Gender Neutral Pronouns May Seem Like A New Thing, But They Aren’t (2022)

When it comes to gender neutral pronouns, forget what you were taught in school. Most English textbooks teach pronouns limited to the gender binary. So, you're probably already familiar with "she/her/hers," "he/him/his," and the plural "they/their," which is used to refer to a group of people. But that was likely the extent of your pronoun education.

Over the last 10 to 20 years, there's been an increased awareness of identities and pronouns that don't subscribe to the gender binary. While gender neutral pronouns may be a relatively new addition to your pronoun vocabulary, the reality is, these have been around since at least the tail end of the 18th century. "They have a long history, and also a long history of being ignored," says Dennis Baron, professor of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois and author of What's Your Pronoun? Beyond He and She. But more on that later.

As society becomes more accepting, people are mindful of gender issues and inclusivity—making it easier for others to live theirs truths and helping normalize the use of gender neutral pronouns. People have overcome the initial hurdle of acknowledging and legitimatizing this new word and now want to learn more about gender neutral pronouns and make sure they're using them right. And when people start being concerned about correctness, that signals that these pronouns are on their way toward wider adoption, says Baron.

Because most current adults didn't grow up using language this way, adding gender neutral pronouns to your daily conversations can seem a bit confusing at first. To clear up any questions you may have (and it's totally okay if you do), here's what's important to know about gender neutral pronouns.

What are gender neutral pronouns?

First, let's define what pronouns are. "Pronouns are the shortcuts we use to identify ourselves and others without specifically using given names," says Tracy Marsh, PhD, faculty member for Walden University’s PhD in Clinical Psychology program. Thing is, pronouns are traditionally gendered—think "she" or "him."

Gender neutral pronouns, also known as neopronouns, are pronouns that stray away from this idea, meaning they don't specify a person's gender. For some folks, gender neutral pronouns better align with their gender identity, explains Marsh. "Rather than using 'him' or 'her,' a person [may use] 'they,' 'ze,' or 'xe.'"

Here is a list of some of the most common gender neutral pronouns:

  • They, Them, Their
  • Ze/Zie, Zir, Zirs
  • Sie, Hir, Hirs
  • E, Es, Em
  • Xe, Xem, Xyr
  • Tey, Ter, Tem
  • Ey/Em/Eir
  • Mx

Why are gender neutral pronouns used?

You should use gender neutral pronouns whenever you are speaking with or referring to someone who uses them, says Marsh. "For example, if your friend or colleague states that they use the pronouns they/them/theirs, you would refer to that person in the following ways: 'They joined us for dinner last night,' or 'They were delighted with themselves for how great the dessert tasted,' or 'It was their homemade recipe.'"

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Gender neutral pronouns can also be used in spaces where someone doesn't want to make an assumption about another person's gender or gender identity, says Heath Fogg Davis, Director of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Temple University and author of Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?. In this case, you might use a gender neutral pronoun in the workplace, a school setting, or other spaces where gender may not be relevant to what's being discussed. Davis says he personally does this when he's teaching in order to de-emphasize the sex binary.

Using gender neutral pronouns broadly when you're not sure of another person's pronouns can be a powerful way to avoid making assumptions about someone’s gender or gender identity, adds Marsh.

Another reason people may use gender neutral pronouns? They simply don't believe in gender or don't want to conform to the ideals or expectations people place on gender, says Davis.

Are gender neutral pronouns a new thing?

It may seem so because it feels like they've become more mainstream over the last few years. "Awareness of diverse pronouns has been growing. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that most adults in the U.S. are at least familiar with the concept, and roughly one in five know someone who uses gender neutral pronouns," Marsh says.

But gender neutral pronouns aren't new. In fact, they go way, way back, says Baron. "'They' is popular now as a non-binary pronoun for people who are trans, non-binary, or gender-nonconforming. But singular 'they' has always been a popular device for writers when gender is unknown, irrelevant, or when it needs to be concealed to protect the anonymity of a person you’re talking about," explains Baron, who notes the singular "they" has actually been in use in the English language since the 14th century.

