Question: gender neutral pronouns

Gemma asks…

Hi, I’ve recently decided that I want to try out using gender neutral pronouns. However, I’m not a fan of the ze/hir. I’ve been trying to look up different ones and I’m just not sure what to use. How do other people choose what pronouns they want to use for themselves?

Please post your response in the comments below.

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Posted by on April 10th, 2012 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 25 comments »

25 Responses to “Question: gender neutral pronouns”

  1. Elle

    If you don’t like sie/zie and hir/zir (I personally don’t like the Z words) try using “they” as both a singular and a plural. It can take a while to get used to the singular they but it works.


  2. Eli

    I second the singular they. Some people don’t like it because of grammar “rules,” but being “correct” and being respectful are sometimes mutually exclusive.


    Greg K Nicholson replied:

    Being respectful is always correct.


    Meike replied:

    Hear, hear!


    ME replied:

    Incidentally, “they” was in use as a singular pronoun until the 1850’s- it was used for any stranger(regardless of gender) in order to show respect, as seen in early Biblical verses. However, in the mid 18th century, British lawmakers decided to switch to “he” as the default generic pronoun in order to shorten their legal documents. True story.

  3. lunasphere

    A little confused on using “they” as a singular pronoun. Are you supposed to use “they are going” for one person since that’s how we’re used to using “they”, or is “they is going” any more correct since it’s a singular pronoun in this case? Either way seems awkward but still less jarring than Z pronouns.


    shaedofblue replied:

    They are going.
    Just like you use “you are going” even when “you” is one person.


    Meike replied:

    Oh, I guess I thought it would be “they is going”, because if you were to substitute masculine or feminine pronouns in there it would be “he is going” or “she is going”. Am I wrong, or is there the distinction between singular “they is” and plural “they are”?


    ME replied:

    Nope, definitely conjugate it as “they are”. Just like shadeofblue noted, “are” isn’t exclusively used to indicate the plural.

  4. Jak

    I’ve seen people use Vie/Vir/Vem before.


  5. Thomas

    I’ve seen (and recently adopted) ey/eir/em as singular conjugations of they/their/them. It helps with the grammar rules and still keeps it gender neutral. I’m also finding it rolls off the tongue easier than zie/zir, and is close enough that others seem to accept it without question.


  6. XylophoneGender

    This is, by far, the best pronoun resource I’ve come upon:
    The site has its own helpful set of links here:


  7. Gemma

    Thanks so much everyone :)
    Just curious: how did you choose your pronouns? Or, what about certain ones did you like?


  8. Jordan

    I am a big fan of they singular. I just think it sounds nicer & more farmiliar than any of the other gender neuteral pronouns. I was actually called that once while waiting for a yoga class. We’ll the lady said it to my ride because she wasn’t quite sure if I was a man or women & when I heard it I thought “you know what, I kind of like how that sounds.”
    It kind of expresses the plurality of my gender sometimes a bit masculine, sometimes a little bit femine.


  9. XauriEL

    Singular they, all the way. And people who argue about whether it’s ‘grammatically correct’ or not — a) need to check their privilege, b) need to learn some linguistics, and c) are factually incorrect in any case, since it’s been in common use for centuries & by many of the English language’s most celebrated literary authors.

    I’m also a big fan of the Finnish third-person pronouns — han (subject case), hanet (subject case), hanen (posessive case). Fun fact, Finnish does not have gendered third-person pronouns. This made me smile widely when I learned it.


  10. Jay

    I use ve/vim/vis (or vir)

    I mostly chose them because they’re fun. ‘Vim’ reminds me of ‘vim and vigour’, and you can explain it to people by saying ‘Ve – as in, ve vants to suck your blood’.


  11. Thomas

    I recently read a blog post where the blogger was discussing an incident involving a friend using the singular they, and a group they were interacting with using the plural they. It became super confusing super quickly to differentiate whether “they” was the friend, or the group of others. Singular they can lead to confusion.


    tigr replied:

    No more confusion than when you talk about, say, two men, and use “he” to refer to both of them! Or when you talk about two different groups of people. Or when you talk with a couple of people and it’s not always clear whether you mean “you (one person)” or “you (all of you)”. Language isn’t perfect! (Lojban, however, is less ambiguous than most others.) I’m quite fond of singular they, actually, because it is very natural and people don’t even look weird. Honestly, I’ve heard so many native English speakers use singular they without batting an eye-lid — but when you explicitly say “I’d like to be referred to as ‘they'” they go all “u r wrong!11 grammar!!11!” on you…


    radical/rebel replied:

    that’s true! we use “they” for people of indeterminate gender, or when we’re not thinking about it, unconsciously all the time! I often hear people who aren’t tuned in to gender neutral pronouns say things like “oh, they just dropped this off” when referring to a person. we’re already using “they” to refer to a single person. it’s not all that awkward to use it just because someone actually wants us to.


