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Gender-specific pronoun


A language has 'gender-specific pronouns' when personal pronouns have different forms according to the gender of their referents.

The English language has three gender-specific pronouns in the 3rd. person singular, whose declined forms are also gender-specific: he (masculine), she (feminine), and it (neuter, used for objects, abstractions, and most animals). The other English pronouns (I, you, they...) do not make gender distinctions; i.e., they are genderless or gender-neutral. (See English personal pronouns.)


  English gender-specific pronouns

The following is a complete list of the gender-specific English personal pronouns and their declined forms, with examples of their use:

Subject Object Possessive Adjective Possessive Pronoun Reflexive
masculine He laughed. I kissed him. His leg hurts. This house is his. He can support himself.
feminine She laughed. I kissed her. Her leg hurts. This house is hers. She can support herself.
neuter It is a very nice house. I have bought it. Its yard is big. That cage is its.[1] It sells itself.

  Ships and countries

Traditionally ships, even ships named after men such as USS Barry, countries, and oceans have been referred to using the feminine pronouns. The origins of this practice are not certain, and it is currently in decline (though still more common for ships, particularly in nautical usage, than for countries). In modern English, calling objects "she" is an optional figure of speech, and is advised against by The Chicago Manual of Style.[2]

  Pronouns and transgender persons

In general, transgender individuals prefer to be referred to by the gender pronoun appropriate to the gender with which they identify. Some genderqueer or similarly-identified people prefer not to use either he or she, but a different pronoun such as they, zie, or so forth. Drag performers, when in costume, are usually referred to by the gender pronouns for the gender they are performing (for example, drag queens are usually called "she" when in drag).

  Other languages with gender-specific pronouns

In these languages some personal pronouns are specific as to gender. Though this usually does not apply to all personal pronouns in the language, a speaker usually does not (at least traditionally) have an option of whether to use gender-inclusive pronouns, since the gender-specific ones do not have inclusive alternatives.

  Indo-European Languages

In most Indo-European languages (though not in the modern Indo-Iranian languages, which are the largest branch of this family), third-person pronouns are gender-specific, while first and second person pronouns are not.

For example, in French,

  • First person singular je ('I'), me ('me')
  • Second person singular (familiar) tu, te ('you')
  • First person plural nous ('we', 'us')
  • Second person plural vous ('you')
  • Third person possessives leur ('their') and son/sa/ses ('his'/'her'/'its'/'their')

are all gender-inclusive; but

  • Third person pronouns il ('he'), le ('him'), ils ('they', referring to an all-male or mixed-gender group) are all masculine.
  • Third person pronouns elle ('she'), la ('her') and elles ('they', referring to an all-female group) are all feminine.

In some languages (including most modern Germanic languages) this distinction is neutralised in the plural: English and Modern Russian both have gender-inclusive forms for the third person plural pronouns: 'they'/'them' and они (oni).

Where a language has grammatical gender, gendered pronouns are sometimes used according to the grammatical gender of their antecedent, as French il ('he') for le livre ('the book' - masculine), whereas in Spanish, el libro is also masculine, but it would not be considered correct to refer to it by using the masculine pronoun él. Instead, something such as "Where is the book?" "It is on the table", would be rendered as "¿Dónde está el libro?" "Está sobre la mesa" where the pronoun is omitted. However, when the pronoun is used as a direct object, gender-specific forms reappear in Spanish. The sentence I can't find it. (always referring to the masculine noun libro (book) would be No lo encuentro, whereas if I can't find it refers to a magazine (revista in Spanish, which is feminine) then the sentence would be No la encuentro.

If it is absolutely necessary to provide a subject when referring to an object, a demonstrative can be used instead of a pronoun: ¿Qué es eso? translates literally What is that?. And a suitable answer would be Eso es un libro or Eso es una revista, (That's a book, That's a magazine) with the genderless eso as subject in both cases.

Besides there may be gender-specific pronouns in languages where grammatical gender has otherwise been largely lost or reduced. Danish continues to distinguish gender in third person singular pronouns, even though it no longer distinguishes masculine and feminine nouns grammatically.

For some languages, such as Norwegian and Swedish, there has been considerable effort in trying to provide for gender-neutral expression.


Icelandic uses a similar system to other Germanic languages in distinguishing three 3rd-person genders in the singular - hann (masculine gender), hún (feminine gender), það (neuter gender). However it also uses this three-way distinction in the plural: þeir (m. only), þær (f. only), þau (n., which includes mixed gender). It is therefore possible to be gender-specific in all circumstances should one wish - although of course þau can be used for gender-inclusiveness. Otherwise the form used is determined grammatically (i.e., by the gender of the noun replaced). In general statements the use of menn could be preferable as it is less specific than þau.


In Norwegian a new word is proposed, hin ('sie' or 'hir') to fill the gap between the third person pronouns hun ('her') and han ('him'). Hin is used, but in limited groups; it is not yet embraced by society as a whole. One can also use man or en or den (en means 'one'). These three are considered impersonal.


In some dialects of the Swedish language there is a word hän (borrowed from Finnish) that means either han ('he') or hon ('she').[citation needed] It has spread to hacker slang. Some more common gender-inclusive pronouns however are hen ('he'/'she') and henom ('him'/'her').[citation needed] The Swedish Language Council recommends den ('it') for third person singular of indefinite gender. However, large parts of the Swedish LGBT community consider this a derogatory term, since it implies that the person referred to is linguistically equated with a lifeless thing. Instead the terms hen and henom is preferred if one wants to refer to someone without a definite placement inside the binary system of masculine and feminine.


