Pronouns are words that can substitute for a noun. Personal pronouns are used to refer to a person when not using their name,[1] and they are the type of pronouns meant when discussing a person's pronouns. Although the topic of personal pronouns has been associated with the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly with people who are transgender or non-binary,[2][3][4] everyone has pronouns. They are not something only certain types of people have.[5]

Which pronouns a person uses should not be assumed or guessed.[4][5][6] In English, some pronouns have strong social associations with a specific gender identity, typically she/her with women and he/him with men.[6] Although certain pronouns are used more often by certain genders, pronouns do not necessarily indicate an individual's gender identity.[2][5][7] For instance, someone who uses the pronouns she/her may be a genderfluid[6] or agender person instead of a binary female person.[2] When someone's pronouns are not known, using the gender neutral singular they/them is recommended.[3][6][8] The singular they/them is grammatically correct;[9] more importantly, it is respectful.[3][6][8]

Using pronouns

Pronouns take the place of a noun or refer to a noun. The functions of personal pronouns are:[10]

  • Subject: The person as the subject of a verb; the person doing the action[10]
  • Object: The person as the object of a verb; the person acted upon or following a preposition (like "in" or "near")[10]
  • Possessive:
    • Possessive adjective (aka possessive determiner): Modifies a noun to show who possesses it[11]
    • Possessive pronoun: Replaces a noun to show ownership[10]
  • Reflexive: Referring back to the person who is the subject of a verb to show the same person is also the object of the action; -self or -selves added[10]

Commonly known and used personal pronouns include:[12]

Subject Object Possessive adjective (determiner) Possessive pronoun Reflexive
she her her hers herself
he him his his himself
they them their theirs themselves / themself
it it its its itself
one one one's one's oneself

She/her is generally associated with feminine identity, but not limited to it; he/him is likewise generally, but not necessarily, masculine. Singular they/them is often used as a gender neutral kind of pronoun. It/its is used by some people, but it should never be used if it is not explicitly that person's pronoun; "it/its" has a history of transphobic use,[13] and in English is almost exclusively used to indicate non-human objects.[14] One/one's is used as a personal pronoun less often than its use in formal English to refer to a generic or hypothetical person rather than a specific one. People may use multiple pronouns; for example, a person may be comfortable with both "he/him" and "she/her", or "he/him" and "it/its".[12] Some who go by multiple pronouns don't mind if you stick to just one set of them, but some may prefer that you switch them around sometimes.[15] It is better to ask them what they prefer. Some individuals prefer to be called only by their name, and do not identify as using any sort of pronouns.[16]

Some increasingly common practices at workplaces, schools, and universities are stating one's own pronouns during an introduction, listing personal pronouns in e-mail signatures, or wearing university or work badges that indicate the wearer's pronouns. It is often recommended to be very straightforward and casual about one's pronouns, as it is a simple bit of information that is needed to know how to refer to someone. If another person's pronouns are unknown, it is considered polite to privately ask the person about their pronouns in order to refer to them correctly. When someone mistakenly uses the wrong pronoun, it is considered polite to briefly apologize and then continue speaking or writing with the correct pronouns.[17][18][19][20][21][22][23]


Misgendering is using an incorrect pronoun when referring to someone.[24] It usually happens due to assuming one's gender identity and pronouns, instead of checking, asking or using gender neutral terms. Intentional misgendering is especially harmful to transgender people and is a form of psychological mistreatment and lack of respect.[25][26] In 2021, the human rights tribunal in British Columbia, Canada, ruled that deliberate misgendering is a human rights violation.[27] It is a proven fact that respecting one's name and pronouns is beneficial for mental health. In a study on misgendering, 32.8 percent of participants reported feeling very stigmatized when misgendered; frequent misgendering made people feel that their identity was very important, but made them experience lower self-esteem around their appearance.[28] In another study, compared to those without chosen name usage, which is related to respecting one's identity and pronouns, trans people with chosen name usage experienced a 71% drop in severe depression, a 34% drop suicidal ideation, and 65% drop in suicide attempts.[29]


Neopronouns are personal pronouns coined as an alternative to existing third-person singular pronouns.[30] The prefix "neo-" means new or modern, and the term "neopronouns" has been in use for several years, though the exact origin of the term is unknown. Pronouns in English are one of several closed word classes, meaning that their meanings do not change nor are new words added frequently.[31] As such, neopronouns are generally not officially recognized within their language; however some dictionaries are beginning to include new gender-neutral pronouns.[32]