Another thing that may surprise you: "They/them" isn't the only gender-neutral pronoun. Other gender neutral pronouns that are also starting to garner public awareness include "xe/xem," "ze/zim," and "sie/hir." They're used to identify people who don't conform to the binary. But Baron says that he's personally aware of more than 200 coined gender neutral or non-binary pronouns: "The earliest coined pronouns I found are E, es, and em, created in 1841 by a doctor, Francis A. Brewster, who also wrote a grammar book."

Thon is another. "Thon was coined in 1858 by Charles Converse, a well-known American hymn writer, though it wasn’t widely publicized until the 1880s," says Baron. And the list can go on and on.

These other pronouns aren't as common as "they/them," though. "In my view, singular 'they' has proved its success. It’s used by people who care about gender inclusiveness. It’s used by people who reject the idea of gender inclusiveness. And it’s used by people who don’t think about gender inclusiveness at all," explains Baron.

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How do I use gender neutral pronouns in a sentence?

The way you use gender neutral pronouns in a sentence really depends on your preference, but there seem to be established patterns, explains Baron.

Right now, it seems most people follow established grammar rules, so you can treat the singular 'they' as if it's plural. For example, if you want to say that a person who uses gender neutral pronouns is heading out somewhere, you can say something like, "They are going to the restaurant," or "They will be attending the event tonight."

If you want to use an honorific, which are words like "Sir/Madam," or "Mr./Ms.," a common one that has emerged is "Mx," which removes the assumption of any kind of gender from the word.

How do I pronounce different gender neutral pronouns?

One of the problems that gender neutral pronouns face in terms of general public acceptance is that it's not always clear how you're supposed to pronounce them, Baron notes. Acceptance includes respecting people enough to want to be right when you refer to them.

That said, there's no rulebook in the pronunciation of gender neutral pronouns. Most people will look at these words written out and apply what they intuitively know about English pronunciation, says Baron.

So, don't panic about pronunciation! If you're unsure how to pronounce these pronouns—and there are variations—the best practice is to ask someone. Another suggestion is to follow a pronunciation pattern. "One analogy is if you have 'he,' and you have 'she,' then you have 'ze'. And for 'zie', you could probably say 'ze' as well," Baron explains. "Or you could go with an analogy to the words you already know like, xenophobia."

What are neopronouns, and who can use them?

Essentially the same thing as gender neutral pronouns, neopronouns are new (neo) pronouns used in place of the common gender binary pronouns of "she," "he," or "they." But Baron doesn't "like to call them neopronouns because, as someone who studied the history, I know that they're not new—their popularity is newish."

It's a term a lot of people use for the coined pronouns, including "xe/xem/xyr," "ze/hir/hirs," and "ey/em/eir." Anyone can use neopronouns, but oftentimes transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people adopt these kinds of pronouns.

How can a person's choice of gender neutral pronouns reflect their culture?

At first, the major concern of people who don't identify in the tradition gender binary was to be generally accepted and able to exist and live how they want to, says Baron. The specific language took sort of a backseat, but in recent years, it's become more prevalent and substantial in the fight for awareness and acceptance. Pronouns have become symbolic of inclusion and exclusion.

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Pronouns are embedded in what we loosely call the culture wars, explains Baron. Pronouns, and gender neutral pronouns in particular, reflect a worldview. "It's how you see yourself in the world, and how you see other people in the room," says Baron. "But that’s the job of pronouns; they include and exclude."

The pronoun’s inherent and true form is an inclusion and exclusion, a classification. Pronouns refer to who you’re talking to or who you’re talking about, and vice versa. They are an identification system; and you can identify as belonging to a particular group. And a group, by definition, separates. "That’s a group’s form; that’s how they work socially, and that’s how they work linguistically," Baron adds.

What is the most common gender neutral pronoun?

Statistically, the most-used gender neutral pronoun is "they."

"Surveys of non-binary or self-identified non-binary or trans individuals tend to indicate that 'they' is the most common non-binary pronoun," affirms Baron.

How do I learn someone’s pronouns?

