General Question

flo's avatar

What is the pronoun for the neutral gender?

Asked by flo (13224points) April 9th, 2015

For people who don’t want to be referred to as he or she what is the word

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31 Answers

janbb's avatar

Some use “ze” and some use “they” or “them.”

talljasperman's avatar

Transgender.

marinelife's avatar

The language has not yet evolved to embrace gender neutral pronouns or Persons of the Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters (POSSLQ—awkward). Or adult romantic interests (boyfriends? girlfriends? [ugh]).

talljasperman's avatar

Hermaphrodite.

whitenoise's avatar

@talljasperman get it together, mate

Unfortunately there is no word yet in English. They recently introduced ‘hen’ in Swedish.

I like ‘ze’!
Would that lead to zes?

Like “A flight attendant, while ze is doing zes job, is responsible for safety on board our aircraft?”

SavoirFaire's avatar

If someone does not want to be referred to as “he” or “she,” then the best thing to do is ask them which pronouns they do prefer. But if you cannot do that for some reason, singular they is a fairly safe choice that already exists in standard English.

flo's avatar

But “They” is already taken a pronoun for more than one person.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@flo Plenty of words do double duty in the English language. And if you look at the link, Steven Pinker has suggested that singular they and plural they are actually two separate words that happen to be homonyms.

whitenoise's avatar

@savoirfaire
As you, I use they as well. You cannot maintain, though, that it is standard English.

Having a separate word would be great, but language cannot be commanded to change, so easily, I’m afraid.

flo's avatar

@SavoirFaire They in this case is confusing

flo's avatar

http://homeworktips.about.com/od/englishhomework/a/homonyms.htm different spelling same sound.
Same spelling different meaning also called Homonym?

“Didn’t you say that it was more than one person i.e “they” that you gave it to?”

There is “ze” for example. No confusion there, unless:
“I thought the person whose name is “ze” is who gave it to”
It is only after the fact (after some unfortunate consequence) that is dicovered.
But with their and there, or ark, and arc, etc. no confusion. If someone mispelled the word no problem.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@whitenoise Read my link. It has been standard English for centuries. That’s one of its major advantages. And even if people want to pretend that it isn’t standard written English (despite the fact that it appears in Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, Thackery, and even the King James Bible), it is clearly standard informal spoken English—so much so that many people use it without realizing it (and almost everyone processes it without issue upon hearing it used).

@flo In what case? Do you have a particular sentence in mind that you need help with? It is an observable fact that most English speakers process singular they without any trouble. Indeed, the only people who regularly take issue with it are the overly pedantic (who are actually processing its use just fine but want to be difficult because they mistakenly believe singular they to be incorrect) and those who are still learning English (which could be mitigated if only we were willing to teach singular they as standard usage). For ordinary speakers, however, context takes care of the problem—which, by the way, is also how we cope with misspellings of there/their/they’re, ark/arc, other homophones.

(Speaking of homophones, that’s the term for words that are spelled differently but sound the same. Though “homonym” is sometimes incorrectly used to mean this, it technically refers only to words that have the same spelling and pronunciation but different meanings.)

oratio's avatar

I mixed up the Q’s and answered the wrong one, so I post it here again.
I don’t see it as a big problem to not have a specific genderless noun, but some vocal interest groups from the LGBT-society might view that differently.

For several reasons in Sweden the genderless pronoun ‘hen’ [heəʳn] (seriously, no joke) was introduced to accompany the swedish pronouns for he and she, a word inspired by the finnish genderless pronoun ‘hän’ [hæn]. Some newspaper use it, but it’s not very accepted in general.

This suggestion and diskussion first surfaced in the 60’s and re-emerged in the noughties, where media caught on. In my opinion it will likely not stick, but how a language evolves is unpredictable.

Personally, I think it is a good idea to have a word to use when gender has no importance or one needs to include both genders. In written english it is easier, where I sometimes use s/he, but that is less suitable to use in spoken english.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
flo's avatar

Let’s say there are 3 employees over there, and Bob is the neutral gender one, and another employee says “I gave the documents to them”. It would only be the really up to date on everything LGBT, who would ask “Do you mean them as in the plural them or Bob?”.

