Pronouns, gender, number: They were indeed a prophet

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An image symbolizing how American English pronoun usage has changed since 2004 — in undergrad residences at Penn, these buttons were distributed for use in start-of-semester meetings this fall:

And over the past few months, media have been full of things about pronouns and gender — sometimes separately, sometimes together. A small sample:

John McWhorter, "Gender Pronouns Are Changing. It’s Exhilarating", NYT 9/21/2021

Joey Alison Sayers, "Spectrum Analysis", The Nib 9/27/2021:

Tracy Moore, "Does your kid want to change her pronouns? Read this." WaPo 10/4/2021.

John McWhorter, "Up in Arms Over A Pronoun", NYT 10/5/2021.

"Gender-Neutral Pronouns: The Singular ‘They’ and Alternatives" ("Some readers find the new usage of “they” confusing and offer other options such as “que” and “s/he.”"), NYT 10/9/2021.

Iman Sheydaei, "Gender identity and nonbinary pronoun use: exploring reference strategies for referents of unknown gender", Gender and Language, 10/6/2021.

Anne Curzan, "‘They’ has been a singular pronoun for centuries. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s wrong.", WaPo 10/21/2021.

John McWhorter, "You and Me Need to Talk", NYT 10/22/2021

John McWhorter, "Some Hear Grammar Don’ts. I Hear the Future of English", NYT 11/2/2021

If you want more, there are 40-odd posts in the LLOG archive for "singular they". And a few more about singular "you", which was a scandal in 17th century England:

"George Fox, Prescriptivist", 10/24/201
"Fox redux", 9/26/2015
"That false and senseless Way of Speaking", 7/1/2016


  1. Jerry Packard said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 2:08 pm

    What a great post.

  2. Terpomo said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 2:17 pm

    I appreciate the intent behind pronoun pins but I have to say from personal experience (as in, having people get my pronouns wrong), it seems to me that unfortunately, few people can consistently use the pronouns they're supposed to use if it conflicts with their instinctive perception of someone's sex, especially if they knew that person for any length of time before they changed their pronouns. Though probably that's at least in part a matter of acculturation.

  3. Scott P. said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 2:43 pm

    I am just mystified at the idea of having preferred pronouns. It's like having a favorite algae.

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 2:49 pm

    In terms of what one might or might not have expected the future to hold as of circa 2004, I think it's interesting that the path of change has, at present, ended up being on what you might reasonably call the path of least cultural/sociolinguistic resistance — incrementally extending the semantic scope of a well-established existing mainstream usage (albeit one oft-deprecated by prescriptivists) rather than any of the various novel-coinage proposals (xe/xir etc.) successfully expanding from niche usage into mainstream/institutional usage. I don't know how confident to be that the new regime will be a stable equilibrium, however.

    There will among other things be an increased number of opportunities for misunderstanding which sense of singular "they/them" is intended in a given context, i.e. "person-of-known-gender-which-is-neither-M-nor-F" versus "person-of-unknown-and/or-non-salient-gender-which-is-probably-either-M-or-F." In particular, using "singular they" as a way of being deliberately vague when speaking about someone when the speaker knows the person to be either M or F but for whatever reasons doesn't wish to include that detail in the discourse may become more awkward. Perhaps new ways of disambiguating which is meant will evolve? (Or perhaps something currently anticipated will occur, of course. The future can be like that.)

  5. VMartin said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 2:51 pm

    Ego in Latin, I in English. Ego tu vos, I you you. How do you translate Tolstoy?

  6. Idran said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 2:54 pm

    Scott P: That's why the general way it's referred to nowadays is just "my pronouns" rather than "my preferred pronouns"; characterization of it as a preference is seen as implying it to be a simple decision made rather than an acknowledgement of ones gender identity.

    Though some agender or genderfluid folks might still agree with you even then. :P

  7. Scott P. said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 3:25 pm

    Scott P: That's why the general way it's referred to nowadays is just "my pronouns" rather than "my preferred pronouns"; characterization of it as a preference is seen as implying it to be a simple decision made rather than an acknowledgement of ones gender identity.

