Gender-Neutral Pronouns

The value of zie

English, and most other languages, only make use of gendered pronouns for people. Someone is always "he" or "she"; the pronoun "it" is only used for inanimate objects and animals, in some cases. This leads to the problem of how to refer to the abstract single individual, in phrases such as "Once the user has performed this task, he/she/it should then..." Typically, the masculine third-person singular is used, though many people view this as sexist or simply incorrect. Some people use the feminine, but this can lead to confusion, as many think that using the feminine form specifically means only female individuals. Additionally, under normal usage, there is no way to differentiate between the general case and those times when one wants to refer only to male individuals. Many people simply use the plural ("they", "them"), but this is grammatically incorrect. A solution is to come up with a set of third-person singular gender-neutral pronouns. Over the years, several such sets have been proposed, with the following being the best variant of the most popular family.

Subject Object Possessive
zie zim zir zirs zimself
they them their theirs themselves
Zie looked at the thing.
The person looked at zim.
Possessive Adjective
It was zir thing.
Possessive Pronoun
The thing was zirs.
The person did it zimself.

There are many positive aspects that recommend this set over others. All the forms are sufficiently similar to feel unified. None of them sound so similar to existing pronouns as to be indistinguishable, but they remind one of them. In fact, some forms are similar to the masculine and others to the feminine, without favoring either one overall. The analogy between the endings and those of the third-person plural make it easier to remember and understand. Additionally, the lack of repetition aids clarity and is simply an example of good design. (Some forms of actual pronouns repeat, such as the object and possessive adjective forms of "her".) Lastly, this set already has a head start over most competitors, having achieved a level of acceptance among many online communities.

420 people have viewed this page since 25 November 2000.

© Andrés Santiago Pérez-Bergquist, All rights reserved. The reproduction of this work, by any means electronic, physical, or otherwise, in whole or in part, except for the purposes of review or criticism, without the express written consent of the author, is strictly prohibited. All references to copyrighted and/or trademarked names and ideas held by other individuals and/or corporations should not be considered a challenge to said copyrights and trademarks.

If you wish to contact the author, you may do so at