One of the best ways to learn someone’s pronouns is to lead with your own, say both Marsh and Davis. "Whether you prefer traditional or neopronouns, stating your pronouns when introducing yourself or as part of your email signature sends a message that you are sensitive to and supportive of gender diversity," Marsh explains.

After stating your own pronouns, the other person might volunteer theirs, but if they don't, you can also ask about them. Marsh recommends your conversation sound something like this: "Hi, my name is Tracy. I go by she/her/hers. How would you like me to refer to you?"

Not everyone will feel comfortable or safe having this conversation, adds Marsh, and that's okay. It's important you're respectful of the other's persons boundaries and feelings.

"Hi, my name is Tracy. I go by she/her/hers. How would you like me to refer to you?"

If using gender neutral pronouns seems difficult or frustrating to you because you're not used to it, just practice. Since they aren't usually taught in school, it can take a while for them to become a natural part of your conversation style, meaning you have to be more mindful of others' preferences, says Marsh. But one way to practice is to add them into your everyday conversation. "Try using the terms 'friends,' 'guests,' or 'colleagues' rather than 'ladies and gentlemen,' 'boys and girls,' or 'hey guys.' In doing so, your efforts contribute to creating a more inclusive and diverse society for everyone," Marsh suggests.

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Why is it important to respect people who go by gender neutral pronouns?

Describing someone by the pronouns they wish to be identified by shows that you respect a person's freedom to identify the way they want, says Davis. It also shows that you understand that gender identity is more complex and fluid than traditional pronouns allow it to be, adds Marsh. "By asking and using someone’s preferred gender pronoun, you are treating them with honor and respect. Many of us know someone who asks to be called by a variant of their given name, such as 'Bill' rather than 'William.' Insisting on calling that person William would be seen as disrespectful and hurtful," says Marsh.

Davis adds that using gender neutral pronouns can also minimize the risk of you misgendering someone, and consequently, making them feel devalued or disrespected. The golden rule applies to pronouns, too.

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FAQs

What are gender-neutral pronouns examples? ›

Gender-neutral pronouns are words that don't specify whether the subject of the sentence is female or male. 'They', for instance, is a third-person pronoun that is gender neutral. Other gender-neutral pronouns include 'them', 'this person', 'everyone', 'Ze', or 'Hir'.

Can they be used as a gender-neutral pronoun? ›

They/them/theirs (Shea ate their food because they were hungry.) This is a pretty common gender-neutral pronoun and it can be used in the singular. In fact, “they” was voted as the Word of the Year in 2015.

What are the 4 gender pronouns? ›

Gendered pronouns specifically reference someone's gender: he/him/his or she/her/hers. Non-gendered or nonbinary pronouns are not gender specific and are most often used by people who identify outside of a gender binary.

Why are pronouns such a big deal? ›

Using the correct pronouns is a way of affirming identity in every interaction. Because of the number of times we use pronouns in a conversation, we can show respect — or disrespect — that many times. Whether you think it's a big deal or not, gender pronouns are important.

What are the 23 pronouns? ›

They are the following pronouns: my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, and theirs. Example: The money is mine.
...
Parts of Speech - Pronouns
  • The new car is his. The new car is his.
  • Yours will be here tomorrow. ...
  • I like theirs best. ...
  • Should we go for a ride in his or hers?

When did gender pronouns become a thing? ›

The earliest recorded use of “they” as a gender neutral personal pronoun was in the 14th century in a French poem called William the Werewolf. Xe Ze Phe Er Ou And ne. There was a brief attempt to use one gender neutral pronoun in the 1880s called “thon”, but it didn't become popular.

What pronouns do Lgbtq use? ›

They are linguistic tools that we use to refer to people, such as they/them/theirs, she/her/hers, he/him/his or even zie/zir/zirs. Someone's pronouns inform us how to best refer to and honor them. It is not necessary to know someone's gender identity or pronouns in advance of meeting them.

How many gender-neutral pronouns are there? ›

Wikipedia's gender-neutral pronouns page lists 14 "non-traditional pronouns" in English, though three are variants of "ze". Other online resources for the non-binary community, however, offer hundreds of options. Some terms come from foreign languages - such as the German-inspired "sie" - others from fiction.

