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A gender-neutral pronoun is a pronoun that is not associated with any gender. It designates two distinct grammatical phenomena, the first being pronouns/periphrastics that have been assigned nontraditional meanings in modern times out of a concern for gender equity, and the second being genderless pronouns that occur traditionally in human languages. Most languages do not have gender distinctions in personal pronouns.
In some languages — notably most Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic and a number of Niger–Congo languages — some personal pronouns intrinsically distinguish male from female; the selection of a pronoun necessarily specifies, at least to some extent, the gender of what is referred. Traditionally, the masculine form has been taken to be the markless form, that is the form to be used unless it is known to be inappropriate. This has dictated the masculine pronoun in cases such as
Since as early as 1795, this property has led to the call for gender-neutral pronouns. The Sapir–Whorf hypothesis is a common justification, in addition to humanist and pluralistic reasons, for applying gender-neutral pronouns to the English language. Attempts to invent pronouns for this purpose date back at least to 1850.
Many languages allow the speaker to specify whether one is talking about a male or female, but some languages do not require the speaker to make that choice as an intrinsic part of the language. In some languages, pronouns do not distinguish between genders, so gender equity of pronouns is not relevant. This category includes many East Asian languages (see below) as well as the Uralic languages.
Arcaicam Esperantom has a personal, gender-neutral pronoun, egui.
Despite the fact that it possesses a very large and complex pronominal system, Standard Maithili, Bengali, Assamese, Oriya, and Nepali make no difference in gender in any of its pronouns. Pronouns are differentiated in terms of person, number, social relationship (intimate vs. familiar vs. formal), and proximity to the speaker (proximal vs. distal vs. non-present).
In spoken standard Chinese, 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 equality 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 not only for standard Chinese ("Mandarin") but also for all 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 dialectic third person singular pronoun is keui5 (佢), and it may refer to people of either gender. For a specifically female pronoun, some writers replace the person radical rén (亻) with the female radical nǚ (女), forming the character keui5 (姖). However, this analogous variation to tā is neither widely accepted in standard written Cantonese nor is it grammatically or semantically required. Moreover, while the character keui5 (佢) has no meaning in standard Chinese, the character keui5 (姖) has a separate meaning unrelated to its dialectic use in standard Chinese.
Historically, there were two gender neutral pronouns native to English dialects, "ou" and "a", but they have long since died out. 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.
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"It" (including "its" and "itself") is the most common and only third person, singular English gender-neutral pronoun; however, it is used only as a dummy pronoun in various impersonal constructions and to refer to abstractions, places, inanimate objects or materials, and non-human life of low order or unknown gender. The plural of "it"—"they"— is already used in all cases as a plural gender-neutral pronoun. The word "it", however, has an extremely impersonal connotation, even offensive, in common usage and is rarely used in English to refer to an unspecified human being or person of unknown gender. This is because the word "it" connotes that the person being specified is inferior to a person or is an object.
Governments, clubs, and other groups have interpreted sentences like "every member must take off his shoes before entering the chapel" to mean that therefore female members may not enter the chapel. The Persons Case, the legal battle over whether Canadian women counted as legal persons eligible to sit in the Senate, partially turned on such a point.
By contrast, the Constitution of Ireland describes the President of Ireland throughout as "he", yet the two most recent presidents were women; in 1997, four of the five candidates in the election were women. Efforts in a court case to argue that "he" excluded women were dismissed by the Irish Supreme Court, which ruled the term "gender-neutral". (The Constitution's primary version is in Irish, where the male pronoun sé is considered gender-neutral.)
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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".
This may be compared to usage of the word man to humans in general.
Gender-specific pronouns were also prescribed when one might presume that most members of some group are the same gender (although in recent times, such presumptions are seen as offensive).
The use of "he", "him" or "his" to be used as a gender-neutral pronoun, however, is today seen by some as prejudicial.
Some authors though, turn the convention of the "universal he" upon its head and instead use "she" as referring to a subject of unknown gender. For example, Shafi Goldwasser, a noted female computer scientist—computer science being a field largely dominated by men—uses the pronoun "she" exclusively in her Lecture Notes on Cryptography in reference to cryptographic adversaries. The use of the 'universal she' is also common in contemporary English-speaking Philosophy.
Since at least the 15th century, "they" (though, as with singular "you", used with verbs conjugated in the plural, not the singular), "them", "themself", "themselves", and "their" have been used, in an increasingly more accepted fashion, as singular pronouns. This usage of the word "they" is often thus called the singular "they". The singular "they" is widely used and accepted in Britain, Australia, and North America in conversation. It is important to note that this is not recognized by the SAT and other standardized tests. Many of the older examples include "each" or "every" or similar, causing mental admixture with genuine plural.