  12. Meike

    Singular they is my favorite by far, although I’ve been considering Spivak pronouns (ey/eir/em)


  13. Matt

    I am a “one”, as in “this one” “that one” “one or the other”. “When one is forced into a false dichotomy, one must fight back.” I also prefer words like: dinosaur, musician, queerling.


  14. Matt

    Well, actually, I’m a genderbeast, but we’re just talking pronouns, right?


  15. sasha

    First of all, the Spivak pronouns are e/em/eir, not ey/em/eir, which are actually Elverson pronouns. Nonetheless, I love these two sets because they are easy to remember and pronounce. I actually recently came out in high school (a few days ago), and I’m using the elverson version. However, I think this might have been a mistake because e seems to flow better than ey. I guess I’ll just stick with ey so that I don’t confuse people any more than I already have.


  16. Picking Flowers

    I’m also trying to pick a gender neutral pronoun for myself and I’ve found great difficulty in it. I see a lot of people here prefer ‘they.’ And the very few people I’ve found in real life seem to prefer this too, but I’m baffled to as why. It’s so impersonal to me.

    When I hear the word ‘they’ I don’t think of a person or individual, I think of a group of people, or worse an establishment of some kind. Like when people are complaining about ‘those people’ and I usually interject with “who do you mean by they” to get them to stop, because they’re about to generalize an entire group of people.

    I just want to make absolutely certain that people are thinking of us as a individuals and not things. Especially since we already are battling this issue in the LGBT community with people referring to us as ‘it’ a lot of the time precisely because we DON’T have a gender neutral pronoun. This has happened to me a few times and it’s very hurtful.

    I’m also seeing a lot of hate for the grammar issues. But I’ve got to tell you, I’m a writer. And I just tried replacing ‘he’ with ‘they’ for a character in some of my previously written work to see if it would flow.

    It doesn’t. Not at all. It’s terribly, horrifically, confusing, especially when he goes on a date with his boyfriend. As a couple the word ‘they’ pops up a lot anyway, so to add even extra ‘they’s’ to refer to only one of them made a hot mess. And trying to read even just one paragraph with it was a huge jumble of WTF. It’s impossible to write a novel with.

    With the very brief research I’ve been doing so far, I’m really liking e/em/eir. It’s sounds similar to they/they’re. etc, so people already using ‘they’ wouldn’t have very much of a difficult transition to make, but at the same time, it’s clear you’re referring to an individual instead of say, a couple, a group, or an establishment.


  17. Interested in Ey/Eir/Em

    @picking flowers, I also like e/em but somewhere I read that this is problematic because e sounds like he if you drop the h. Maybe that poster was British?

    I really like ey, since it avoids that issue (for Brits) and has the advantage of incorporating the last sound of “they” which many people like already as a gender neutral pronoun. All around think em is awesome… feels natural to me…I think it’s cool that half of “they” and “them” are used to make the singular.

    Eir ….well, I keep trying, but I can’t say it naturally in a sentence. Is it pronounced like the air we breathe, or half of “their”? When I try a few trial sentences I’m having trouble saying it naturally. Another idea might be to use “ey’s” (perhaps spelled eys). For example: On the way to the store, Ey fell and broke eys clavicle.”

    I’m not a fan of the singular they, not because of grammar but because of some confusion and misunderstandings I’ve been experiencing as more and more people in my circle of friends have started using it. For example, here’s something a friend said to me–with the names and locations changed to protect the innocent:

    “I’m not sure Zander and Janet are together anymore. They had moved to Poughkeepsie together because of Janet’s job. Zander hated it there, and now they moved to Ohio.”

    I was like, wait, WHAT, who moved? If this had been an ey or e pronoun it would have been clear. And granted, the speaker should have taken the time to say that Zander moved to Ohio, while Janet stayed in Poughkeepsie. But it’s a fact that people speak quickly and sloppily, and a distinction between singular and plural pronouns can be very helpful in aiding comprehension under less-than-ideal circumstances.

    There’s a great precedent for a singular gender-neutral pronoun: The Swedish “Han.” From what I hear it’s working very well there…


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