-neutral pronoun.[8][9]

It and one as gender-neutral pronouns[edit]

Further information: It (pronoun)

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.[10] 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.[10]

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.[10] Quirk et al. give the following example:

  • A child learns to speak the language of its environment.[10]

According to The Handbook of Non-Sexist Writing, it is sometimes the "obvious" choice for children.[11] Examples given include

  • 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 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 ...[12]

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.

Generic he[edit]

Further information: He. See also Gender neutrality in English: Pronouns.

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."[13] The use of he to refer to a person of unknown gender was prescribed by manuals of style and school textbooks from the early 18th century until around the 1960s. An early example of which is Anne Fisher's 1745 grammar book "A New Grammar".[14] Older editions of Fowler also took this view.[15]

  • The customer brought his purchases to the cashier for checkout.
  • In a supermarket, anyone 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,[16] such use may also be considered to be a violation of gender agreement.[17]:48 It has also been seen as prejudicial by some,[17] as in the following cases:

  • 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.[17]: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.[18]

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."

— Albert Bleumenthal, N.Y. State Assembly (cited in Longman 1984), as quoted in Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage[19]

"... the ideal that every boy and girl should be so equipped that he shall not be handicapped in his struggle for social progress …"

— C.C. Fries, American English Grammar (1940) quoted in Readers Digest 1983; as cited in Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage[19]

"... She and Louis had a game—who could find the ugliest photograph of himself"

— Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin (1971) (quoted in Readers Digest 1983; as cited in Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage[19]
  • 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".[20] 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."

    — C. Badendyck [sic], New York Times (1985);[21] as quoted by Miller and Swift.[17]:46

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.

Generic she[edit]

She has traditionally been used as a generic pronoun when making generalizations about people belonging to a group when most members of that group are assumed to be female:[17]

  • 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".[17]

Singular they[edit]

Main article: Singular they

Since at least the 15th century, they (used with verbs conjugated in the plural, as with you), them, their, theirs, and themselves or themself have been used, in an increasingly accepted fashion, as singular pronouns. This usage is often called the singular they. It is widely used and accepted in Britain, Australia, and North America in conversation. At least one style guide has, in the past, advised against this use.[22]

  • 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)[23]

They may be used even when the gender of the subject is obvious; they implies a generic (or representative of type class) rather than individuated interpretation:[24]

  • '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[edit]

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.[25] The 19th and 20th centuries saw an upsurge in consciousness and advocacy of gender equity, 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.[edit]

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. They can be abbreviated in writing as "he/she", "(s)he", "s/he", "hse", "him/her", "his/her", "himself/herself", but when spoken have no accepted abbreviation. With the exception of "(s)he" and "s/he", one still has the choice of which pronoun to place first.[citation needed]

Alternation of she and he[edit]

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.

Preferred pronouns[edit]

See also: Spivak pronoun

Some groups and individuals have invented, borrowed and used non-standard pronouns, hoping they will become standard. Various proposals for such changes have been around since at least the 19th century. For example, abbreviated pronouns have been proposed: 'e (for he or she) or 's (for his/hers); h' (for him/her in object case); "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[26] or 1859[27]):

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.[28]

"Co" was coined by feminist writer Mary Orovan in 1970.[29] "Co" is in common usage in intentional communities of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities,[30] and "Co" appears in the bylaws of several of these communities.[31][32][33][34] 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.[35]

Pronouns and LGBT people[edit]

For transgender people, style guides and associations of journalists and health professionals advise use of the pronoun preferred or considered appropriate by the person in question.[36][37][38][39] When dealing with clients or patients, health practitioners are advised to take note of the pronouns used by the person themselves,[40] which may involve using different pronouns at different times.[41][42] This is also extended to the name preferred by the person concerned.[43] [44] LGBT advocacy groups also advise using the pronouns and names preferred or considered appropriate by the person concerned.[45] They further recommend avoiding gender confusion when referring to the background of transgender people[46] (for instance by using Private Manning [47] to avoid a male pronoun or name).

For lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, the gender implications of pronouns can be important because referring to a significant other or potential love interest by a gender-specific pronoun can reveal their sexual orientation, whereas using a gender-neutral pronoun or phrasing would not.


The following table summarizes the foregoing approaches.

