The neopronoun user flag by uncommongenders.

Neopronouns Flag by Geekycorn on DeviantArt.

Neopronouns are any set of singular third-person pronouns that are not officially recognized in the language they are used in, typically created with the intent of being a gender neutral pronoun set. In English, and many other Indo-European languages, third-person pronouns can be gendered. In English, "she/her" is most often used by women, "he/him" most often by men, and "they/them" by non-binary people. However, some people deviate from this convention.

A neopronoun user flag by ferns-garden.

Some people prefer using neopronouns as an alternative gender neutral pronoun set. This can be because they want to avoid singular "they," being confused with plural "they," because neopronouns express something about them or their gender (like xenogenders), or because they feel more comfortable using neopronouns over any of the standard pronoun options.

Regional Nominative Pronouns

Some regional dialects of English historically had or still have gender neutral pronouns that were or are not used outside of their respective dialects. All of these pronouns have only been recorded in their nominative form. As far as linguists know, there are no other forms of these words (possessive, reflexive, etc.), although more forms could easily be created if desired.

These pronouns do not strictly fit the definition of neopronouns, as they developed naturally in the language and, as far as we know, were not created by a single person with the goal of creating a gender neutral pronoun.

A (nominative only)

In 1789, William H. Marshall documented the use of a, used by 14th century English writer, John of Trevisa. Both the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and Wright's English Dialect Dictionary confirm the use of "a" in place of "he," "she," "it," "they," and even "I." It is a reduced form of the Old English pronoun, "he," meaning "he" and "heo" meaning "she".[1] Some surviving British dialects still use this pronoun.[2]

Ou (nominative only)

Ou was first recorded in a native English dialect in the 16th century. In 1789, William H. Marshall recorded the existence of a dialectal English epicene pronoun, singular ou: '"Ou will" expresses either he will, she will, or it will.' Marshall traces ou as possibly deriving from Middle English a.

Yo (nominative only)

In addition to an interjection and greeting, yo is a gender-neutral pronoun in a dialect of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) spoken by middle school students in Baltimore, Maryland, the student body of which is 97% African-American. These students had spontaneously created the pronoun as early as 2004, and commonly used it. A study by Stotko and Troyer in 2007 examined this pronoun. The speakers used yo only for same-age peers, not adults or authorities. The speakers thought of it as a slang word that was informal, but they also thought if it as just as acceptable as he or she. Yo was used for people whose gender was unknown, as well as for specific people whose gender was known, often while using a pointing gesture at the person in question. The researchers only collected examples of yo used in the nominative form, finding no possessive forms such as *yo's and no reflexive forms such as *yoself.[3]

List of Neopronouns

There have been many instances of people creating new pronouns to refer to a singular gender neutral person over the past 200 years. Particularly, several neopronouns showed up in the mid-late 20th century. Many new neopronouns were created in the age of the internet, as the existence of non-binary people becomes more widely known. While there is no way to list all possible neopronouns, this page attempts to list some of the most notable and most popular examples. Pronouns are listed in order of oldest to newest.

Thon

Case Pronoun Example Pronunciation
Nominative Thon Thon went to the store. /ðɑn/
Accusative Thon I met thon today. /ðɑn/
Pronominal Possessive Thons Thon walked thons dog today. /ðɑnz/
Predicative Possessive Thon's If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow thon's. /ðɑnz/
Reflexive Thonself Thon has to drive thonself to school. /ðɑnsɛlf/

One of the first known instances of someone purposely creating a new gender neutral pronoun set in English is that of American composer Charles Crozat Converse who proposed the pronoun set thon/thons/thonself in 1858.[4] It was based on a contraction of "that one". The thon pronoun was included in some dictionaries such as Webster's International Dictionary (1910), Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary (1913), and Webster's Second International (1959). The pronouns are not widely used in the present day. In the 2019 Gender Census, 18 (0.2%) people said that they were happy to be referred to by thon.[5]

E

Case Pronoun Example Pronunciation
Nominative E E went to the store. /i/
Accusative Em I met em today. /ɛm/
Pronominal Possessive Es E walked es dog today. /iz/
Predicative Possessive Ems If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow ems. /ɛmz/
Reflexive Emself E has to drive emself to school. /ɛmsɛlf/

There are several very similar sets of pronouns with the nominative form e which have been independently proposed over the last hundred years. The earliest known example may be created in 1890 by James Rogers of Crestview, Florida.[6][7] It was made in response to the thon set, and was derived from the he and them pronoun sets. This version does not have a recorded predicative possessive or reflexive form.

