Neopronouns - What is it? What does it mean?

Last Updated: 02/10/2022
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Neopronoun user flag

Neopronouns are a set of singular person pronouns that are not an officially recognized part of the language they are used in. Neopronoun users can be of many different genders but typically choose pronoun sets that help themself express their gender identity better.

In English and many other languages, singular pronouns can be gender-specific like she/her or he/him as well as neutral ones like they/them. People often use gender neutral pronoun sets in order to avoid getting the plural they/them confused with the singular pronouns they/them. Others may prefer to use third person pronouns of their choice because they help them feel valid and accepted.


Table of contents

Terminology

The Oxford English Dictionary states that a singular they can be "used instead of he or she to refer to a person whose sex is not mentioned or not known".

A word like she/her or he/him is gender-specific and typically refers to a woman or a man respectively. The singular form of  they/them is often a preferred pronoun set of trans men and women as well as non-binary individuals.

Gender neutral pronoun set goes the singular form of they. For English speakers, pronoun sets that are neutral in nature are increasingly taking the place of specific ones. Personal pronoun may be a form of recognition of a person's identity. These pronoun variants can help people build an inclusive environment and show respect to the human being. A new pronoun may help a non-binary and/or fluid individual showcase their identity better.

Some of the commonly acceptable neopronouns are xe/xem, ze/hir, ey/em, and so on. They may be used by anyone regardless of their gender identity or expression. There are also noun-self pronoun variants with existing nouns. For example, they may refer to an object, an animal, an outer-worldly being. Some of the singular pronoun sets may be variations of a word that an individual chooses to identify with. For instance, some of the most common examples of noun-self pronouns are bee/beemself, vamp/vampself, cat/catself and so on. These new pronouns are not only acceptable to use in your daily conversation, but they are also a great way to show your respect for the individual who uses them. There are also third person pronouns that may allude to they/them, Spivak pronouns are among the examples. 

Some people may use the term personal pronouns instead. Essentially they are one and the same. It is important to ask them about their preferred pronouns. To some people, gender neutral pronouns are about self-expression while to others they are about being heard and recognized for their identity. 

It is important to note, a gender neutral pronoun does not equal gender. Someone who identifies as non-binary may use he/him pronouns or neopronouns of their own choice. They may prefer to use neopronouns as an alternative pronoun. They are often about an unique, individual expression as well as making people feel more comfortable in conversation.

History

14-19th Century

Despite the fact that neopronouns seem to be fairly new in usage there is a long existence associated with the use of pronouns in the English language. For instance, they which is now a pronoun often used by non-binary and transgender individuals can be traced back to the 14th-century poem - William and the Werewolf.

The word thon is a gender-neutral pronoun that was created in 1858. In fact, thon is one of the oldest noted examples of a neopronoun. An American composer by the name of Charles Crosby Converse coined  thon/thoself pronouns. Converse referred to thon/thoself pronouns as a contraction of that one. Another gender-neutral pronoun ze dates notably dates back to 1864. 

20th Century

1912 saw the addition of he’er/his’er/him’er. This sparked a national debate in the United States. 

The Sacramento Bee used the gender-neutral pronoun hir from 1920 to 1945. 

Mary Orovan invented the pronoun co/coselelf which gained popularity among the cooperative community members in Twin Oaks, Virginia. 

Kate Bornstein used ze/hir pronouns to refer to a character in their novel Nearly Roadkill 

21st Century

The term neopronouns originated in 2010. It stems from neological and pronouns. Noun-self pronouns can trace their origins to the same time with the most mentions on the Tumblr website. 

The neopronoun thon is one of the oldest neopronouns in circulation to this day. In a recent U.S.-based LGBTQ+ census, 18 individuals referred to themselves as thon. 

It is important to note that English speakers use different phrases today than centuries ago. The terminology is constantly evolving and changing. Phrases and words that were not here decades ago are now commonly used and understood. Neopronouns express the fluidity and change of English and other languages.

How Prevalent Are Neopronouns? 

Contrary to what some people may say, neopronouns use is not that prevalent in today’s communication. A recent survey by the Trevor Project conducted among 40,000 LGBTQ+ young people found that only 4 percent used pronouns like ze/zir or fae/faer. Most non-binary youth used a combination of pronouns. The majority of those surveyed preferred gender neutral pronoun of their choice as well as pronouns like he/him, she/her and they/themself. Neopronouns express the gender identity of a person but they may also make an individual feel appreciated and welcomed.

Neopronouns

When it comes to personal pronouns, it is all about the individual who uses them. An individual that asks to be referred to by a gender neutral pronoun may have strict rules on how they want people to use neopronouns to address them. Others may not be so strict and have flexible boundaries. There is a long list of potential personal pronouns, and the best thing to do when using them is ask the person about the neopronoun rather than assume for yourself.

Noun-self users may also use multiple sets of pronouns. Some may use one set at work or school, another set on social media and a completely different set with close ones. Many individuals continue to create new pronouns to help them express their identities better. This is not an exclusive or extensive list of neopronouns that are currently in use by many non-binary and trans people. It is simply a reference point for people to learn more about the most popular neopronouns out there. 