In modern colloquial speech, sometimes "they" is used even when the gender of the subject is obvious; "they" implies a generic (or representative of type class) rather than individuated interpretation:
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Some sentences can be rephrased to use the impersonal pronoun "one". However, in most informal contexts this usage of "one" is becoming increasingly uncommon, and being replaced by an impersonal usage of "you". Compare:
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It is contended that none of the traditional options is completely satisfactory. The universal grammatically correct "he", in particular, has been a source of controversy. The 19th and 20th centuries saw an upsurge in consciousness and advocacy of gender equity. In that context, the traditional use of the universal "he" appears biased toward men and against women. More gender-equitable suggestions have therefore been introduced.
The periphrastics "she or he", "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", "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.
Authors sometimes employ rubrics for selecting "she" or "he" such as
Some groups and individuals have 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). The American Heritage Book of English Usage says of these efforts:
Like most efforts at language reform, these well-intended suggestions have been largely ignored by the general English-speaking public, and the project to supplement the English pronoun system has proved to be an ongoing exercise in futility. Pronouns are one of the most basic components of a language, and most speakers appear to have little interest in adopting invented ones. This may be because in most situations people can get by using the plural pronoun they or using other constructions that combine existing pronouns, such as he/she or "he or she".
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.
The pronoun "phe" was coined at Brown University and is now used by The Female Sexuality Workshop at the University.
Within the fictional Orion's Arm universe, populated with many genetically-altered humans, alien, and artificial lifeforms, there are many possible genders, so terms such as "e", "em", "eir" are commonly used to avoid confusion.
The following table summarizes the foregoing approaches.
|Nominative (subject)||Oblique (object)||Possessive determiner||Possessive pronoun||Reflexive|
|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|
|It||It laughed||I called it||Its eyes gleam||That is its||It likes itself|
|One||One laughed||I called one||One's eyes gleam||That is one's||One likes oneself|
|Conventions based on traditional pronouns|
|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/rself|
|Singular they||They laughed||I called them||Their eyes gleam||That is theirs||They like themself|
|Spivak (old)||E laughed||I called em||Eir eyes gleam||That is eirs||E likes eirself|
|Spivak (new)||Ey laughed||I called em||Eir eyes gleam||That is eirs||Ey likes emself|
|Humanist||Hu laughed||I called hum||Hus eyes gleam||That is hus||Hu likes humself|
|Per||Per laughed||I called per||Per eyes gleam||That is pers||Per likes perself|
|Thon||Thon laughed||I called thon||Thons eyes gleam||That is thons||Thon likes thonself|
|Ve||Ve laughed||I called ver||Vis eyes gleam||That is vis||Ve likes verself|
|Xe||Xe laughed||I called xem||Xyr eyes gleam||That is xyrs||Xe likes xemself|
|Ze (or zie or sie) and zir||Ze laughed||I called zir/zem||Zir/Zes eyes gleam||That is zirs/zes||Ze likes zirself|
|Ze (or zie or sie) and hir||Ze laughed||I called hir||Hir eyes gleam||That is hirs||Ze likes hirself|
|Ze and mer||Ze laughed||I called mer||Zer eyes gleam||That is zers||Ze likes zemself|
|Zhe, Zher, Zhim||Zhe laughed||I called zhim||Zher eyes gleam||That is zhers||Zhe likes zhimself|
|Yo ||Yo laughed||I called yo||Yos eyes gleam||That is yos||Yo likes yoself|
Esperanto has no official gender-neutral pronouns, but there are several unofficial proposals – see the article for details.
In Estonian nouns and pronouns do not have grammatical gender.
The Finnish language does not support gender-specific pronouns. The main division in the third person singular pronoun is between humans ("hän") and animal/inanimate ("se").
Georgian, a South Caucasian language, has gender-neutral pronouns.
The gender-neutral pronoun "man", used similarly to the English pronoun "one", is widely used in both written and spoken German.
Hebrew has no gender neutral pronouns, everything (every noun,verb or adverb) in Hebrew is either male or female. In case of a group of mixed items of mixed genders, if the group in itself does not have a gender attached to it then it will be referenced as male.
In Irish, the masculine singular pronoun sé is used when referring to masculine nouns, and the feminine when referring to feminine nouns; however, when referring to persons, the masculine or feminine pronoun is normally used for male or female persons respectively, regardless of grammatical gender. There is no gender-neutral pronoun, and official usage varies between systematically using sé nó sí ["him or her"] or using the pronoun of the appropriate gender for the noun referred to. However, the third-person masculine plural disappeared from Irish, and the (originally) feminine siad is now used for all instances of "they".
Japanese does not have pronouns in the Indo-European sense, but does have nouns that are similar to pronouns. For example, kare (彼?) and kanojo (彼女?) can be used for "he" and "she". However, kare in its plural form may supposedly refer to a group of mixed gender. Depending on context, kare or kanojo may also refer to "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" respectively. This is not commonplace and the phrase ano hito (あの人?, lit. "that person") and other similar phrases would be more appropriate. The most common way to refer to another person is by title or affiliation, e.g. buchō (部長?, director) or Hitachi-san (Mr./Mrs./Ms. Hitachi). In general, the Japanese avoid using pronouns when they can be determined from context, and often use a person's name where English would use a pronoun. This can be seen in the custom of often referring to oneself by name rather than by watashi (私?) most commonly by women or boku (僕?) by men, both meaning "I/myself".