In 1977, a version in which all forms starts with capital letters was independently created by psychologist Donald G. MacKay of the University of California at Los Angeles. In 1989 an identical version it was independently created by Victor J. Stone, Professor of Law.

Ae

Case Pronoun Example Pronunciation
Nominative Ae Ae went to the store. /ei/
Accusative Aer I met aer today. ɹ/
Pronominal Possessive Aer Ae walked aer dog today. ɹ/
Predicative Possessive Aers If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow aers. ɹz/
Reflexive Aerself Ae has to drive aerself to school. ɹsɛlf/

In his 1920 novel A Voyage to Arcturus, David Lindsay invented the ae pronoun set for an alien race, which were born from air and of a third sex. These pronouns are still somewhat well known on the internet.

Co

Case Pronoun Example Pronunciation
Nominative Co Co went to the store. /ko/
Accusative Co I met co today. /ko/
Pronominal Possessive Cos/Co's Co walked cos/co's dog today. /koz/
Predicative Possessive Co's If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow co's. /koz/
Reflexive Coself Co has to drive coself to school. /kosɛlf/

Co was created by Mary Orovan in 1970. It is derived from the Indo-European *ko, as an inclusive alternative to he or she.[8] Today, co is still used in some communities, such as in the legal policies of Twin Oaks in Virginia, which provides information on the pronoun in its visitor guide web page.[9]

Ve

Case Pronoun Example Pronunciation
Nominative Ve/Vi Ve/Vi went to the store. /vi/
Accusative Ver/Vir I met ver/vir today. /vəɹ/, /viɹ/
Pronominal Possessive Vis Ve walked vis dog today. /viz/
Predicative Possessive Vers/Virs If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow vers/virs. /vəɹz/ OR /viɹz/
Reflexive Verself/Virself Ve has to drive verself/virself to school. /vəɹsɛlf/, /viɹsɛlf/

Both spellings can be pronounced either way.

The ve pronoun set was created sometime in the early 1970s. It is unclear who originally invented this pronoun set or when, and it is possible that multiple people created it independently. The most well know usage of ve comes from Greg Egan, who used it in his books Distress (1995) and Diaspora (1998).[10] Egan is sometimes credited with having created these pronouns, but this does not appear to be the case and he has never claimed to have done so. An earlier example is in the novel The Bone People (1984) by Keri Hulme.[11] The earliest known example of ve comes from the 1970 May issue of Everywoman.[12] This set is nearly-identical but is incomplete. It included ve/vir/vis, with no predicative possessive and reflexive recorded.

Xe

The xe/xem pronoun user flag.

Case Pronoun Example Pronunciation
Nominative Xe Xe went to the store. /zi/
Accusative Xem I met xem today. /zɛm/
Pronominal Possessive Xyr Xe walked xyr dog today. /ziɹ/
Predicative Possessive Xyrs If I need a phone, my friend will let me borrow xyrs. /ziɹz/
Reflexive Xemself Xe has to drive xemself to school. /zɛmsɛlf/

This pronoun set appears to have been first coined by Don Rickter in an issue of Unitarian Universalist published in May 1973. This coining is affirmed by Mario Pei, who gave Rickter credit in his 1978 book Weasel Words.[13] This set has a large amount of variations; alternate spellings include:

  • Nominative: Xhe, xey
  • Accusative: Xer, xim, xym
  • Pronominal possessive: Xir, xis, xer, or xeir
  • Predicative possessive: Xirs, xis, xers, or xeirs
  • Reflexive: Xirself, xyrself, ximself, xymself, or xerself

Per (person pronouns)

Case Pronoun Example Pronunciation
Nominative Per or Person Per/person went to the store. /pəɹ/
Accusative Per I met per today. /pəɹ/
Pronominal Possessive Per Per walked per dog today. /pəɹ/
Predicative Possessive Pers If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow pers. /pəɹz/
Reflexive Perself Per has to drive perself to school. /pəɹsɛlf/

Known as "person pronouns", these are meant to be used for a person of any gender. John Clark created person pronouns in a 1972 issue of the Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association.[6] These pronouns were notably used in the 1976 novel Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy.