Neopronouns are not inherently associated with any gender identity. Though they are less widely used, neopronouns can be used in speech and text, as with common personal pronouns.[12] In a 2020 study conducted by The Trevor Project, 4% of approximately 40,000 LGBTQIA+ youth used neopronouns, with 1% using "ze/zir/zirs".[33]

People who use neopronouns may also have "auxiliary pronouns". These pronouns are usually he/him, she/her, or they/them, and serve as alternatives for situations where one's neopronouns cannot be used (such as by some people with learning disabilities, or when a language barrier is present). This term has been used in the community since 2014.[34]


In his 1920 novel A Voyage to Arcturus, David Lindsday coined the pronoun "ae" for use by his fictitious alien race, who were "born from air and of a third sex."[35]

In 1970, Mary Orovan published a pamphlet titled humanizing english, which originally proposed the use of "co" as a third-person neutral pronoun, while later publishings proposed "e".[36] The "co" pronoun is currently used as a neutral pronoun in legal policies of the Twin Oaks community, located in Virginia.[37]

The pronouns "ve/vir/vis" were created early in the 1970s, with their first recorded use being in the May 1970 edition of Everywoman.[38] They were later featured in The Bone People (1984) by Keri Hulme, and Greg Egan's books Distress (1995) and Diasopora (1998).[39][40]

In 2018, the pronoun "ze" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2018,[41] followed by "hir" and "zir" in 2019.[42]

In 2021, social media platform Instagram introduced an optional "pronouns" field to their user profiles.[43] This section came with a list of pronoun options, of which a user could select any four, but not fill in pronouns themself — presumably to prevent abuse of the feature.
The list of pronouns you could select from included several neopronoun sets, with "co/cos", "e/em/eir", "fae/faer", "per/pers", and "mer/mers" featured, among others;[44] Instagram has given no indication of why these pronouns were selected in particular. The explicit inclusion of neopronouns in this feature reflects a growing consciousness of neopronouns among both the general public and corporations.


Common neopronouns include:[12]

Subject Object Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive
ae aer aer aers aerself
ey em eir eirs emself
fae faer faer faers faerself
xe xem xyr xyrs xemself
ze hir hir hirs hirself
ze zir zir zirs zirself

Less common neopronouns include:[12]

Subject Object Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive
co co cos cos coself
e em eir eirs eirself
e em es ems emself
hu hum hus hus huself
ne nem nir nirs nemself
ne nir nir nirs nirself
per per per pers perself
s/he hir hir hirs hirself
thon thon thons thons thonself
ve ver vis vers verself
vi vir vis virs virself
vi vim vis vims vimself
zhe zher zher zhers zherself

Gender neutral pronouns in gendered languages

Some languages do not have gendered pronouns, but many languages lack a gender neutral pronoun that can be used to refer to a person whose gender is unknown or someone non-binary, equivalent to the English singular "they". There are attempts to create new gender neutral pronouns for gendered languages. A successful example is Swedish; in 2014, the gender neutral pronoun "hen" was added to the Swedish Academy Dictionary and has become widely understood since. "Hen" was created by changing the vowel in the existing "han" ("he") and "hon" ("she").[45]

French is an official language in France, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Some non-binary French speakers use the pronoun "on" (which can mean "they", "he", "she", or "one" depending on the context) as a personal pronoun. Others have taken "il" ("he") and changed the first vowel to create "ol" and "ul" as gender neutral pronouns; however, these have not been widely recognized.[45] In 2021, the major French dictionary Le Robert added the neopronoun "iel/iels" as a third-person neutral pronoun;[46] French previously did not have any official neutral pronouns. It is alleged that the term was created in 2013 as a portmanteau of "il" and "elle", the masculine and feminine French pronouns.[47]



