Personal Gender Pronouns (PGPs)
"Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in" is a common
quote from the Sopranos TV series. It was said when mafia members
thought they were legal, but then they had to break the law again.
Well, maybe, as an advanced English learner, you
think you've already learned and mastered English pronouns. You know,
those small grammar words like he and she that replace proper nouns like
David and Sarah.
If you check a grammar book, you'll see them
labelled as feminine and masculine pronouns. However, the LGBTQ+
community are using new pronouns these days which they feel more able to
Whether or not you decide to use these pronouns,
and please note you may cause offence if you don't, we think you should
at least be aware of what they are and who they refer to. So, for those
of you who are not familiar, here's a shortlist.
They / them / theirs For example, “Alex ate
their pizza because they were hungry”. This is quite a common gender-neutral
pronoun and it can be used in the singular. Singular “they” is not a new
concept to English speakers, in fact I often use it myself. This
'singular they' is often used if we do not know who we are talking about.
For example, “Who sent you the email? What did they want?”)
Ze / hir / hir For example, “Alex ate hir
pizza because ze was hungry”. Ze is pronounced “zee” and it can be
spelled ze, zie or xe. Ze replaces she/he/they. Hir is pronounced like
the word “here” and it replaces her/hers/him/his/they/theirs.
Per / per / pers For example, “Alex ate per
pizza because per were hungry”. Think of it as a shortened version of “person”.
It / it / its For example, “Alex ate its
pizza because it was hungry”. I was really surprised to read that it,
and its were acceptable to be used for people. I have only ever used
them to refer to animals and inanimate objects. However, apparently, as
long as you are not misgendering someone by using it/it/its, these are
valid pronouns for someone to use.
Ok, now that you have memorized those pronouns, you
shouldn’t cause any offence, correct?
Well, not so fast. Some people also use more than
one set of pronouns. They could prefer a combination of “they/she” or
“they/them/theirs or she / her / hers”.
Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back
When someone uses multiple sets of pronouns, it
could mean that they are okay with either one being used, or that they
accept both, but they may have a preference towards the one set or
another. A person of any gender can use multiple sets of pronouns, so it
might be better to just ask.
Of course, probably the easiest thing to do is to
use the person's name. (Alex ate Alex’s food because Alex was hungry)
This avoids offence and it's what I'll probably do if ever I'm in a
situation where I'm not sure what pronoun to use.
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