Ey (Elverson pronouns)

Case Pronoun Example Pronunciation
Nominative Ey Ey went to the store. /eɪ/
Accusative Em I met em today. /ɛm/
Pronominal Possessive Eir Ey walked eir dog today. ɹ/
Predicative Possessive Eirs If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow eirs. ɹz/
Reflexive Emself Ey has to drive emself to school. /ɛmsɛlf/

The Elverson pronouns were created by Christine M. Elverson of Skokie, Illinois to win a contest to create an alternative to the singular they in 1975. They were formed by dropping the first two letters from they and its inflections.

It is unclear what sort of lexical agreement these pronouns would take. The pronouns can only be used as singular pronouns, so they could presumably be conjugated the same way as other singular pronoun sets (ie: "Ey was eating.") However, since these pronouns were based off the they set, it may feel more natural for English speakers to say "Ey were eating." It is unclear which conjugation was intended, so either can be used. Most other neopronouns based on "e" or "ey" face the same problem.

Hu (humanist pronouns)

Case Pronoun Example Pronunciation
Nominative Hu Hu went to the store. /hju/
Accusative Hum I met hum today. /hjum/
Pronominal Possessive Hus Hu walked hus dog today. /hjuz/
Predicative Possessive Hus If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow hus. /hjuz/
Reflexive Huself Hu has to drive huself to school. /hjusɛlf/

Pronunciation is assumed to match that in 'human' both for the theme and to distinguish it from the word 'who'.

Also known as "humanist pronouns", this set was created by Sasha Newborn in 1982, in a college humanities text. They are obviously based on the word human.[14] They could be considered the first instance of nounself pronouns.

E (Spivak pronouns)

Case Pronoun Example Pronunciation
Nominative E E went to the store. /i/
Accusative Em I met em today. /ɛm/
Pronominal Possessive Eir E walked eir dog today. ɹ/
Predicative Possessive Eirs If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow eirs. ɹz/
Reflexive Emself E has to drive emself to school. /ɛmsɛlf/

The "Spivak pronouns" were created in 1990 by Michael Spivak. They were used in his manual The Joy of TeX so that no person in his examples had a specified gender. The pronouns became somewhat well-known on the internet because they were built into the popular multi-user chat LambdaMOO in 1991. The pronouns then became a common feature of other multi-user chats made throughout the 1990s. In the 2019 Gender Census, 5.2% of participants indicated they were happy with Spivak pronouns being used to refer to them.[5] Spivak is credited with creating this set of pronouns, although his book does not claim that they are his own invention. It is not known whether Spivak was inspired by the other "E" pronouns that have existed or by the similar Elverson pronouns.

Ze

Case Pronoun Example Pronunciation
Nominative Ze Ze went to the store. /zi/
Accusative Zir I met zir today. /zəɹ/
Pronominal Possessive Zir Ze walked zir dog today. /zəɹ/
Predicative Possessive Zirs If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow zirs. /zəɹz/
Reflexive Zirself Ze has to drive zirself to school. /zəɹsɛlf/

Similar to the xe pronoun set, there are several different versions of this pronoun set. Ze is also pronounced the same way as xe. It was likely based on the German plural 3rd person pronoun sie. The first known case of ze being used is in 1997, by Richard Creel, who proposed ze/zer/mer (reflexive form is not recorded).

Another version was possibly independently created by Kate Bornstein in the 1998 book My Gender Workbook. This version uses ze (sometimes zie or sie) and hir. The most popular variation of these pronouns are based on this version and were created in 2013.

