Will we ever come up with non-gender specific pronouns and possessive pronouns for the English language? It seems that there are many new words in the English language every year, so why not gender-neutral pronouns? This would solve many problems, in literature and in everyday life.

closed as primarily opinion-based by GEdgar, cobaltduck, choster, Hellion, ab2 Oct 18 '16 at 21:25

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  • 1
    For example. If one wants to X, he should Y. Transforms to : If one wants to X, they should Y. The use of "one" earlier makes it clear "they" is being used as a singular gender-neutral pronoun. Example 2: One who wants to fly on a plane must be prepared to have his luggage inspected. One who wants to fly on a plane must be prepared to have their luggage inspected. There is no need for anything new in the language. – developerwjk Oct 18 '16 at 18:37
  • Looks like you ask for opinions? – GEdgar Oct 18 '16 at 18:48
  • I agree that they/their used as singular whatever they are are gender-free and perfectly adequate. But every now and then, there is a suggestion to introduce new words or constructions. One I remember is to restore the Anglo-Saxon (and Icelandic) letter thorn [presumably with the soft th pronunciation of ASE, and not the hard th of the edh, which it superseded in Middle (?) English), and have words such as [thorn]is (in place of his), etc. Non-native English speakers would appreciate the restoration of both thorn & edh, since it would differentiate soft and hard th sounds. – David Handelman Oct 18 '16 at 20:51
  • Suggestion " ~e" as pronoun and " ~s " as non-gender possessive pronoun respectively. :) and " ~m" as accusative pronoun. ( Derived from male but ~ makes it genderless ). – Narasimham Oct 18 '16 at 21:45
  • @developerwjk I think you meant obviously singular antecedents; the verbs remain plural. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 19 '16 at 7:31

Permit me to use 'the aforementioned' as the pronoun as it works in a similar way (pronouns are recollective and direct you to 'the aforementioned' person mentioned).

Tell me if this sounds ambiguous or if it does not: Monica went to the park with Jacob. They really enjoyed their time. The aforementioned said to the aforementioned "want to go to the mall?" The aforementioned said "sure."

Or, you can write it as such: Monica went to the park with Jacob. They really enjoyed their time. [She] said to [him] "want to go the the mall?" He said "sure."

I couldn't care less for whatever ideological rhetoric might come from the far left regarding pronouns. They're useful to remove ambiguity from language. It would be an absolute mess to have non-gender specific pronouns because it would never call directly back to the individual you intended. If the pronoun is nonspecific, it could just as easily mean "Monica" as it could "Jacob," even given proper context.

It is simply easier, for all linguistic purposes, to separate pronouns by sex rather than catering to every complaint by a new, unaffected minority.


One could argue that we already came up with such pronouns in the 1980s with suggestions like Ze, Zir, Zirs or E, Em, Eirs1. The fact that they have not been legitimized as a formal part of the English Language by popular usage has little to do with merely making them. Since the latter set of pronouns, known as spivak pronouns, has not yet been adopted, I fail to see us adopting any set of such pronouns in the near future, particularly since they are allegedly improvements upon award the award winning entries for a 1975 Chicago contest2, which were ey, em and eir. I am presuming that a contest would have a variety of proposals, and that the winner of the contest would be the very best of those. If even the best can not succeed, it stands to reason that the rest will not either, so I am doubtful that such neologisms will see much success in the future.

However with that having been said, 'e3 and 'em4 are often used as informal contractions, and I would note that the contraction for 'e in particular conveniently removes the portion of the word that allows you to distinguish between genders, so I do think 'e is a somewhat acceptable option irrespective of whether Spivak pronouns see widespread adoption. Personal experience in online chats has indicated that such a use of 'e is still considered conspicuous though.

Otherwise all signs point to singular they as being considered the most appropriate option for a neuter pronoun in the immediate future. The conservative American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel holds5 that it is premature to do this, with the usage panel's acceptance changed from a reported 80% in 1996 to 62% in 2008 and then 58% in 20156. The seemingly more liberal American Dialectical Society7 has given it the award of word of the year, during its 26th annual vote in 2015, for the reason "They was recognized by the society for its emerging use as a pronoun to refer to a known person, often as a conscious choice by a person rejecting the traditional gender binary of he and she." Somewhere between the two is the Washington Post, which accepted singular they in its style guide8 but only as a last resort. These events, which mostly occured in 2015, seem indicative of a general trend from this presently being generally unaccepted, towards being a normalized and perhaps even preferred option in the future. Naturally what applies to they, also applies to them and theirs.

That is the extent to which I think we can make an educated guess as to what the future will be, although naturally only time can tell what will actually happen.


1 Language and Gender, second edition, page 217, written by Penelope Eckert and Sally McConnell-Ginet and published by Cambridge University Press on Feburary 7th 2013 | I.S.B.N. 978-1-107-02905-7
2 Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen written by Mary and published by Norris Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc. on March 31st 2015 | I.S.B.N. 978-0-393-24660-5
3 Pronuncian.com Podcast Episode 16: Reduced Pronouns: 'he, him, her,' and 'them'
(Wayback Machine/Archive.is)
4 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition, s.v. 'em
5 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition, s.v. them
6 The American Heritage Dictionary Tumblr: Updated Usage Note: They (Wayback Machine/Webcite)
7American Dialect Society Website: 2015 Word of the Year is singular “they” (Wayback Machine/Archive.is)
8 The Post drops the ‘mike’ — and the hyphen in ‘e-mail’ by Bill Walsh for the Washington Post
(Wayback Machine/Archive.is)