    I think you misunderstand. What do pronouns have to do with gender identity? It mystifies me. I couldn't possibly care what pronouns you use to describe me. My gender identity is my own, anyways.

    Besides, I was raised to believe that speaking about someone in the generic third person (i.e. other than by name) while they are in the conversation was rude, so the only time it should ever come up is when I am not present, so how could I be affected by it?

  8. Terpomo said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 3:35 pm

    Scott, imagine for a second if everyone insisted on referring to you as "she" (I'm assuming by your name you're a man, apologies if I'm mistaken) and many of them refused to use "he" even when you pointed out you're a man, because they were convinced that you're not. Would that not be at least a bit annoying?
    And yes, in general you wouldn't use the third person for someone in their presence but it does happen occasionally.

  9. Haamu said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 3:56 pm

    @J.W. Brewer:

    There will among other things be an increased number of opportunities for misunderstanding which sense of singular "they/them" is intended in a given context, i.e. "person-of-known-gender-which-is-neither-M-nor-F" versus "person-of-unknown-and/or-non-salient-gender-which-is-probably-either-M-or-F."

    These distinctions strike me as increasingly specious. To assume that the burden is on the listener to try to puzzle out what was intended, rather than on the speaker to be clear, seems simply wrong.

    The point about singular they, particularly as it has been evolving lately, is that it answers the modern need to acknowledge someone's personhood without saying anything at all about their gender — not that it is trying to overload multiple finely shaded gender-relevant meanings.

    That doesn't mean there's no opportunity for misunderstanding, but clearly the principal uncertainty is going to be whether we're talking about a single person or a group of people, not whether we're trying to piggyback onto a simple pronoun a particular viewpoint about one person's gender identity.

  10. Joe said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 4:28 pm

    Spare a thought for the attempts to invent new third-person pronouns that were both genderless and singular. There were so many! Which was probably why none of them ever caught on.

    It looks like that ship has sailed and we've all agreed to be more precise about gender at the expense of being less precise about number. Oh well. Plenty of languages get by just fine with neither of those.

  11. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 4:43 pm

    @Haamu: The tension then, it seems to me, is in how to assess whether a given person who expresses the wish to be referred to in the third person as they/them: (a) wants to have their personhood acknowledged without anything at all being said about their gender; or instead (b) wants to have their specific (non-binary) gender identity acknowledged rather than politely treated as irrelevant. Presumably not everyone will have the same preferences in that regard! But you can't impose the burden on the speaker to be clear as between situation (a) and situation (b) unless there are different conventional forms of words to use.

  12. Rick Rubenstein said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 5:33 pm

    I'm partial to diatoms myself.

  13. Terry K. said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 5:44 pm

    @Scott P.
    Surely, given your participation here, you are aware of the nature of written language. People do see things written about them outside of their presence.

    Also, when introducing someone to someone else, it's not unusual to say, for example "This is my friend Mike. He's a teacher."

    But, yeah, there are situations where the correct pronoun is "you"

  14. Haamu said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 6:06 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: I guess I don't see this as a tension. If someone wants to be referred to as "they," I don't really have to ask why they want that. I can just use the conventional form and be satisfied that I'm showing no disrespect.

    It's likely that someone who insists on viewpoint (b) is going to have to realize that viewpoint (a), being more general, is going to win out in the long run and be taken as the default meaning. Viewpoint (b) will need to decamp to somewhere other than "they" — as I say, burden on the speaker — but as @Joe points out, history has not been encouraging about that prospect.

    My own guess is that viewpoint (b) will become much less compelling over time as gender-non-specific language becomes common and people realize it does just as good a job (or better) of being inclusive as parsing everything into its own category does. But take that prediction with a grain of salt: I speak as someone whose gender identity correlates comfortably with millennia of linguistic tradition, so I could be unable to perceive something fundamental here.