  Nominative (subject) Oblique (object) Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive
Traditional pronouns
He He laughed I called him His eyes gleam That is his He likes himself
She She laughed I called her Her eyes gleam That is hers She likes herself
One One laughed I called one One's eyes gleam That is "that one's" One likes oneself
Conventions based on traditional pronouns
Singular they They laughed I called them Their eyes gleam That is theirs They like themself
She/he She/he laughed I called him/her His/her eyes gleam That is his/hers She/he likes him/herself
S/he (compact) S/he laughed I called him/r His/r eyes gleam That is his/rs S/he likes him/herself
Non-traditional pronouns
Elverson (1975)[48] Ey laughed I called em Eir eyes gleam That is eirs Ey likes eirself
Spivak (1983)[49][50] E laughed I called Em Eir eyes gleam That is Eirs E likes Emself
Humanist[51] Hu laughed I called hum Hus eyes gleam That is hus Hu likes humself
Peh[52][53] Peh laughed I called pehm Peh's eyes gleam That is peh's Peh likes pehself
Per[54] Per laughed I called per Per eyes gleam That is pers Per likes perself
Thon[55] Thon laughed I called thon Thons eyes gleam That is thons Thon likes thonself
Jee, Jeir, Jem[56] Jee laughed I called jem Jeir eyes gleam That is jeirs Jee likes jemself
Ve[57] Ve laughed I called ver Vis eyes gleam That is vis Ve likes verself
Xe[58] Xe laughed I called xem Xyr eyes gleam That is xyrs Xe likes xemself
Yo (regional)[59][60] Yo laughed I called yo  ?
Ze (or zie or sie) and zir (Germanic Origin)[61] Ze laughed I called zir/zem Zir/Zes eyes gleam That is zirs/zes Ze likes zirself/zemself
Ze (or zie or sie) and hir[62] Ze laughed I called hir Hir eyes gleam That is hirs Ze likes hirself
Ze and mer[63] Ze laughed I called mer Zer eyes gleam That is zers Ze likes zemself
Zhe, Zher, Zhim[64] Zhe laughed I called zhim Zher eyes gleam That is zhers Zhe likes zhimself

Other languages[edit]

Indo-European languages[edit]

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 (examples of 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 to "they". It is traditional in most languages, in cases of mixed or indeterminate gender, to use the masculine as a default.

Romance languages[edit]

For example, in French,

  • First person singular je ('I'), me ('me')
  • Second person singular (familiar) tu, te ('you')
  • First person plural nous ('we', 'us')
  • Second person plural vous ('you')
  • Third person possessives leur ('their') and son/sa/ses ('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 for masculine and sua 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.

In contrast, Spanish possessive pronouns agree with neither the gender of the possessor nor that of the possession. In the third person, the possessive pronoun su (or sus for plural - number agrees with the possession) 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 for referring to people in Spanish have gender - él for "him" and ella for "her", there is also the gender neutral lo for "it". Spanish pronouns are usually part of the verb and are used separately only when making a distinction. e.g. The verb vivir - "to live" would usually be conjugated in the third person as vive - "He/she lives". 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".

Italian also behaves like 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 scese e portò su le valigie di lei (He went downstairs and 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.

Where a language has grammatical gender, gendered pronouns are sometimes used according to the grammatical gender of their antecedent, as French il ('he') for le livre ('the book' - masculine), whereas in Spanish, el libro is also masculine, but it would not be considered correct to refer to it by using the masculine pronoun él. Instead, something such as "Where is the book?" "It is on the table", would be rendered as "¿Dónde está el libro?" "Está sobre la mesa" where the pronoun is omitted. However, when the pronoun is used as a direct object, gender-specific forms reappear in Spanish. The sentence I can't find it. (always referring to the masculine noun libro (book)) would be No lo encuentro, whereas if I can't find it refers to a magazine (revista in Spanish, which is feminine) then the sentence would be No la encuentro.

If it is absolutely necessary to provide a subject when referring to an object, a demonstrative can be used instead of a pronoun: ¿Qué es eso? translates literally What is that?. And a suitable 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.


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.


Main article: hen (pronoun)

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.[citation needed]

It is currently treated as neologism by Swedish manuals of style. Major newspapers like Dagens Nyheter have recommended against its usage, though many 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.[65]

Traditionally there are other variants of avoiding using gender-specific pronouns. "Vederbörande" ("the referred person"). "Man" ("one", as in "Man borde..."/"One should..."). "Denne" ("the one"). One method is rewriting into plural, as Swedish like English has only gender-neutral pronouns in plural.


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 un (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.[66]


Written Chinese has gone in the opposite direction, from non-gendered to gendered pronouns, though this hasn't affected the spoken language.

