So what's up with pronouns?

Welcome!! It's pronoun education time. Curated by the IUPUI LGBTQ+ Center.

No, really. What are pronouns?

Pronouns are words that we use to replace a noun. We use pronouns in everyday speech, like:

  • 1st person singular: I/me/my/mine/myself

  • 1st person plural: we/us/our/ours/ourselves

  • 2nd person: you/you/your/yours/yourself

  • 3rd person: it/it/its/its/itself

But what we are going to focus on are the pronouns used when referring to people. The ones you've probably already heard of are:

  • she/her/her/hers/herself

  • he/him/his/his/himself

  • they/them/their/theirs/themself

They/them is often used to refer to multiple people, but it's also used a neutral, single person pronoun! And yes, it is grammatically correct. You probably use they/them all the time without realizing it.

  • "Uh oh, someone forgot their purse here!"

  • "Hopefully they come back to get it."

  • "I think someone just left, I wonder if it's theirs?"

But that's not all the pronouns!

What are neopronouns?

Pronouns outside of he, she, or they are known as "neopronouns". There's a common misconception that neopronouns were born in the 21st century, but they actually go all the way back to the 14th century!

In 1789, William H. Marshall recorded the existence of two gender neutral pronouns: ou and (h)a. "Ou" is derived from the Middle English "(h)a", which is the reduced, neutral version of the Old and Middle English masculine and feminine pronouns of "he" and "heo". And yes, you read that right - the feminine pronouns were originally heo/hie/hire. "She" became the norm because he and heo sounded too similar. So she is kind of a neopronoun itself!

Some more examples of historical neopronouns are:

A set of pronouns recorded by by Merriam-Webster as a conjugation of "that one" to create thon. The first use recorded by Merriam-Webster was 1858.

A set of pronouns created in 1890 by James Rogers.

A set of pronouns created by David Lindsay in his 1920 novel A Voyage to Arcturus, for aliens with a third sex.

A set of pronouns created by Mary Orovan in 1970, as an alternative to he or she.

A set of pronouns created in 1975 by Christine Elverson while living in Illinois.

More on Neopronouns...

As more people become comfortable with expressing their identities, more people have been using neopronouns and creating neopronouns. The list is growing, which is why we won't be listing them all here, but we will list some fairly common ones.

There's also a subcategory of neopronouns known as "nounself pronouns" that are pronouns derived from an already existing word. They first appeared on tumblr in 2013 and have gained popularity since then. Many people find these particuarly difficult to get the hang of, so we also have some basic examples of those below, too.

xe/xem/xyr - pronounced “zee/zem/zeer” or “zee/zem/zur”
"Xe went out to get xemself some of xyr favorite ice cream."

ze/hir/hirs - pronounced “zee/heers/heers”
"Ze won't be home until later. Ze is with hir partner."

ae/aer/aers - pronounced “ay/air/airs”
"Ae will call you later. Ae is driving home from aer job."

ey/em/eir - pronounced “ay/em/heir”
"Eir email is '[email protected]', you can email em anytime!"

kit/kit/kits - pronounced like “it” but with a k
"Kit raised kit's dog, Misty, all by kitself."

per/per/pers - pronounced “pur/pur/purs”
"Per is so funny! Per sense of humor is like per dad's."

Nounself pronoun set examples:

fae/faer/faers - pronounced “fay/fair/fairs”
Derived from the word "fae" or "faery"
"Fae is at the theater by faerself, to see faer favorite film."

bun/bun/buns - pronounced how it looks
Derived from the word "bunny"
"Buns smile is so lovely! I love seeing bun happy."

vam/vamp/vamps - pronounced how it looks
Derived from the word "vampire"
"Vam went shopping by vampself, to get vamp a dress."

Note: some of these pronouns may have alternate spellings.

What about "it"?

Another pronoun that is important is "it". While its not a new pronoun per say, some people consider it to be a neopronoun when used for people. Yes, some people use it/its/it/its/itself pronouns.

"It drove its car to store to get itself groceries."
"It went a on a walk with its partner."
"It is such a kind person! It's one of nicest people I know."

"Isn't that offensive?" It is true that calling a trans person "it" has historically been a way to degrade and dehumanize them, and you should never just call a person "it" if it's not their pronoun. But pronouns are a personal choice, and if a person feels most comfortable going by it/its/it/its/itself pronouns, you should call it that.

How can I avoid misgendering someone?

Getting used to using new pronouns of any kind for someone can be challenging. But it is important to practice them to avoid slipping up; misgendering someone can be extremely harmful, even if it doesn't feel like a big deal to you. Luckily, there's some websites that both help you 'try on' some new pronouns for yourself, as well as test you on your ability to conjoin them in sentences.

Pronoun dressing room
Practice with pronouns
More pronoun practice

It's also important to know that just because a person uses a certain pronoun, doesn't mean that determines their gender identity. Men don't have to use he/him, women don't have to use she/her, and nonbinary people don't need to use they/them or neopronouns. You could identify fully as a man and use exclusively xe/it, or be agender and use exclusively she/her.

Pronouns are as much as a part of our gender expression as clothes are; you wear what makes you comfortable and feel like yourself, no matter your gender, and you can go by whatever pronouns make you feel comfortable, regardless of gender or if you're cis or trans. So feel free to explore them!

Overall, not only is it important to not assume someone's pronouns, but don't assume their gender identity based on their pronouns.

At the end of the day, pronouns are an expression of our identity. You don't need to fully understand a person's identity or why they use certain pronouns, you just need to respect them. We hope this site has helped you understand pronouns a little bit more!