  15. Seth said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 6:21 pm

    @ Scott P – Referring to someone with pronouns opposite their evident sex/gender has long generally been considered a serious insult. It's basically calling someone deeply deviant. This visceral reaction has been imported into the gender-as-spectrum perspective with not using the correct pronouns as indicating profound disrespect for the person. Then in the mix there's people who outright deny transgender exists at all. It's a very volatile combination of factors.

  16. Haamu said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 6:21 pm

    @Scott P.: I join the others here who are pointing out that some of your assumptions are flawed, but I do give you this: We would all do well to look for opportunities to use the first or second person rather than the third.

    I belong to a political organization that recently went through a period of contention about pronouns. Someone introduced a resolution that anyone speaking in one of our assemblies had to announce their preferred pronouns first, each and every time. This consumed us for a week or two online. When the next assembly rolled around, with the dispute still roiling, I announced my pronouns as "we/you/he/they," in that order, pointing out that "we" is the most inclusive way to converse, followed by "you," while speaking about someone in the third person was much less so, and that all of this was in line with one of our favorite slogans, "Nothing about us without us."

    I continue to hold to this policy and, when I speak before the assembly, I refer to both the Chair and other delegates as "you" (if I can't find a "we" phrasing) — which gets me ruled out of order every time. (Our meetings are governed by Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised (12th edition), which, even though published in 2020, still clings to the antiquated notion that third-person address is necessary for decorum.) But I will stick with it, as I enjoy making this somewhat quixotic point.

  17. Howard said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 7:10 pm

    What I find curious in all the discussion on preferred third person pronouns over recent years is that no one has mentioned it. It is both genderless and singular. Its plural is they, as in, "Whose books are these? They are mine." Is it just too inanimate, as opposed to genderless? Adoption of it might help remove any residual gendering in English.

  18. Derwin McGeary said,

    November 5, 2021 @ 9:08 pm

    I think the pool of speakers who are currently able to cope when there are multiple male people, female people, and people of unknown gender being discussed (either through context or by asking clarifying questions) but who would be left behind if the discussion included males, females, people of unknown gender, and people of known neutral gender, is pretty small.

    Howard, there are people who go with "it" but it's an extreme minority – if I was to encounter someone to whom I couldn't assign an obvious gender ( from an unfamiliar culture on the email signature, or someone rocking a beard and dress in person), I'd feel comfortable using "they" until further notice, but "it" would run a high risk of upset.

  19. Idran said,

    November 6, 2021 @ 12:18 am

    Howard: You're just not in the right discussions; in the LGBT community, "it" as a pronoun comes up a lot. In the general sense, it's considered as demeaning and dehumanizing because the word "it" is (with a few exceptions) used exclusively to refer to inanimate objects, though as Derwin said there are a slim few who do choose to identify with it/its.

    Joe: No, neopronouns are still a thing and are used at least relatively often, just on an individual basis rather than as an attempt to make them a broad part of the language. Some people choose specific neopronouns for themselves because they feel that those neopronouns fit their particular gender identity better. Myself, I've known people who use ze/zir and xe/xir as their pronouns.

  20. John Swindle said,

    November 6, 2021 @ 4:29 am

    I’m old and have old language habits. I have a right to be old. It happens. But if English speakers moved toward using “they” and “them” to take some of the pressure off of gender, wouldn’t that be a move toward kindness and a good thing, even if not all of us caught on right away?

  21. Alexander Pruss said,

    November 6, 2021 @ 8:09 am

    Does anyone know when "it" stopped being a usual anaphoric pronoun going with "child", "infant" and "baby"? For instance, E. Nesbit uses "it" heavily, but her usage feels dated/awkward now, and to the contemporary ear treating "child" as neuter sounds depersonalizing (my children hated it when I tried it).

  22. Rose Eneri said,

    November 6, 2021 @ 8:46 am

    @ Idran, "Myself, I've known people who use ze/zir and xe/xir as their pronouns."

    These people do not use these pronouns. They require other people to use them.