I changed my mind about “Ze”, or “Hen” or whatever else is already not in use like “they”.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they

flo's avatar

“They” is also used for people of mixed gender. Why, because it is been like that forever. But why not have pronoun for mixed gender plural. female plural, and male plural.

flo's avatar

@SavoirFaire
http://blog.londolozi.com/2012/07/what-is-the-plural-of-mongoose/

The plural of foot is feet.
The plural of goosefoot is goosefoots.
The plural of moose is moose.
The plural of goose is geese.
The plural of mouse, the rodent, is mice.
The plural of mouse, the computer hardware device, is mouses.
We cope with that too. We all end up learning them eventually, but…

flo's avatar

@oratio “This suggestion and diskussion first surfaced in the 60’s and re-emerged in the noughties, where media caught on”
I didn’t know that. I thought it was a thing of the last few years why I don’t know.

flo's avatar

@SavoirFaire There is nothing in your link and post related to LGBT, Centuries ago ”(despite the fact that it appears in Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, Thackery, and even the King James Bible), it is clearly standard informal spoken English” there was no such topic as LGBT. And of course not in the Bilble.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@flo “Let’s say there are 3 employees over there, and Bob is the neutral gender one, and another employee says ‘I gave the documents to them’.”

You should say, “I have the documents to Bob.” After all, this is likely to be a situation where it isn’t appropriate to use a pronoun in any case. If at least two of the employees are male, saying “I gave the documents to him” would be confusing. If at least two of the employees are female, saying “I gave the documents to her” would be confusing. So really, it’s best to just use the person’s name in this case regardless.

”‘They’ is also used for people of mixed gender. Why, because it is been like that forever. But why not have pronoun for mixed gender plural. female plural, and male plural.”

I take it you mean groups of mixed gender, not people. And some languages do, in fact, have a separate pronoun for female plural (French, for instance). Perhaps some languages also have separate pronouns for male plural and non-specific plural, but most do not because of a subtle type of sexism: male is assumed to be the default, so it is used when gender is unknown or mixed. The nice thing about an unspecific pronoun, however, is that it simply does not matter what the group’s composition is. And if it really is crucial to convey that information, we can always add it in. The problem is when language will not let us subtract an unintended meaning.

“We cope with that too. We all end up learning them eventually, but…”

But what? In the pluralization cases you cite, it’s a matter of English being a hodgepodge of other languages. We adopt words from everywhere, and we often (but not always) adopt their original pluralization rules as well. English is inconsistent. But singular they barely even has to be learned. Just about everyone does it despite the fact that it is rarely taught and frequently the target of hypercorrection.

“There is nothing in your link and post related to LGBT.”

So what? I never said that singular they was invented to deal with LGBT issues. In fact, my point was precisely the opposite: the link was provided to show that there is a preexisting gender neutral pronoun in standard English that we can apply to these issues without having to change the language at all. (This isn’t to say that I am strictly opposed to changing the language. But given the historical fact that the campaign to introduce new gender neutral pronouns has met with little success, the fact that we already have one is all the more relevant.)

flo's avatar

@SavoirFaire Please let me know if the link above makes sense as a response and why.

Re. “I take it you mean groups of mixed gender, not people.” Yes that is what I meant. Thanks for the correction.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@flo I’m afraid I don’t really understand how the link makes sense as a reply. It serves as a reminder that there are some people are either very stupid or very opportunistic, but it is not clear how that bears on this discussion. You asked for a gender neutral pronoun. I informed you of one that already exists in standard English. You pointed out a case where using the gender neutral pronoun could be confusing. I suggested that it was a case where using any pronoun was potentially confusing (and so, more specificity was called for). Perhaps your link is supposed to serve as evidence that nothing is idiot proof. This may be true. At some point, however, the failure rests entirely on the idiot.

flo's avatar

@SavoirFaire So, when is it your fault if you spill coffee on yourself? Never of course, according to brilliant people?

SavoirFaire's avatar

@flo You seem to be reverting to your old habit of just linking to things that annoy you instead of sticking to the topic. Do you actually have anything relevant to say, or are you abandoning the discussion in favor of dredging up twenty-year-old court cases?

(In case you’ve forgotten: this question is about gender neutral pronouns.)

flo's avatar

@SavoirFaire Thank you for helping me.

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