Can I be forced to use a pronoun? ›

The short answer is yes. There is nothing to prevent your employer asking employees to make voluntary pronoun declarations. However, speech rights are likely to be engaged when there is an element of compulsion.

Why do non binary use they them? ›

Because these folks don't identify with the two genders in the binary, and we haven't created a new language for other genders, many nonbinary individuals will take on they/them pronouns because they're already ungendered words.

What does it mean when someone uses she they pronouns? ›

What does it mean if a person uses the pronouns "he/they" or "she/they"? "That means that the person uses both pronouns, and you can alternate between those when referring to them. So either pronoun would be fine — and ideally mix it up, use both.

What is a cis woman? ›

Cisgender is a term that is used to describe people whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, someone who was assigned female at birth (AFAB) and identifies as a woman is a cisgender woman. On the other hand, an AFAB person who identifies as a man is a transgender man.

Why do gender pronouns matter? ›

Mistaking or assuming peoples' pronouns without asking first, mistakes their gender and sends a harmful message. Using someone's correct gender pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their identity.

What do you do if you accidentally Misgender? ›

The best way to handle misgendering someone who is present is to apologize and try harder next time ("I'm sorry, I meant [correct name/pronoun/honorific]"). Keep your apology brief so that it doesn't become about you and your mistake. If you are corrected by someone else, try not to be defensive.

Is Sir a noun or pronoun? ›

Sir is a respectful form of address for a man or a term for a gentleman. When capitalized, Sir is used as a title for a knight. The word sir has a few other senses as a noun. Sir is a respectful term used to address a man.

What does she Her mean after a name? ›

she/her/hers (for someone who might identify as female) they/them/their (for someone who might not identify strictly as male or female, these pronouns are considered "gender neutral"; also used when referring to multiple people)

Why do email signatures have pronouns? ›

The importance of pronouns in email signatures

It's a way for the person receiving the email to understand the preferred way for them to address you. By adding pronouns into your email signature, it shows the person receiving the email which pronouns they should use when referring to you and talking to you directly.

What is the pronoun for John? ›

The word he is a pronoun that takes the place of the word John. Rewrite each sentence. Change the underlined word or words to a pronoun.

What are the 12 singular pronouns? ›

I, you, he, she, it, we they, me, him, her, us, and them are all personal pronouns.

What are the 7 personal pronouns? ›

In Modern English the personal pronouns include: "I," "you," "he," "she," "it," "we," "they," "them," "us," "him," "her," "his," "hers," "its," "theirs," "our," "your." Personal pronouns are used in statements and commands, but not in questions; interrogative pronouns (like "who," "whom," "what") are used there.

Who was the first non binary person? ›

Elisa Rae Shupe

What's the deal with gender pronouns? ›

Gender pronouns are the terms people choose to refer to themselves that reflect their gender identity. These might be he/him, she/her or gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them. Knowing and using a person's correct pronouns fosters inclusion, makes people feel respected and valued, and affirms their gender identity.

What is a thon gender? ›

thon. Pronoun of the 3rd person, common gender, meaning “that one, he she, or it”: a neoterism proposed by Charles Crozat Converse, and apparently complying with the neoteristic canons, since it supplies an antecedent blank, obeys a simple and obvious analogy, and is euphonious.

Is dude a pronoun? ›

As detailed above, 'dude' can be a pronoun or a noun. Pronoun usage: Dude don't know what's good for him. Noun usage: Relax, dude.

What is the pronoun for pansexual? ›

People may describe their sexual orientation using a wide variety of terms including, but not limited to, lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer, asexual, and heterosexual. They/Them/Theirs – Gender inclusive pronouns like they/them/theirs can be used as a singular pronoun to avoid misgendering someone.

What are some cool Nonbinary names? ›

If you're looking for a common gender neutral name, explore the 25 options below:
  • Morgan.
  • Finley.
  • Riley.
  • Jessie.
  • Jaime.
  • Kendall.
  • Skyler.
  • Frankie.
1 Aug 2022

When did non-binary become a thing? ›

It gained wider use in the 1990s among political activists, especially Riki Anne Wilchins. Wilchins used the term in a 1995 essay published in the first issue of In Your Face to describe anyone who is gender nonconforming, and identified as genderqueer in their 1997 autobiography.