    The simple solution is to eliminate pronouns. It's easier to do than to unscrew your head trying to use made-up words or plural pronouns for a singular, known person.

    "This is my friend Joe. Joe is a teacher." It's easy and offends nobody.

  23. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 6, 2021 @ 10:26 am

    "It" is still perfectly cromulent to my ear for a sufficiently young human baby of unknown sex. E.g. the question from a curious stranger peering into the stroller is canonically "is it a boy or a girl" rather than "are they a boy or a girl." Hard to say at what age (well below the age of 2 and possibly below the age of 1?) "it" becomes no longer acceptable; you'd have to collect some data. It's quite possible that Nesbit's usage was for somewhat older kids (I haven't reread Nesbit in a long long time) and would thus sound odd to my ear.

    One social/technological change that might put pressure on this use of "it" is the fact that the sex of most babies these days is known (and sometimes publicly announced through "gender-reveal" events) before they are even born. This means, among other things, that parents may be less likely to stock up on ungendered baby clothing and appurtenant gear in advance. Linguistically, the change means that "it" is no longer the only or obvious pronoun choice for the baby while still in utero. Although how the need for a non-gendered pronoun due to lack of knowledge of sex historically interacted with the animacy-hierarchy distinction between "it" and "they" is not entirely clear to me. Maybe someone has written about it?

  24. Roscoe said,

    November 6, 2021 @ 10:52 am

    As Groucho Marx sang in "Horse Feathers":

    For months before my son was born,
    I used to yell from night till morn,
    "Whatever it is, I'm against it."

  25. Meg Wilson said,

    November 6, 2021 @ 11:00 am

    @J.W. Brewer: As a parent of a teen I have a front row seat to watch this change happening. As far as I can tell there are *not* two camps, non-binary people who use "they" to convey their non-binariness, versus F and M people who use "they" to avoid conveying their gender.

    Instead, the younger generation considers conveying of gender information *at all* to be kinda weird and stupid.

    Imagine if we had a language where personal pronouns conveyed whether a person was Black, white, etc., with all the problems that would create, and no comfortable way to refer to people who are mixed. Now suppose there were a growing consensus around a pronoun that simply didn't convey "race" at all. There would be no hand-wringing over whether this pronoun meant a mixed-race person, or a person who didn't want to always be indentified by their race. It would mean people had simply gotten over it and were considering everyone to be just people.

    Mutatis mutandis for gender.

    I am also noticing that my kid's generation is way more comfortable using fully singular "they," as in "They did it themself" when talking about a close friend of known gender. My brain is too old to really find this natural, but the teens have no problem with it.

  26. Idr said,

    November 6, 2021 @ 1:04 pm

    @Rose Eneri: "You" was originally strictly a plural pronoun, as the post you're replying to points out. That's why the verb conjugation of "to be" with the word "you" is a plural conjugation. People complained about general usage of "you" replacing the distinction between "thou" and "you" in the same way you're complaining about "they" and "them", as this post also points out, and that complaining didn't stop that change either.

    Also, as someone who actually knows the people I mentioned and am friends with, no, it isn't hard to refer to zir and xir with their correct pronouns. Maybe it's hard for _you_, that doesn't mean it's hard for everyone.

  27. Idran said,

    November 6, 2021 @ 1:05 pm

    Apologies, auto-complete failed me for my name in the above post.

  28. Seth said,

    November 6, 2021 @ 1:49 pm

    @Idran Some people are very good at remembering names. Some people are very bad at remembering names. But good at name remembers, telling bad at name remembers, that the former have no problem with a task the latter may find extremely difficult, does not change anything. Adding an individual set of neopronouns for everyone to this task makes it all the more of a cognitive problem. Perhaps that's another argument for just using they/them everywhere, or maybe as a socially allowed default.

  29. Mark said,

    November 6, 2021 @ 3:39 pm

    @Meg Wilson: "Imagine if we had a language where personal pronouns conveyed whether a person was Black, white, etc…." This might (or might not) be a digression, but what's your intended meaning or distinction when you make the now-common move of capitalizing "Black" but not "white"?