The English titles of "Mr", "Mrs", "Miss", "Ms" are all irrelevant as all people are referred to by the suffix -san (さん?). The more polite -sama (様?) suffix is used only in certain contexts with people who are superior in social standing to you, and is also gender-neutral in usage. The most polite suffix -dono (殿?) usually, but not always, refers to males, and is rarely used in modern speech. Both -sama (様?) and -dono (殿?) should be used with caution, and only with more than basic understanding of Japanese social structures.
There is a distinction between animate and inanimate, but this is restricted to the verbs that mean "to exist": iru (いる?, animate) and aru (ある?, inanimate) and does not extend to pronouns. There is no equivalent of "it"; instead something like "this/that thing" (この/あの物 kono/ano mono ) would be used, although often the subject or topic would be left out and determined from context.
Japanese does have different styles of speech for men and women – see gender differences in spoken Japanese – so it would be inaccurate to say that the language is entirely gender-neutral. However, for the equivalent of pronouns and titles, the language is essentially gender-neutral.
All pronouns, and nearly all nouns are gender-neutral in Kiswahili, and gender must be either inferred through context or by addition of a specific gendered descriptor. For instance, the compound word "anaenda" means either "he is going" or "she is going," and the plural construction "wanaenda" means "they are going" where "they" could be all male, all female, or a mix. Similarly the word "mtu" means a person of either gender, and "mtoto" is a child of either gender. A boy would be specified as "mtoto mvulana," which translates as "boy-child."
Before industrialization, in Korean 그 (geu) meant "he", "she", and "it" like Chinese tā. But in Modern Korean geu usually means "he". 그녀 (geu-nyeo) with the suffix -녀(女, -nyeo) meaning woman, is used for "she". However, nowadays, massmedia use a gender-neutral pronoun "그 (geu)" to refer to a person of either gender as before, but there is no confusion because there is a very weak concept of gender in Korean.
그것 (geu-geot) means "it".
Sometimes geu-nyeo means more than "she" as pronoun, because the word 그 (geu) is also used to show definiteness, like the definite article "that" in English.
In Mongolian, the word ter (тэр) is used for both she and he.
In Nahuatl, all pronouns and pronoun affixes are independent of gender.
The Persian language has no trace of grammatical gender: "he"," she", and "it" are all expressed by the same pronoun u (Persian: او.) This lack of specification has allowed for fluidity in reading the gender of both human lovers and the divine beloved in Persian poetry.
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, Portuguese and Catalan also determine the gender of object but not of the possessor, by possessive pronouns. Seu stands for a masculine object in both languages (o seu livro/el seu llibre), while Portuguese uses sua and Catalan seva, seua or sa for feminine ones (a sua mansão/la seva mansió). In some Brazilian sociolects and in rapid speech in all of its dialects, the ⟨u⟩ in sua may be completely elided, making pairs where Brazilian Portuguese and Catalan terms do not differ significantly in pronunciation and meaning.
In contrast, Spanish possessive pronouns agree neither with the gender of the possessor nor with 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.
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.
In Russian(a Slavic Indo-European language) there are three grammatical genders: male, female and neuter. "он"(on) is used for he, "она"(ona) for she, and "оно"(ono) is a neuter pronoun. In the plural "они" (oni), used for they, is gender-neutral. .
All Turkish pronouns, like the other members in the family of Turkic languages, are gender-inclusive. The English pronouns "he", "she", and "it" all correspond to the only Turkish third-person singular personal pronoun o.
Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian belong to the Uralic languages family of languages (thus not Indo-European) languages. All pronouns are gender-neutral. The third-person singular and plural personal pronouns are hän and he in Finnish, tema (ta) and nemad (nad) in Estonian and ő and ők in Hungarian, respectively, which always refer to persons or animals.
In the last few decades the Finnish spoken language has also moved in this direction. The third-person singular and plural are, respectively, se and ne, which according to the written language specifications refer to an inanimate object or an animal. In informal spoken Finnish, se and ne are routinely used in reference to humans of either gender, animals, and inanimate objects or entities. The distinction between "hän" and "se" is retained in formal situations and in written Finnish except reported informal speech. Thus, at a time when English is moving towards gender-neutrality, Finnish is moving to species-neutrality.
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Lettris is a curious tetris-clone game where all the bricks have the same square shape but different content. Each square carries a letter. To make squares disappear and save space for other squares you have to assemble English words (left, right, up, down) from the falling squares.
Boggle gives you 3 minutes to find as many words (3 letters or more) as you can in a grid of 16 letters. You can also try the grid of 16 letters. Letters must be adjacent and longer words score better. See if you can get into the grid Hall of Fame !
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