In spoken standard Mandarin, there is no gender distinction in personal pronouns: the pronoun () can mean "he", "she", or "it". However, when the antecedent of the spoken pronoun is unclear, native speakers will assume it is a male person.[67] In 1917, the Old Chinese graph (, from , "woman") was borrowed into the written language to specifically represent "she" by Liu Bannong. As a result, the old character (), 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 is formed with the ungendered character for person rén (), rather than the character for male nán ()."[68]

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.[67] Of all the contemporary neologisms from the period, the only ones to remain in common use are () for objects, (, from niú , "cow") for animals, and ( from shì , "revelation") for gods. Although Liu and other writers tried to popularize a different pronunciation for the feminine , including yi from the Wu dialect and tuo from a literary reading, these efforts failed, and all forms of the pronoun retain identical pronunciation. This identical pronunciation of the split characters holds true for not only Mandarin but also many of the varieties of Chinese.[68] 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.[69][70]

The Cantonese third-person-singular pronoun is keui5 (), and may refer to people of any gender. For a specifically female pronoun, some writers replace the person radical rén () with the female radical (), forming the character keui5 (). However, this analogous variation to is neither widely accepted in standard written Cantonese nor grammatically or semantically required. Moreover, while the character keui5 () has no meaning in classical Chinese, the character keui5 () has a separate meaning unrelated to its dialectic use in standard or classical Chinese.[71]


Personal pronouns did not exist in traditional Japanese writing. The masculine and feminine 'kare' and 'kano-jo', respectively, were initially categorized as belonging to the demonstrative paradigm. A person would use them when pointing to an object physically farther away from themselves. It was not until the Meiji era that 'kare' and 'kanojo' were appointed as the 'he' and 'she' Western equivalents. Although their usage as the Western equivalent pronouns tends to be infrequent, they are commonly used today as ways of saying 'girlfriend' and 'boyfriend'.[72]

First-person pronouns, 'ore', 'boku', and 'atashi', while not explicitly carrying gender, can strongly imply gender based on the inherent levels of politeness/formality as well as hierarchical connotation.[73] While 'boku' and 'ore' are traditionally known to be masculine pronouns and 'atashi' is characterized as feminine,[74] '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.[73]


The Korean pronoun geu (그) is somewhat gender-neutral, as while the gender-specific pronoun geunyeo (그녀) is often the preferred pronoun when referring to feminine nouns, geu can refer to masculine, feminine, and neuter nouns. [75]

Afro-Asiatic languages[edit]

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) เขา (khao)

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.