  30. Doug said,

    November 6, 2021 @ 4:29 pm

    "Imagine if we had a language where personal pronouns conveyed whether a person was Black, white, etc"

    You might be interested in "A Person Paper on Purity in Language" by Douglas Hofstadter:

  31. maidhc said,

    November 7, 2021 @ 3:07 am

    As I happen to have a two-year-old in the family right now, I have found out that is quite common for total strangers to walk up and ask questions like "Does she like X?" or whatever. (These are usually other parents at the playground, but not always.) The child in question is a male with long hair. You might think that the fact that his father has nearly waist-length hair might be a tipoff that there may be other possibilities, but apparently not.

    It's pointless to take the time to correct what is basically a throwaway conversation, which has a benign purpose (to make you feel welcome in the playground). But it's definitely a situation where a well-placed "they" would be suitable.

  32. Pau Amma said,

    November 7, 2021 @ 3:14 am

    "how Amercian English pronoun usage has changed" Pssst: "American"

    ObPronouns pins: wearing one would help people spotting it who're inclined toward acting in good faith, but may also attract harassers (or abusers) who think they're entitled to misgender others deliberately or to attack them for daring to have chosen or preferred pronouns.
    ObLanguages: did these come with English pronouns only?

  33. Thomas said,

    November 7, 2021 @ 6:41 am

    As a non-native speaker of English, the custom of announcing that one's pronouns are “she and her” puzzles me to no end. To a linguistically not so well-versed person like me, this is only one pronoun and you can inflect it like any other pronoun. I understand that this might be needed for artificial pronouns. For the usual ones, it should go without saying that the accusative of “they” is “them”.

  34. Randy said,

    November 7, 2021 @ 11:50 am

    As a native speaker of English, I share Thomas's puzzlement. For the usual he/she/they, the other forms always* follow the standard inflection, and for any novelties, it seems like you'd have to specify nominative, accusative, and genitive, not just two forms. (Why don't they pins say e.g. "they, them, their, and theirs"?)

    * (I've seen no counterexamples).

  35. Randy Hudson said,

    November 7, 2021 @ 11:54 am

    As a native speaker of English, I share Thomas's puzzlement. For the usual he/she/they, the other forms always* follow the standard inflection, and for any novelties, it seems like you'd have to specify nominative, accusative, and genitive, not just two forms. (Why don't they pins say e.g. "they, them, their, and theirs"?)

    * (I've seen no counterexamples).

  36. Viseguy said,

    November 7, 2021 @ 8:56 pm

    In my field of estates and trusts law, I've noticed a marginal increase in the use of "it" to refer to the fiduciary of an estate regardless whether it's a man (executor or administrator), woman (traditionally, executrix or administratrix, but the forms are falling out of favor), a non-cisgender natural person, or a corporation. "It" strikes me as a convenient usage in this gender-sensitive era, and I think at this point I wouldn't be offended if third persons adopted it when referring to me. After all, I was an "it" in utero, and probably also as a neonate, and, corporally speaking (if not in all respects), will resume being an "it" once I die, so why not embrace this neuter/gender-neutral pronoun in the meantime? Anyway, I wonder if the creeping "it" usage is deliberate, or intuitive, or just laziness on the part of practitioners who regularly represent corporate fiduciaries and are thus used to using "it".

  37. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 7, 2021 @ 10:20 pm

    Just to back up a little bit to note how much work remains to be done on legitimizing the older and better-established usages of "singular they": here's a book review I just saw, by a distinguished-if-elderly (born 1942) music critic of impeccably-or-at-least-conventionally progressive political views, who before block-quoting a paragraph he really likes from the book he's reviewing feels compelled to tut-tut it in his own opening paragraph for the usage of "regrettable singular 'they.'"

