Mandarin pronouns

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It's just not going to happen.

Mandarin pronouns are famously few.

Mandarin Personal pronouns
Person Singular Plural*

I, me
Exclusive Inclusive
we, us
Informal Formal 你們


他 / 她 / 它

he/she/it, him/her
他們 / 她們 / 它們
they, them



Selected readings


[h.t. Bryan W. Van Norden]


  1. Taylor, Philip said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 11:46 am

    Ignoring (for now) why Mr de Santis believes that Mandarin has 37 different pronouns, what is the background to the story that leads him to believe that American children will be required to speak Mandarin in the future ?

  2. Seth said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 12:10 pm

    For heaven's sake, it's a joke! A bad, confused joke. But fact-checking it is a joke in itself.

    37 pronouns = reference for "Woke" (his term, let's not quibble over it).
    Mandarin = reference for China

    He's saying "Schoolchildren will be under the domination of the Woke and the Chinese" – except this is almost like the "Mohammed Chang" joke (the most common first name is Mohammed, the most common surname Chang, so there should be many people named Mohammed Chang). He fears the Woke, and the Chinese, so the most fearsome threat is the Woke Chinese!

  3. Taylor, Philip said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 12:20 pm

    OK, so the following is going to sound more than a little insulting, but my question is a genuine one — are there any intelligent American politicians still in post, and if so, could someone please name one or two so that I can learn about them ?

  4. Terry K. said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 12:22 pm

    I'm curious, how do the three ways of writing tāmen work with regards to groups of mixed gender?

  5. Taylor, Philip said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 12:23 pm

    Mr Biden excepted, of course — I have no reason to doubt his intelligence.

  6. Eugene Volokh said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 12:25 pm

    I take it DeSantis’ point is that English pronouns are relatively few as well, but that

    (1) people nonetheless have been urging –- and sometimes demanding -– that people use new ones (and not just old ones in somewhat new ways), see, e.g., (“ne/nem/nir, zie/ hir, ze/zir, xe/xem/xyr”); and

    (2) if this attitude continues, the same would be demanded in Mandarin (at least in written Mandarin, which uses gendered pronouns), which our children will also have to speak because China will have eclipsed the U.S. as a world leader.

    DeSantis is thus arguing against two trends –- the growth of China’s influence and the changes in demanded pronouns. Or am I missing something?

  7. Seth said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 12:41 pm

    @ Taylor, Philip – Desantis is actually extremely intelligent. He has a Yale undergraduate History degree, and a Harvard law degree! He's not dumb, he's simple evil. A surprising number of American politicians have the sort of academic background they demonize. They simply reasoned their path to power involves fear-mongering, because that often works.

  8. Kenny Easwaran said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 12:48 pm

    Regarding Eugene Volokh's points:

    As a member of the queer community, I definitely have the sense that "neopronouns" are declining in popularity, compared to they/them pronouns. It's hard to get good data on this, but there is one site that has attempted surveys of gender minority communities over the past several years:

    They seem to support this trend, with 75% of respondents being happy with they/them, and a bit over 25% each with he/him or she/her (participants were allowed to select multiple sets of pronouns), and with several other sets like ze/hir, e/em, and xe/xem declining from 10-15% of those surveyed in 2015 to 5-7% of those surveyed in 2020, while avoiding pronouns and "it" may be slightly rising in popularity.

    Similarly, while the political and economic rise of China might have seemed unstoppable back in 2015, it seems to be sputtering a bit now.

    De Santis seems to be worrying about trends that are past their prime.

  9. Taylor, Philip said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 12:55 pm

    OK, so "intelligent but completely lacking in common sense". I think that we may have more than our fair share of such people on this side of the Atlantic as well …

  10. Taylor, Philip said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 1:02 pm

    Eugene / Kenny — I had totally failed to appreciate (until reading Kenny's comment above) that "ne/nem/nir, zie/hir, ze/zir, xe/xem/xyr" were denoting English pronouns — the leading "ne/nem/nir" tallied so closely in my mind with standard Mandarin ni, nin, nimen that I immediately (and wrongly) assumed that all ten were intended for Mandarin speakers.

  11. Philip Anderson said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 2:50 pm

    @Kenny Easwaran
    While “the Yellow Peril” is not as old as Anti-Semitism, it has been around a long time, and I think it’s going to be a bugaboo for many years to come.

  12. Jonathan Smith said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 3:00 pm

    Agree the fact check was a bit silly :D… but also wrong; it should have said there is only one Mandarin third-person pronoun ta1 which is written, um, probably five or six different ways… for male / female / animal / inanimate object / god… is that all?

    @Terry K. mixed-gender groups get the "male" written variants. Worth pointing out is that the written gender separation (which now affects also ni3 'you' in Mandarin as written in Taiwan) is anyway young and Western-influenced.

  13. Jonathan Smith said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 3:03 pm

    FWIW an accurate comment that could have combined fear of gender collapse and of the commies could have said e.g. "we'll be saying he/she the same way like in Choinese"

  14. KeithB said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 5:21 pm

    Philip Taylor:
    Bernie Sanders is pretty intelligent, as is Sheldon Whitehouse.

    How about inactive politicians? Barak Obama is intelligent, too. I suggest his and Bruce Springsteen's Podcast/book.

  15. KeithB said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 5:23 pm

    Sorry to see him go, but Al Franken was intelligent *and* funny, and not hypocritical.

  16. Em said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 7:00 pm

    Actually, there are many more ways of saying "I" in Mandarin, such as 老子 or 老娘. :P

  17. wanda said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 8:06 pm

    Also 您
    This is a weird joke, too, because I don't think Xi is very woke?

  18. Anthony said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 8:54 pm

    Why don't these politicians care about all the pronouns: the reflexive pronouns, relative pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, etc.

  19. AntC said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 11:17 pm

    @Seth Mandarin = reference for China

    So this is the same sort of racism as in 'Chinese whispers'; or Sachmo describing Bebop as 'that Chinese shit'(?) It's generic 'Chinese' = gobbledygook.

    @PhillipT shame on you! You're from the land of Boris, Liz and Nigel. And it turns out the Theresa-bot was less stupid than all of them. Also the country that collectively chose to walk off a cliff in 2016.

  20. Thomas said,

    July 28, 2023 @ 12:02 am

    Are we forgetting TA, which seems to have gotten some traction in recent years?

  21. Taylor, Philip said,

    July 28, 2023 @ 3:19 am

    Keith — Yes, Barrack Obama was exactly whom I had in mind when I wrote "still in post".

    AntC — Just because I ask "are there any intelligent American politicians still in post" should not lead you to infer that I believe that other countries (including my own) are necessarily any better. What we lack in the UK are statesmen — they seem to be a dying (if not already extinct) breed, Michael Heseltine (and perhaps Ken Clark) being among the very few remaining …

  22. James Wimberley said,

    July 29, 2023 @ 6:45 am

    Anthony: pronouns have feelings too.

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