Uniquely among Indo-European languages, Tocharian A (also known as Eastern Tocharian) distinguishes gender in the first person, using näṣ for the male speaker and ñuk for the female speaker.[3]


Written Japanese underwent a transition similar to Chinese when an archaic demonstrative kare (彼) was resurrected to translate the 'he' of European languages, while a word kanojo (彼女) was invented to translate 'she'. In the spoken language, the words carry the connotation of boyfriend and girlfriend respectively, and instead ano hito (あの人, literally 'that person') is used in those cases where a pronoun is required. Unlike Western languages, pronouns in Japanese are a type of nouns rather than a distinct class.

Nevertheless, pronouns in Japanese usually have traditionally carried a strong gender connotation (though it has somewhat weakened nowadays), even first-person ones. For instance, ore (俺 or オレ) or boku (僕 or ボク) is used as 'I'/'me' mainly by men (women have begun using boku nowadays), while watashi (私 or わたし) or atashi (あたし or アタシ) is used by females. (However, homosexuals are usually mocked in media by use of female pronouns; examples for such cases are Hard Gay and Sho Tsukioka from Battle Royale.)


Korean nowadays uses two different gender-specific pronouns not previously in everyday use. They have developed alongside the globalization of English and have become standard use in Seoul dialect. For males and neutral objects one can use 그, additionally with a suffix. For females, 그녀 has come into use, though can still have a somewhat demeaning connotation (녀 being the Chinese-derived (女) for woman). However, in place of these pronouns, gender-neutral 이 사람 is often heard instead.

  Afro-Asiatic languages

In most Afro-Asiatic languages only the first-person pronouns (singular and plural) are gender-inclusive: second and third person pronouns are gender-specific.


Thai pronouns are numerous. Here is only a short list.

First person Second person Third person
masculine ผม (phom) นาย (nai) (informal) หมอนั่น (mhor nun) (derogative)
feminine ดิฉัน (di chan) ชั้น (chan) นางนั่น (nang nun) (derogative)
neuter ฉัน (chan) เรา (rao) คุณ (khun) เธอ (ther) เขา (khao)

The pronoun เธอ (ther, lit: you) is semi-feminine. It can be used when the speaker or the listener (or both) are female. It is seldom used when both parties are male.

  Constructed languages


In Lojban, all "pronouns" (of grammatical class KOhA) are all gender-inclusive. The closest equivalent of 'he' and 'she' are ti, ta and tu, which are equivalent to 'this' and 'that', and ri, ra and ru, which are equivalent with 'the latter', 'the former', and 'something I mentioned earlier'. A quite heavy way to obtain a gender-specific "pronoun" would be saying ti poi nanmu (this, which is a man) and ti poi ninmu (this, which is a female).

  International Auxiliary languages


In common usage, the Esperanto pronouns ŝi, li, and ĝi correspond to English 'she', 'he', and 'it'. Although its creator Zamenhof recommended using ĝi in cases of unstated gender, this is done infrequently. The gender-inclusive demonstrative pronoun tiu is commonly used instead (a usage that does not occur in English). Reformers have coined gender-inclusive pronouns like ri or ŝli specifically for persons, and 'riism' has in fact made some limited progress.

The major reform project Ido introduced a specifically gender-inclusive pronoun, lu, which can mean 'he', 'she', and 'it' (both animate and inanimate). See below.


In Ido, the pronouns ilu, elu and olu, correspond to English "he", "she" and "it", respectively. But in addition there is the gender-inclusive pronoun lu, which may in principle be always used instead of any of the preceding pronouns, but whose basic purpose is to be used when the biological sex of a human being or animal cannot or will not be determined. This is useful especially in some cases such as "The reader can review this, if he or she desires to do so". Since "reader" ("lektero" in Ido) may refer either to a male or to a female person, "ilu" or "elu" are not appropriate, as each excludes one gender. And "olu" is not appropriate either, since it only refers to inanimate beings. So "lu" is used: "La lektero povas rividar co, se lu deziras lo".

Notice that in the plural, ili, eli and oli are used for groups of males, females and inanimate beings respectively, whereas li can be, and usually is, used instead of any of these, leaving the former exclusively when it is felt necessary to explicitly indicate the gender, as in "Viri e mulieri separesis. Ili livis ed eli restis". (Men and women split up. The former [literally "they" with an indication of masculine gender] left, and the latter [literally "they" with and indication of feminine gender] stayed).

But li is the only alternative for groups of people of mixed sexes, or when the actual sex of some people cannot or will not be determined.


Interlingua has both gender-specific and gender-neutral pronouns. All first and second-person pronouns are gender neutral, as are several third-person pronouns such as su ('his', 'her', 'its'), and se (himself, herself, itself, themselves). Ille, illa, and illo correspond to English 'he', 'she', and 'it', although ille can also be used as a general term. The three pronouns have plurals that are formed by adding -s.

Interlingua is one of two major auxiliary languages that are not constructed but are considered to be reflections of a pre-existing reality. The other is Latino sine Flexione. Occidental is sometimes placed in this group as well. Of the three languages, only Interlingua is widely spoken today.


In Novial the third person pronoun le means 'he' or 'she' or 'it'. There are also the gender-specific pronouns lo, la and lu ('he', 'she', and 'it', respectively). Each has a corresponding plural les, los, las and lus all translated as 'they' in English.

  See also


  1. ^ "The Oxford English Dictionary". http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50122404. Retrieved 18 April 2007. 
  2. ^ The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, p. 356. 2003. ISBN 0-226-10403-6.
  3. ^ Fortson, Benjamin W. (2010). Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (2nd ed.). Chichester, United Kingdom; Malden, Massachusetts: John Wiley & Sons; Blackwell Publishing. pp. 407. http://books.google.com/books?id=_kn5c5dJmNUC&pg=PA407&lpg=PA407. Retrieved 12 May 2011. 


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