    Now, as it happens, I think (in my own not-quite-so-elderly way) that a "generic he" would have worked perfectly smoothly in the specific paragraph in question, not least because the abstracted subject of unspecified gender that the paragraph purports to be about is inevitably going to resolve into a particular male individual and, even more to the point, anyone who is likely to be reading this book already knows who that male person is and can thus spot the approaching "punchline" as soon as they begin reading the paragraph about the supposedly abstract/generic/ungendered person.

    Yet I suspect the critic's objection to "singular they" was purely reflexive prescriptivism, without any conscious consideration of what a preferable alternative approach (tasked with avoiding singular they) to drafting the specific paragraph in its specific context could or ought to have been.

  38. bukwyrm said,

    November 8, 2021 @ 5:33 am

    I wonder at Thomas' point of puzzlement as well – why she/her, and not simply she? Are there examples of people preferring she/his, or some other mixture? And how many people are able to actually work this preference into their oral conversation?

    As a tangent of wonderment: My native tongue is German, where everything is gendered (or is it?) – 'der', 'die', 'das', denote, in order, male, female and neutral, but nouns are gendered pretty randomly, i.e you cannot predict from the thing itself what gender it is (and how could you? what gender *should* a garden fence have?), it is pure rote (Der Löffel – the (male) spoon; Die Gabel – the (female) fork; … etc). Now the source of wonderment: For some fun reason, it is 'das Boot' and 'das Schiff' (boat and ship are both neutral), yet speaking about a specific ship or boat we gender female (Die Titanic ist gesunken – the (female) Titanic has sunk).

  39. Batchman said,

    November 8, 2021 @ 1:32 pm

    @Rose Eneri: "The simple solution is to eliminate pronouns." For guidance, look to the United Methodist Church (for example) for their treatment of God; they have been eliminating pronominal references to the Deity for a long time now. Take a look in any recent hymnal.

  40. Chas Belov said,

    November 8, 2021 @ 4:53 pm

    Generally speaking, it is polite to refer to people as they wish to be referred, and if one makes a mistake and is corrected, to apologize and use the correct form without making a big todo about the gaffe.

    I know someone who specifically prefers not to be pronouned, with "they" as backup.

    I have shortened my sharing of my third person pronoun to "My pronoun is 'he' without bothering to list the other forms.

    I actually tend to use "they" more often than needed, for example, when the gender of the person is known but not relevant, including referring to myself in the third person when referring to my role as webmaster at work.

    My one concern with "xe/xer" is if the recipient has only shared it in print, I don't know how to pronounce it. Wikitionary gives four possible pronunciations for "xe" and I would have (apparently incorrectly) pronounced it the same as "she" or maybe with a retroflex as "x" in Pinyin even though that sound does not occur in English.

    The thing is, pronouns drive other words as well. If I address a person using "he" as "Sir" or "she" as "Ma'am," how do I address a person using "they"?

  41. maidhc said,

    November 8, 2021 @ 5:55 pm

    If I address a person using "he" as "Sir" or "she" as "Ma'am," how do I address a person using "they"?

    That's a question that needs some work, but I think that the answer lies along the lines of a hotel employee addressing people as "honored guest", a shop "esteemed customer", and so on. Address people by their role in the transaction rather than by some personal attribute. That doesn't sound natural in English, so that's why I say it needs work. Hotels and airlines already do something like that–"passengers are requested to return their tray tables to the locked position".

    That's one area where Communism had a good idea. Just address everyone as "comrade".

  42. Jim said,

    November 8, 2021 @ 7:36 pm

    My pronouns are "None". If you can't figure out what is appropriate, then please don't use one for me.

  43. Terpomo said,

    November 8, 2021 @ 8:07 pm

    Thomas, Randy, bukwyrm,
    I think the convention probably originated with neopronouns; initially most people specifically giving pronouns were presumably those giving neopronouns, for which it is necessary to give the full paradigm.
    Chas Belov,
    "I know someone who specifically prefers not to be pronouned, with "they" as backup"? Requesting a specific set of pronouns is one thing, but talking about this person according to the same's wishes seems like it would require some rather awkward contortions of the English language. I have to admit it strikes me as slightly absurd.
    (Also a nitpick but Mandarin isn't retroflex, is.)