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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ Corbett, Greville G. (2011). Dryer, Matthew S.; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. "The World Atlas of Language Structures Online". Munich: Max Planck Digital Library. Retrieved 2013-04-27.  |chapter= ignored (help)
  4. ^ Williams, John (1990s). "History — Modern Neologism". Gender-Neutral Pronoun FAQ. Retrieved 2007-01-01. [dead link]
  5. ^ As with all pronouns beginning in h, the h is dropped when the word is unstressed. The reduced form a is pronounced /ə/.
  6. ^ Baron, Dennis (1986). Grammar and Gender. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-03526-8.  as cited by: Williams, John (1990s). "History - Native-English GNPs". Gender-Neutral Pronoun FAQ. Retrieved 2007-01-01. [dead link]
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Liberman, Mark (2008-01-07). "Language Log: Yo". doi:10.1215/00031283-2007-012. Retrieved 2013-10-26. 
  9. ^ Mignon Fogarty. "Grammar Girl / Yo as a Pronoun.".
  10. ^ a b c d 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. 
  11. ^ Miller, Casey; Swift, Kate (1995) [1981]. Mosse, Kate, ed. The Handbook of Non-Sexist Writing (3rd British ed.). London: The Women's Press. p. 58. ISBN 0-7043-4442-4. 
  12. ^ Neil Gaiman, 2008, The Graveyard Book, p. 25.
  13. ^ Susanne Wagner (22 July 2004). "Gender in English pronouns: Myth and reality" (PDF). Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. 
  14. ^ Patricia T. O'Conner; Stewart Kellerman (July 21, 2009). "All-Purpose Pronoun". The New York Times. 
  15. ^ Fowler, H.W. (2009) [1926]. 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. 
  16. ^ 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. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f Miller, Casey; Swift, Kate (1995) [1981]. 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. 
  18. ^ 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 [1930] A.C. 124. Human Rights in Canada: A Historical Perspective.
  19. ^ a b c Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage. Penguin. 2002. p. 735. ISBN 9780877796336. 
  20. ^ Safire, William (28 April 1985). "On Language; You Not Tarzan, Me Not Jane". The New York Times. pp. 46–47. 
  21. ^ Adendyck, C. (7 July 1985). "[Letter commenting on] Hypersexism And the Feds". The New York Times. 
  22. ^ Strunk, William Jr.; White, E.B. (1979) [1959]. The Elements of Style (3rd ed.). Allyn and Bacon. pp. 60–61. ISBN 0-205-19158-4. 
  23. ^ 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. 
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Dale Spender, Man Made Language, Pandora Press, 1998, p. 152.
  26. ^ Writing about literature: essay and translation skills for university, p. 90, Judith Woolf, Routledge, 2005
  27. ^ john commented on the word thon (2007-10-11). "thon - definition and meaning". Retrieved 2013-10-26. 
  28. ^ Baron, Dennis (1986). "10, The Word That Failed". Grammar and Gender. Yale University Press. p. 201. ISBN 0-300-03883-6. 
  29. ^ Baron, Dennis. "The Epicene Pronouns". Retrieved 2010-06-22. 
  30. ^ Kingdon, Jim. "Gender-free Pronouns in English". Retrieved 2010-06-22. 
  31. ^ "Skyhouse Community – Bylaws". Retrieved 2010-06-22. 
  32. ^ "Bylaws – Sandhill – 1982". Retrieved 2010-06-22. 
  33. ^ "Bylaws – East Wind – 1974". Retrieved 2010-06-22. 
  34. ^ "Bylaws – Twin Oaks". Retrieved 2010-06-22. 
  35. ^ "Visitor Guide – Twin Oaks Community: What does all this stuff mean?". Retrieved 2010-06-22. 
  36. ^ 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. 
  37. ^ 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. 
  38. ^ 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 
  39. ^ "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 [dead link]
  40. ^ 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 
  41. ^ (PDF). January 2010. pp. 2 and 5 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 |title= (help)
  42. ^ "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 
  43. ^ "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 
  44. ^ 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 
  45. ^ "Transgender FAQ". Resources. Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved 2013-09-17. should be identified with their preferred pronoun 
  46. ^ "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. 
  47. ^ "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. 
  48. ^ Black, Judie (1975-08-23). "Ey Has a Word for it". Chicago Tribune. p. 12.  |section= ignored (help)
  49. ^ 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.
  50. ^ Williams, John. "Technical - Declension of the Major Gender-Neutral Pronouns". Gender-Neutral Pronoun FAQ Archived February 22, 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  51. ^ Used in several college humanities texts published by Bandanna Books. Originated by editor Sasha Newborn in 1982.
  52. ^ Dicebox's gender neutral or "gender irrelevant" pronoun. (2003)
  53. ^ "Explication of Peh". Dicebox. 2012-09-28. Retrieved 2014-11-08. 
  54. ^ 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.
  55. ^ 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. 
  56. ^ Jayce's Gender-Neutral Pronouns
  57. ^ 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. 
  58. ^ A discussion about theory of Mind: a paper from 2000 that uses and defines these pronouns
  59. ^ [1]
  60. ^ [2]
  61. ^ Gender-Neutral Pronoun FAQ Archived April 25, 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  62. ^ Example:
    Bornstein, Kate. My Gender Workbook. ISBN 0-415-91673-9. 
  63. ^ Creel, Richard (1997). "Ze, Zer, Mer". APA Newsletters. The American Philosophical Association. Retrieved 2006-05-15. 
  64. ^ Foldvary, Fred (2000). "Zhe, Zher, Zhim". The Progress Report. Economic Justice Network. Retrieved 01-05 2010.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  65. ^ Benaissa, Mina (29 July 2014). "Svenska Akademiens ordlista inför hen". Sveriges Radio. 
  66. ^ 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. 
  67. ^ a b 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. 
  68. ^ a b Liu, Lydia (1995). Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity--China, 1900-1937. Stanford University Press. pp. 36–38. 
  69. ^
  70. ^ Victor Mair (2013), "He / she / it / none of the above," Language Log, April 19, 2013.
  71. ^ "Chinese Character Database: Phonologically Disambiguated According to the Cantonese Dialect". Chinese University of Hong Kong. 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-16.  The entry for "" ( notes its use as a third-person pronoun in Cantonese, but the entry for "姖" ( does not; it only gives the pronunciation geoi6 and notes that it is used in place names.
  72. ^ Japanese: Revised Edition, Iwasaki, Shoichi. Japanese: Shoichi Iwasaki. Philadelphia, PA: J. Benjamins, 2002. Print..
  73. ^ a b 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..
  74. ^ Japanese Personal Pronouns, Maciamo. "Personal Pronouns in Japanese - Wa-pedia." Wa-pedia. Wa-pedia, n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2014..
  75. ^

External links[edit]