Perhaps you’ve heard some gender-neutral pronouns recently. You’ve noticed them on TV and in movies, and now you’re hearing them more and more at work and in social settings. Maybe at first, maybe you weren’t completely clear about what you were hearing. And now, maybe you’re completely comfortable hearing them, but when it comes to using gender-neutral pronouns in conversation and in writing, you’re feeling a little nervous to get it right without tripping on your words.
First, let me tell you that simply by considering using gender-neutral pronouns, and raising your awareness, I can tell you’re a thoughtful person. If you’ve been avoiding them because you’re not quite sure when they’re appropriate, or if you’re worried you’ll misuse them — don’t worry! Everything you read here will set you up for using gender-neutral pronouns like a rock star.
Our language is tending more toward inclusivity, so let’s get keep getting into some of these good habits. Let’s break it down with some gender-neutral pronoun basics.
There are plenty of reasons to use gender-neutral pronouns
There are lots of reasons to use them, and in this article, we’re going to cover why, how, and when (and what they are too) to use them. Our favorite occasion being when you want to avoid making any presumptions about someone’s gender. None of us appreciate labels, so this is one way to keep from using them yourself.
Gender-neutral pronouns: some common ones
The most common one that you probably already use every day — “They.”
I needed help at the grocery store, so they helped me out with my bags.
They forgot to upsize my french fries.
They really do a good job with their events.
Yes, “they” is used as a plural pronoun — when you’re referring to a group of people, we can also use “they” as singular when we’re unsure of their gender and don’t want to guess. It’s also a more popular team for someone who’s agender.
Writing tip: It’s completely cool to use “they” as a singular pronoun in your writing. My copywriter friend told me so.
But for real, it’s also in the AP Stylebook and now in the dictionary!
In September 2019, the Merriam-Webster dictionary announced the expansion of the word “they” to include the sense: “used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.” Where we also had a common, long-term English language use of “singular they” — so referring to a single person as “they” isn’t actually new. If the grammar police ever chase after you for your use of “they” please feel free to send them this article as well as the updated dictionary reference.
Some more gender-neutral pronouns:
There are more, too. And if you’ve ever attempted to keep up with the latest slang of tweens or teenagers, you already know that our language is constantly growing and evolving. This means that once you get a handle on these ones, you’ll likely have some more to weave into your vocabulary.
Since “he” and “she” excludes people who are agender or nonbinary. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to swap out a binary-exclusive phrase for one that’s both gender-neutral and inclusive. Here are some examples:
Greet somebody with “they,” “them,” “that person.”
Say hi to a crowd with “gentlefolk,” “Y’all,” “Hi!” “Hey!” or “Hello friends!”
Avoid gesturing to a group of people as “you guys.”
At a restaurant, acknowledge your “Server” instead of “waiter” or “waitress.”
Is it ever okay to ask about a person’s pronoun?
If you discover someone’s profile on their social media account, email signature, or they use it in their introduction, you’ll be able to figure it out easily because it saves you from having to ask.
Generally, you’ll want to avoid asking strangers questions about their pronouns because you may inadvertently be requesting they disclose themselves as agender, nonbinary or trans. And when you don’t know someone, this can make them feel unnecessarily awkward and even embarrassed.
You can also begin your introduction by sharing yours which offers others the choice to share theirs without making a pointed ask. If you share yours and they don’t, simply move on with your discussion.
If someone does share their pronouns with you, don’t worry if you later slip up and use the wrong one. Simply apologize and let them know it was an honest mistake and then do your best to stick to their preferred pronouns in the future.
As you get used to referring to people as “they” and being mindful of gender-neutral pronouns, you’ll find it becomes more of a regular habit, and you’ll be well on your way to communicating in a more inclusive manner. And people around you will notice, and they’ll notice, and more and more, we’ll all be heading towards a more inclusive, accepting world.
If you enjoyed this article you might like these too:
Sexology International, like all of our work, is for people of all sexual preferences and all forms of gender expression, including people whose identity is something other than male or female. As such, we like to use gender-neutral pronouns. More recently accepted alternatives include words like “ze” and “hir” or the universal pronoun “they.” Throughout our work, we will be doing our best to use alternative pronouns, such as “they,” whenever gender or plurality is unimportant. In doing so we hope it helps everyone to feel included in the discussion and that it inspires you to think outside of traditional sex and gender binaries.