  44. Terpomo said,

    November 8, 2021 @ 8:08 pm

    Ack, it messed up my comment because I put letters between angle brackets as is common to indicate orthographic symbols. I was trying to say that Pinyin x isn't retroflex, sh is.

  45. oguz said,

    November 9, 2021 @ 1:46 am

    As a non-native speaker of English (and a native speaker of a language where only words borrewed from other languages are gendered), I say this whole pronouns thingy feels like a joke, an arbitrary controversy created out of boredom, perhaps as a means to kill time online.

  46. Daniel said,

    November 9, 2021 @ 11:58 am

    Thomas, Randy, bukwyrm,

    I think the idea is that since those with neopronouns will likely need to specify the full inflection, those with normal pronouns should do so too to avoid making the sharing of pronouns a marked act (in the linguistic sense). This is, after all, the reason that cisgender people share pronouns in the first place.

    However, I've seen this go even farther than "he/him" and "she/her". I'm sure you've all seen three forms listed, but I recently saw an email signature that had FIVE: "she,her,her,hers,herself". The repeat of "hers" is of course since that form does double-duty as both the accusative and the genitive. I haven't seen it, but I suppose the corresponding male form would be "he,him,his,his,himself", with "his" doing double-duty as both the genitive and the possessive.

  47. Philip Taylor said,

    November 9, 2021 @ 1:43 pm

    "This is, after all, the reason that cisgender people share pronouns in the first place" — I wonder what fraction of so-called "cisgender" (formerly 'normal') people do. I certainly don't, nor do I know anyone who does. But for that matter, I don't know any non-cis-gender people who do, either. Admittedly the latter group is fairly small (two or three) but the former group is reasonably large …

  48. Daniel said,

    November 9, 2021 @ 4:37 pm

    Philip, I should have said that this is the reason why cisgender people are *encouraged* to share pronouns. I don't myself, although, being at a university, I'm sometimes in circles where most people are sharing them.

    With the dominance of singular "they" as the pronoun for anyone not identifying as male or female, and since everyone knows how "they" is inflected, people are finding less need to specify the various inflections. It used to be common to see three, but now it's mostly just two, as in those buttons. Even some are just saying the nominative pronoun: he, she, or they.

  49. Philip Taylor said,

    November 10, 2021 @ 7:33 am

    Daniel, you set me thinking, not about pronouns per se but about language in general. When we say 'cis-gender people are *encouraged* to share pronouns', is this different from 'cis-gender people are *being encouraged* to share pronouns' ? My feeling (and it is only that) is that "are encouraged" suggests that the encouragement is widespread, whilst "are *being* encouraged" suggests that the encouragement is coming from specific groups. Would you agree with this, and if so, would you also agree that 'cis-gender people are *being encouraged* to share pronouns' might be a more accurate description of the status quo ?

  50. Derwin said,

    November 12, 2021 @ 6:47 am

    I think that the "she/her" style of giving pronouns is partly because if you only give one it's a little ambiguous as to what you're doing. If you just say "she" it could be your favourite Harry Styles song* or Netflix show, or the start of a sentence. "Short word and other short word separated by a slash" is a recognisable standard form, not for informing people of the paradigm for the pronoun, but for showing that this is a pronoun notification. If the pronoun is unfamiliar (say, "chi") then it would be easy to be confused by an email signature "Guzel Helal (chi)" where "Guzel Helal (chi/chir)" makes it clearer.

    * Harry Styles could of course engage in some culture jamming by writing a song called "she/her"

  51. Quinn C said,

    November 12, 2021 @ 11:07 pm

    Additionally, specifically for "he" and "she", they are easily confused, as I know from many conversations with non-natives who sometimes do :), so saying he/him or she/her adds a welcome bit of redundancy. I often just say "they pronouns" myself, without adding "them", and I definitely found it weird the few times I heard people giving three forms.

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