Pronouns are words that can be used in place of a noun or a noun phrase. The most well known example of pronouns are personal pronouns, which can refer to the person or people speaking (first person), the person or people being spoken to (second person), or other people or things (third person). In many Indo-European languages, including English, third person personal pronouns can be gendered.

Grammar

In English all third person personal pronouns have five grammatical form. The forms are:

  • Nominative: Used when the pronoun is the subject of the sentence. (They went to the store.)
  • Accusative: Used when the pronoun is the object of the sentence. (I met them today.)
  • Pronominal Possessive: Used to show possession/relation to a noun, coming directly before the noun in question. (They walked their dog today.)
  • Predicative Possessive: Used to show possession of a noun, coming directly after a linking verb. This is the least common pronoun form, as it requires a very specific sentence construction that is not common in normal speech. When listing out the forms of a pronoun, this is the form that it most commonly left out. (If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow theirs).
  • Reflexive: Used when the subject and the direct object in a sentence are the same. In English these pronouns always end with -self (singular) or -selves (plural). (They have to drive themself to school.)

In some pronoun sets two or more of these forms are the same. For example, in the he/him pronoun set the pronominal possessive and the predicative possessive forms are the same (his). In the she/her pronoun set the accusative and the pronominal possessive forms are the same (her). In the they/them set all five forms are different.

Pronoun Usage

Since pronouns are commonly gendered, the pronouns one uses are often used as a way to identify the gender of a person. Because of this, using the wrong pronouns, intentionally or accidentally, is one of the most common forms of misgendering. Transgender people often change pronouns along with names as part of their transition.

Despite this, not all people go by pronouns that align with their gender. Pronouns are a form of gender expression and are related to one gender in the same way clothing, hair, and other physical characteristics are related to one's gender. Pronouns may show a relation to one's gender, and comfort or discomfort with a given pronoun set may be an indication of one's gender, but pronouns do not have to correspond to one's gender. Some people are pronoun non-conforming as a form of gender non-conformity. People of any gender can use any pronouns.

Some people may be comfortable going by multiple pronoun sets (multipronoun), while some people might not use any pronouns at all (nullpronoun). Some English speakers choose to go by pronouns that are not found in standard English, known as neopronouns, with includes nounself pronouns and emojiself pronouns. Some people question their pronouns or are unsure of their pronouns at times (dubtiopronoun).

English Pronouns

He/Him

The he/him pronoun user flag.

He/Him Pronouns Flag by Geekycorn on DeviantArt

He/Him pronouns are typically, but not always, used by men, masculine-aligned people, or people who want to present masculinely. During the Middle English and Modern English periods a supposedly masculine personal pronoun (him) was considered gender neutral and said nothing about the gender or sex of the individual, however it later became more strongly associated with only men. In the 18th century, when prescriptive grammarians decided that singular "they" was no longer acceptable as a gender-neutral pronoun, they instead recommended "gender-neutral he" when referring to a generic person.

Case Pronoun Example
Nominative He He went to the store.
Accusative Him I met him today.
Pronominal Possessive His He walked his dog today.
Predicative Possessive His If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow his.
Reflexive Himself He has to drive himself to school.

She/Her

The she/her pronoun user flag.

She/Her Pronouns Flag by Geekycorn on DeviantArt

She/Her pronouns are typically, but not always, used by women, feminine-aligned people, or people who want to present femininely. The pronoun "she", which first appears in the mid 12th century, and seems to have been created to reduce the increasing ambiguity of the pronoun system at the time.[1] "She" is occasionally used as a generic gender neutral pronoun in place of "gender-neutral he" as a feminist statement against the bias towards seeing men as the default.

Case Pronoun Example
Nominative She She went to the store.
Accusative Her I met her today.
Pronominal Possessive Her She walked her dog today.
Predicative Possessive Hers If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow hers.
Reflexive Herself She has to drive herself to school.


They/Them

The they/them pronoun user flag.

They/Them Pronouns Flag by Geekycorn on DeviantArt

The Oxford English Dictionary traces singular "they" back to 1375[2], and throughout the middle ages and renaissance it was used as a singular gender neutral pronoun, making it one of the oldest pronouns in the English language. However, in the 18th century prescriptive grammarians declared that "they" should only be used when referring to multiple people, and suggested using a "gender-neutral he" as an alternative.[3] Reasons given for this are: 1) Latin did not have a singular, gender neutral pronoun, and since Latin was a more prestigious language, prescriptivists thought that English should be more like Latin. 2) When plural pronouns are used certain verbs change form (ie: "he was" vs "they were"). These verbs always change when "they" is used, even when used for a single person. This was an unacceptable inconsistency according to prescriptivists.

The idea that singular "they" is grammatically incorrect continues to the modern day, although it is not strictly followed in normal speech. Most people will use "they" when referring to an unknown person without realizing it. In the modern day singular "they" is often used by non-binary people as a gender neutral pronoun. They/Them pronouns are typically, but not always, used by people who want to present in a gender neutral way or otherwise don't want to present masculinity or femininely.

Case Pronoun Example
Nominative They They went to the store.
Accusative Them I met them today.
Pronominal Possessive Their They walked their dog today.
Predicative Possessive Theirs If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow theirs.
Reflexive Themself or Themselves They have to drive themself to school. OR They have to drive themselves to school.

In English reflective pronouns either end with -self when singular and -selves when plural. Before the campaign against singular "they" the word "themself" was used when referring to a single person, while "themselves" was used for multiple people. Since the singular form was deemed to be "incorrect" the word themself is often considered to not be a word, with the correct version being themselves. Currently, either themself or themselves may be used when using singular "they".

It/Its

It/Its Pronouns Flag by Geekycorn on DeviantArt

Alternative It/Its flag by Cheshire

The pronoun "it" is traditionally used for inanimate objects, and occasionally for animals or babies. Some people use it/its pronouns as a gender neutral pronoun, however "it" should only be used for a person if one says it's okay to do so, as to do otherwise is dehumanizing.

The usage of it/its pronouns by a person is sometimes considered an example of neopronouns, because, despite being a naturally occurring pronoun in English, it's not the traditional usage of the pronoun when used for a person.

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.

One/Ones

The pronoun "one" is the formal indefinite third person pronoun. It is sometimes called a fourth person pronoun, although fourth person pronouns do not exist in English. It is used to refer to a hypothetical person or to people in general. It is typically only used in formal writing. Occasionally, people use one/ones pronouns as a gender neutral pronoun.

The usage of one/ones pronouns by a person is sometimes considered an example of neopronouns, because, despite being a naturally occurring pronoun in English, it's not the traditional usage of the pronoun when used for a specific person.

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.

Flag

The they/them, he/him, she/her pronoun user flags were created by Tumblr user love-all-around1223 on April 14, 2018.[4]

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