There have been attempts to use other contemporary English pronouns to stand-in as a true gender-neutral pronoun, given that English is lacking a commonly-accepted one for adult humans (non-humans and even babies can be referred to as 'it'). Examples of this include 'he/she', 'one', and the singular 'they'.

However, these can be confused with the contemporary pronouns which have been used as stand-ins, and they can at times be awkward to use. Other pronouns exist which can avoid this problem, such as 'thon', which seems to have historically picked up the most momentum, and was in the dictionary as recently as 1964!

Which are the most commonly used gender-neutral pronouns in English around the world today, to be used when referring back to an adult human, that aren't the same as other contemporary pronouns?

  • possible duplicate of Gender neutral pronoun – MrHen Jun 5 '11 at 12:22
  • This is not a dupe. That question is talking about a very specific choice between two pronouns. – Jez Jun 5 '11 at 16:22
  • @Jez: I disagree. But even if it isn't a dupe, than it should be closed for other reasons. If you are curious about thon, ask a question about thon. – MrHen Jun 5 '11 at 17:30
  • 3
    'thon' was an example. This question is clearly about gender-neutral pronouns in general. – Jez Jun 5 '11 at 18:35
  • 1
    Question edited to be more unique. – Jez Jun 6 '11 at 14:32

Ze and hir have been around for some time, although they haven't gained much traction in the cis community. There're more listed here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-neutral_pronoun#Modern_solutions

  • Thanks for pointing out "ze" and "hir". I've often seen "ze" and "hir" used to refer to a particular person who's genderqueer/non-binary. Are these pronouns also used to refer to some generic/hypothetical person whose gender could be anything? – jlstrecker Apr 3 '14 at 16:00

There are no such pronouns in common use in any major dialect of English, though that's not for lack of trying. Since at least the 1850s, various linguistic do-gooders have proposed more than 80 potential gender-neutral pronouns, none of which ever gained traction. A sampling:

thon, thons; ne, nis, nim; hi, hes, hem; e, es, em; ir, iro, im; ip, ips; he'er, him'er, his'er, his'er's; te, tes, tir; shis, shims, shim, shimself; zie , zees, zim, zeeself; per, pers

All of these have the significant drawback of being ridiculous, which is probably the reason singular they is the only option that's come close to mainstream acceptance. Until the prescriptivists accept singular they, we're stuck with rewriting to eliminate the gender-specific pronoun.

  • 3
    Voted you down because of your random subjective assertion that these proposals are 'ridiculous'. I think several of them would work just fine. – Jez Jun 5 '11 at 15:12
  • 1
    @Jez: The subjective assertion is a problem with how you asked the question. – MrHen Jun 5 '11 at 17:32
  • Elaborate. I don't see how the asking of the question is a problem (seriously.) – Jez Jun 5 '11 at 19:39
  • 2
    How is the question too subjective? I'm asking which pronouns are common in English today; this is looking for a purely factual answer. – Jez Jun 5 '11 at 19:52
  • 4
    +1 "Somewhat unusual" would be misleading to beginner ESL students, who might actually use one of these words. Many people, including me, will at least chuckle if decorum permits; this would seem to warrant "ridiculous"—though perhaps jocular would provide a friendlier perspective. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jun 6 '11 at 0:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.