How many types of HE are there? ›

In Standard Modern English, he has four shapes representing five distinct word forms: he: the nominative (subjective) form. him: the accusative (objective) form (also called the oblique case ) his: the dependent and independent genitive (possessive) forms.

Whats the meaning of non-binary? ›

Non-Binary Defined

Some people don't identify with any gender. Some people's gender changes over time. People whose gender is not male or female use many different terms to describe themselves, with non-binary being one of the most common. Other terms include genderqueer, agender, bigender, and more.

Can you refuse to use pronouns? ›

There is no legal requirement for workers to state their gender or preferred pronouns publicly, or any law that asks companies to make their employees choose a pronoun.

Is it legal to ask someone their pronouns in an interview? ›

In some states, including California and New York City, employers must refer to workers by their selected pronouns under employment law. In fact, referring to individuals by some other pronoun could be considered harassment with legal consequences.

Is it discrimination to not use someone's pronouns? ›

If coworkers or supervisors consistently and intentionally refer to an employee with the incorrect set of pronouns or by a previous name, despite being corrected numerous times, this may constitute workplace harassment.

Is Agender a gender? ›

Agender (adj.) is not having a gender or a “lack of” a gender. Agender people see themselves as neither a man nor a woman, or both. They're gender-neutral and often are described as genderfree or genderless.

How many genders are there in world? ›

There are many different gender identities, including male, female, transgender, gender neutral, non-binary, agender, pangender, genderqueer, two-spirit, third gender, and all, none or a combination of these.

Is gender a social construct? ›

Gender refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed. This includes norms, behaviours and roles associated with being a woman, man, girl or boy, as well as relationships with each other. As a social construct, gender varies from society to society and can change over time.

What are rolling pronouns? ›

Some people use multiple sets of pronouns. These are called rolling pronouns and may be used interchangeably within a sentence, or may be used based on how someone expresses their gender. Example: Roman uses they/them/theirs and he/him/his pronouns.

How do you know if you're non binary? ›

What does it mean when a person is nonbinary? Being nonbinary is identifying gender as not 100% male or 100% female. Someone who has a nonbinary gender could describe themselves as having no gender, multiple genders, a masculine or feminine gender, or any other gender that is not fully male or fully female.

What does she Her mean in bio? ›

Putting She/Her in an Instagram bio means that the individual is declaring their pronouns. Now people know that they should use She/Her when speaking about or to that person.

What does she her stand for? ›

by Yu Sheng Teo | Updated on September 16, 2021. “She / Her / Hers” is a set of gender-specific pronouns typically used to refer to women or girls. Some nonbinary folks, as well as genderfluid or genderqueer folks, may also use the “She / Her / Hers” pronouns.

What does LGBTQIA2S+ stand for? ›

LGBTQIA2S refers to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Two spirit. Here are some definitions of sexual orientations and gender identities: Asexual: Asexual folks are not sexually attracted to people of any gender.

What are male pronouns? ›

She, her, hers and he, him, his are the most commonly used pronouns. Some people call these "female/feminine" and "male/masculine" pronouns, but many avoid these labels because, for example, not everyone who uses he feels like a "male" or "masculine."

Whats the meaning of non-binary? ›

In really simple terms, a non-binary person is someone who does not identify as exclusively a man or a woman. Someone who is non-binary might feel like a mix of genders, or like they have no gender at all.

Videos

1. In Defence of Grammatical Gender
(K Klein)
2. The Power Of Pronouns: Ask, Apologize, & Advocate
(The Kaleidoscope Group)
3. New Rule: Along for the Pride | Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)
(Real Time with Bill Maher)
4. 2022 09 14 Arrowhead Regular School Board Meeting
(We The Parents Arrowhead School District)
5. Gender Neutral Pronouns
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6. Jordan Peterson Destroys Entire Panel on Transgender Pronouns
(Aerial View)

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