  1. "Pronoun Definition & Meaning". Merriam-Webster.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Holleb, Morgan Lev Edward. The A-Z of Gender and Sexuality: From Ace to Ze. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2019. ISBN 9781784506636.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Pronouns". LGBT Foundation. (Archived on February 10, 2022).
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Trevor Project: "A Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth" (2021-07-14). (Archived on February 5, 2022).
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 The Trans Language Primer: "Pronouns". The Trans Language Primer. (Archived on February 10, 2022).
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Hardell, Ash. The ABC's of LGBT+. Mango Media Inc., 2016. ISBN 9781633534087.
  7. "Pronouns & Gender Identity—Ask, Don't Assume!". Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center, Inc.. (Archived on February 9, 2022).
  8. 8.0 8.1 The Trans Language Primer: "Misgendering". The Trans Language Primer. (Archived on November 2, 2021).
  9. "They Definition & Meaning". Merriam-Webster.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Shrives, Craig: "What Are Pronouns in English Grammar?". Grammar Monster. (Archived on February 11, 2022).
  11. Shrives, Craig: "What Are Possessive Adjectives? (with Examples)". Grammar Monster. (Archived on February 11, 2022).
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 The "Neutral Language Council" collective: "List of popular pronouns". (Archived on February 13, 2022).
  13. "Gender Pronouns". University of Milwaukee.
  14. "It Definition & Meaning". Merriam-Webster.
  15. "How To Affirm the People in Your Life Who Use Multiple Sets of Pronouns". (Archived on February 21, 2022).
  16. "Gender Census 2021 Worldwide Results". "None/avoid pronouns – 12.6% [approximately 5,617 out of 44,583 responses]"
  17. "Pronoun guide" (2020). University of Essex.
  18. "Good Practices: Names and Pronouns". University of Maryland.
  19. "Using Pronouns".
  20. "Genderr Specific and Gender Neutral Pronouns". Light Up The Sky.
  21. "Talking About Pronouns in the Workplace". Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
  22. Cohen, Paige, & Zheng, Lily: "How to Talk About Pronouns at Work: A Visual Guide" (September 28, 2021). Harvard Business Review.
  23. Andrea: "Why all cis allies should have pronouns in their bio" (July 18, 2020). Avris.
  24. "Misgneder Definition & Meaning". Merriam-Webster.
  25. Katz-Wise, Sabra: "Misgendering: What it is and why it matters" (July 23, 2021). Harvard Health Publishing.
  26. Clements, K. C.: "What Is Misgendering? Here's Why It's Harmful and How to Apologize If You Do It" (October 19, 2017). Healthline.
  27. Wakefield, Lily: "Deliberate misgendering violates human rights, Canada tribunal rules" (October 3, 2021). Pink News.
  28. McLemore, Kevin. Experiences with Misgendering: Identity Misclassification of Transgender Spectrum Individuals. Self and Identity, August 21, 2015. (web archive)
  29. Chosen Name Use Is Linked to Reduced Depressive Symptoms, Suicidal Ideation, and Suicidal Behavior Among Transgender Youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, March 30, 2018. (web archive)
  30. McGaughey, Sebastian. "Understanding Neopronouns". The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide. vol. 27, no. 2, March–April 2020.
  31. Blaylock, Reed: "For linguists, it was the decade of the pronoun" (2020-01-08). USC Dornsife.
  32. "Gender neutral pronouns" (2018-03-01).
  33. "Pronoun Usage Among LGBTQ Youth" (July 29, 2020). The Trevor Project.
  34. Anonymous: "Ask a Non-Binary" (May 30, 2014). Tumblr.
  35. Stitt, ALex: "Pronoun Diversity" (August 10, 2020). Psychology Today.
  36. Orovan, Mary. humanizing english. 1970. (web archive)
  37. "Twin Oaks International Community Membership Agreement". Twin Oaks Community.
  38. "Everywoman" (1970-05-29). "[...] I see no reason why everyone, child and adult, female and male, can't use Pn. before vis first name when ve doesn't want to be addressed by it."
  39. The "Neutral Language Council" collective: "List of popular pronouns" (2021).
  40. " - ve, vis, ver" (2000).
  41. "New Words in the OED: June 2018". Oxford English Dictionary.
  42. "New Words in the OED: March 2019". Oxford English Dictionary.
  43. Instagram: "Add pronouns to your profile ✨ The new field is available in a few countries, with plans for more." (May 12, 2021). Twitter.
  44. Grothaus, Michael: "Instagram profile pronouns: here is how to display your gender identity" (May 5, 2021). MSN.
  45. 45.0 45.1 Barrett, Kim. "Languages Adapt to the Nonbinary". The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide. vol. 27, no. 5, September–October 2020.
  46. Volfson, Olga: "non-binaritéLe pronom neutre "iel" entre au dictionnaire grâce au "Petit Robert"" (French) (November 15, 2021). Têtu.
  47. Bollinger, Alex: "Major French dictionary adds non-binary pronouns for the first time" (November 15, 2015). LGFBTQ Nation.