Fae

Case Pronoun Example Pronunciation
Nominative Fae Fae went to the store. /feɪ/
Accusative Faer I met faer today. /fɛɹ/
Pronominal Possessive Faer Fae walked faer dog today. /fɛɹ/
Predicative Possessive Faers If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow faers. /fɛɹz/
Reflexive Faerself Fae has to drive faerself to school. /fɛɹsɛlf/

The fae pronouns are a pagan-themed set of neopronouns created by Tumblr user shadaras in 2013, though it may have been created independently by someone else earlier. It is one of the most commonly used nounself pronoun sets. It likely inspired the trend of using nounself pronouns on the internet.

A similar fairy-themed pronoun set is fey/fey/feys/feys/feyself. This may have been created independently or it may be an alternate spelling of this set.

Other Non-Standard Pronouns

These pronouns may or may not strictly fall into the category of neopronouns, but do not fall within the standard usage of pronouns in English.

The it/its pronoun user flag.

It

Case Pronoun Example
Nominative It It went to the store.
Accusative It I met it today.
Pronominal Possessive Its It walked its dog today.
Predicative Possessive Its If I need a phone, my friend will let me borrow its.
Reflexive Itself It has to drive itself to school.

It/Its Pronouns Flag by Geekycorn on DeviantArt

It is the pronoun for inanimate objects in English, though some non-binary people (doesn't have to be non-binary but it/its is most commonly used by non-binary people) choose to use this as a non-gendered pronoun. Using it to refer to a non-binary person is considered offensive unless one is specifically told to use that pronoun.

Some people may consider it to be a neopronoun when used for people, while others do not. On the one hand it is a recognized pronoun in English, however, it is typically only used for inanimate objects. Being used to refer to people is not conventionally part of it's usage.

One

Case Pronoun Example
Nominative One One went to the store.
Accusative One I met one today.
Pronominal Possessive One's One walked one's dog today.
Predicative Possessive One's If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow one's.
Reflexive Oneself One has to drive oneself to school.

One is a gender neutral pronoun for a generic person in English. It is typically used in formal speech when talking about people in general or a hypothetical person. Some people use one as a singular alternative to they.

Alternating Pronouns

Instead of using an alternative or gender neutral pronoun set, some people prefer an alternation between the binary-gendered sets. For example: "When he does not get a haircut, her hair grows long." Alternating pronouns are used in some legal documents to make them gender inclusive.

No Pronouns/Pronoun Dropping

Also called non-pronouns, null pronouns, or pronounless. Some non-binary people prefer not to be referred to by pronouns of any kind. Instead of using pronouns, a person may be referred to by name, an epithet, or the sentence can be rephrased to omit pronouns, typically by using the passive voice.

Nounself Pronouns

Nounself pronouns are type of neopronoun typically used by xenic individuals, but can be used by non-xenics as well, that derived a pronoun from an existing word. Usually, people will use the pronouns that correspond with their xenogender, or some other aspect of themself. For example, someone who is catgender may use nya/nyan pronouns.

Emojiself Pronouns

Emojiself pronouns are a subcategory of nounself pronouns, which are pronouns that, instead of using letters, utilize emojis (ex: 💫/💫's/💫self). These pronouns are not intended to be pronounced out loud and are only intended for online communication. In spoken conversation one may or may not use pronouns that are based on the emoji (ex: 💀/💀s skull/skulls).

Flag

The purple neopronoun flag was designed by‎ DeviantArt user Geekycorn on April 25, 2020. The stripes, in order, represent agender neopronoun users, neopronoun-using men, neopronoun-using women, nonbinary/genderqueer/other neopronoun users, and multigender neopronoun users.

The green and orange neopronoun flag was designed by Tumblr user Ferns-Garden/Beanjamoose on or before Jul 1, 2019. The flag is used by the blog yourfave-uses-neopronouns.[15] The color meanings are as follows: Green is for masculine-identifying people who use neopronouns. Blue is for older pronoun sets and the history behind them. White is for non-binary identifying people who use neopronouns. Yellow is for newer pronoun sets and the happiness that comes from them. Orange is for feminine-identifying people who use neopronouns.

The green and purple neopronoun flag was designed by Tumblr user Uncommongenders on June 5, 2018. The meaning is unknown.[16]

The xe/xem flag and the it/its flag were designed by Tumblr user love-all-around1223 on April 14th, and April 15th, 2018 respectively.[17][18]

Resources

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