Gender-Neutral Pronouns

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After reconnecting with friends and colleagues with queer identities at Creating Change, I am going to start using gender-neutral pronouns regularly on this blog.  It will be challenging at first, but I am going to try my best to be consistent when talking about anybody.

From now on:

he/she = ze

him/her = hir

his/her = hir

his/hers = hirs

himself/herself = hirself

Gender-neutral pronouns are an effective way to be more inclusive of all people, regardless of their gender.  While they may be “new” words to most, this language is an effective way of being grammatically correct and defying the gender binary.

Feel free to share your feedback… and shoot me an email if you see me slip.  Old habits can be hard to break!

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There are 19 Comments to "Gender-Neutral Pronouns"

  • Okay, I can see where you’re coming from, but why is this necessary? Are you considering what words to use for someone who defines themselves as neither male or female? Or are you looking for a general word to apply to a mixed group, or group that has no common-gender basis? Because I normally use ‘they’ or ‘them’ or ‘themselves’, etc.

    I’m trying, but I can’t think of a sentence right now that I couldn’t make gender-neutral without your list. Feel free to throw one at me, I’m honestly interested.

  • ZackFord says:

    Sure.

    “After Sam went to the movie, ze went shopping.”

    “After I talked to Alex on the phone, I texted hir the directions.”

    “Blake wanted to make sure ze had hir own alarm clock with hir on the trip so ze could make sure ze could wake hirself up on the morning.”

    You can’t use “they” to refer to specific people.

  • ZackFord says:

    Besides, you can use “they” in a lot of places, but it’s still grammatically incorrect in a lot of them… “Anyone can do what they want” is wrong. “Anyone” is singular, so grammar books tell us it should be “Anyone can do what he or she wants” (an upgrade from commonly using just “he”) which forces us to recognize the gender binary.

    If we used “ze” in that sentence, it would be inclusive of all genders.

  • Keri says:

    I agree with using “they”. It may have once been considered incorrect, but so was using “you” as singular. We used to use “thee”, “thou”, “thine”, etc., but they fell out of use and the plural “you” is now used as singular as well. I believe the same thing will happen to “they”, since it is already accepted in speech and in casual writing. I use it all the time in all my writing. It is only those who don’t know anything about the evolution of language that still consider it incorrect.

    Not to be harsh or rude, but I really don’t think your system has any chance of catching on. Plus “hir” spoken sounds just like “her”, so what’s the point in that?

    In any case, I completely agree with you that this needs to change (as well as “Mrs./Miss/Ms.” as opposed to just “Mr.”!!), and I appreciate your effort!

  • Idir says:

    Isn’t it xe/xem/xyr/xyrs/xemself?

  • cbcm says:

    In my mom’s first language (Tagalog) they don’t have gender-specific pronouns, so it’s all neutral. It’s kinda cool, except that now when she speaks English she messes up our gendered pronouns sometimes 🙂

  • ZackFord says:

    Yay! This is some great discussion.

    To answer your question Keri… hir is pronounced more like “here,” so there is a distinction.

    The “xe” class is another alternative. I’ve chosen a set to use that best represent the people I have met who use them. I have also decided that I want others to use them to refer to me even though I have a gendered identity.

  • Keri says:

    Thanks, Zack, I didn’t know it was pronounced differently.

    Linguistics is sort of a hobby of mine- I’ve only read a few books and haven’t studied it formally at all, so I’m definitely no expert, but another thought came to mind: When language changes, it basically follows the path of least resistance. A lot of the evolution of language is the result of people finding easier ways to express themselves. So another point against this system- These words take slightly more effort to say. For example, the vocalized z in “ze” as opposed to the softer “she”. And “hir” pronounced as “here” takes slightly more effort to say than the very lazy word “her”.

    I love the idea, but unfortunately I just don’t see this system taking over at all. People are just too lazy when it comes to language =)

  • ZackFord says:

    Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean I cannot try. I bet it’s not as hard as we think if we are proactive. Last year I was able to change my habit of saying “Bless you!” to “Gesundheit,” which isn’t necessarily easier to say. We just have to practice and get used to it. I think the outcome is worth the effort. 🙂

  • Will Rundle says:

    Eh. I still feel that “they” is preferable. Yes, it’s currently considered grammatically incorrect, but if you go by current standards, newly invented words are incorrect, too. Why introduce new words when you can just change the definition of old ones a bit? The additional effort of learning new word-associations will just make it harder to get people to actually use them… and newly introduced words will always have that stilted sound to them.

  • ZackFord says:

    But “they” still really doesn’t work when referring to specific people, as in the example I gave above. Individuals are already using the words I’ve offered to identify themselves, so I am simply offering support in solidarity.

  • Keri says:

    Whatever gender-neutral system you choose, it can only be for the better. Using any system brings attention to the problem, which is definitely a good thing!

    I still say “Bless you” when someone sneezes, and occasionally will say “Oh my god”, but I really hate that I do that. It’s hard to change something so ingrained, so I do applaud your effort.

    I agree that “they” doesn’t work right now when referring to a specific person- “Mary set their book down on the table”?- but maybe eventually it will sound as natural as someone saying “Someone set their book down on the table”. That’s what I’m hoping for, anyway!

  • Will Rundle says:

    Arguably, “Mary set hir book down on the table” doesn’t work either if you haven’t had contact with the new word before, but I’m just being contrarian now. I see your point.

  • George Cole says:

    Just to be pedantic, they/their was a grammatically singular non-gendered pronoun in early modern English, according to an old post I can’t find at Making Light. How it became strictly a plural is a mystery.

  • ZackFord says:

    Damn it, George! You’re lucky I admire and commune with said pedantry so much…

    I think I’m going to stick with how things are now and what seems to best move us forward… though I appreciate your attention to detail. 🙂

  • I’m a fan of using genderqueer/gender-neutral pronouns and make it a practice to do so in my writings. Another set I commonly run across is ghe/gher

    On a related note – I was recently asked about a genderqueer/gender-neutral equivalent to Mister/Misses/Ms. Any ideas or suggestions?

  • ZackFord says:

    It’s an interesting question indeed. At Creating Change, I spoke with others who are looking for answers to those questions. (I have to give a hat tip here to my colleague Shane Whalley for engaging this dialogue!) Here is a list of other gendered words that need gender-neutral or binary-defying alternatives:

    Sir/Ma’am
    Mr./Ms./Mrs.
    Male/Female
    Man/Woman
    Boy/Girl
    Father/Mother
    Brother/Sister
    Uncle/Aunt
    Nephew/Niece
    Grandfather/Grandmother
    Boyfriend/Girlfriend
    Husband/Wife

    At the conference I don’t think they had the opportunity to address that other language, but I’m sure Shane and others would welcome dialogue and brainstorming! I certainly do, or I wouldn’t have posted it here on my blog!

    • Sunshine says:

      I am genderqueer and use the gender neutral pronouns ghe/gher in reference to myself. The binary terms for many familial and other forms of relationships is a constant struggle.

      For sure, I have settled on ancle (pronounced like ankle) for aunt/uncle. This one was shared with me by a friend who uses it in their family.

      Also, nefis for niece/nephew which was created by a genderqueer professor. It is based on the Persian word for “tasty.” 🙂

      Rent has worked well for parents- but that came about as an adult. Different terms will be needed for little ones. One term I do regularly use for grandfather/mother is grandrent.

      As a religious leader, I encourage the use of cousin instead of ‘brothers and sisters.’ Still working on a replacement term of Mr./Mrs., etc. Though, given those terms are based on an antiquated system for titles, they could just drop away from use and that would be fine.

      That’s what I have got.

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