Pronouns, as well as their flags, are listed in order of the oldest-known to most-recently published. 

Thon

Thon is one of the first known instances of someone using a neopronoun. As we’ve mentioned earlier, American composer Charles Crozat Converse used a set of tho/thons/thonself pronouns in 1858. Thon pronoun was included in several dictionaries several decades later. Among them were: Webster’s International Dictionary in 1910, Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary in 1913, and Webster’s Second International in 1959.

 


Thon


Case

Pronoun

Example

Pronunciation

Nominative

Thon

Thon went to the store.

/ðɑn/

Accusative

Thon

I met thon today.

/ðɑn/

Pronominal Possessive

Thons

Thon walked thon's dog today.

/ðɑnz/

Predicative Possessive

Thon's

If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow thon's.

/ðɑnz/

Reflexive

Thonself

Thon has to drive thonself to school.

/ðɑnsɛlf/

E

The nominative form of the pronoun e seems to have existed for at least a hundred years. In 1890 James Rogers created it. It was proposed in response to thon set. The pronoun form e was derived from he and them pronoun sets. 

In 1977, a version in all forms with capital letters was independently created by the University of California at Los Angeles psychologist Donald G. MacKay. An identical version was also independently created in 1989 by Victor J. Stone, Professor of Law.

 


E


Case

Pronoun

Example

Pronunciation

Nominative

E


E went to the store.


/i/


Accusative

Em

I met em today

/ɛm/

Pronominal Possessive

Es

E walked es dog today.

/iz/

Predicative Possessive


Ems




If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow ems.



/ɛmz/


Reflexive


Emself



E has to drive emself to school.




/ɛmsɛlf/


 

Ae

David Lindsay created the ae pronoun set in 1920 in his novel A Voyage to Arcturus. The pronouns were for an alien race which were born from air and of a third sex. This pronoun set is well known on the internet. 

 


Ae


Case

Pronoun

Example

Pronunciation

Nominative

Ae


Ae went to the store.


/ei/


Accusative

Aer

I met aer today.

/ɛɹ/

Pronominal Possessive

Aer

E walked es dog today.

/ɛɹ/

Predicative Possessive


Aers




If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow aers.



/ɛɹz/


Reflexive


Aerself



Ae has to drive aerself to school.




/ɛɹsɛlf/


 

Co

Co was coined as neutral pronoun by Mary Orovan in an eight-page pamphlet Humanizing English. The pamphlet was first published in 1970. Today this set of pronouns continues to be used in some communities. 

 


Co


Case

Pronoun

Example

Pronunciation

Nominative

Co

Co went to the store.

/ko/


Accusative

Co

I met co today.

/ko/

Pronominal Possessive

Cos

Co walked cos dog today.

/koz/

Predicative Possessive

Cos

If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow cos.


/koz/


Reflexive

Coself

Co has to drive coself to school.


/kosɛlf/


 

Ve

The ve pronoun set was created in the early 1970s. Its original creator is unknown. The most well-known use of ve comes from Greg Egan, who used it in his books Distress (1995) and Diaspora (1998) Despite the fact that Egan is sometimes credited with having created the pronouns, he has never claimed to have done so. 

 


Ve


Case

Pronoun

Example

Pronunciation

Nominative

Ve/Vi

Ve/Vi went to the store.

/vi/


Accusative

Ver/Vir

I met ver/vir today.

/vəɹ/, /viɹ/ †

Pronominal Possessive

Vis

Ve walked vis dog today.

/viz/

Predicative Possessive

Vers/Virs

If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow vers/virs.


/vəɹz/, /viɹz/ †


Reflexive

Verself/Virself

Ve has to drive verself/virself to school.


/vəɹsɛlf/, /viɹsɛlf/ †


 

Xe

This pronoun set is one of the most frequently used pronouns on the internet and in everyday conversation. It was first coined by Don Rickter in an issue of Unitarian Universalist published in May 1973. Rickter’s coining is affirmed by Mario Pei, who credited him in his 1978 book.

 


Xe



Case

Pronoun

Example

Pronunciation

Nominative

Xe

Xe went to the store.

/zi/


Accusative

Xem

I met xem today.

/zɛm/

Pronominal Possessive

Xyr

Xe walked xyr dog today.

/ziɹ/

Predicative Possessive

Xyrs

If I need a phone, my friend will let me borrow xyrs.


/ziɹz/


Reflexive

Xemself

Xe has to drive xemself to school.


/zɛmsɛlf/

 

Per

Known as person pronouns, these are meant to be used for an individual of any gender. John Clark created this pronoun in a 1972 issue of the Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association. These pronouns were notably used in the 1976 novel Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy.

 


Per (person pronouns)



Case

Pronoun

Example

Pronunciation

Nominative

Per or Person

Per/person went to the store.

/pəɹ/


Accusative

Per

I met per today.

/pəɹ/

Pronominal Possessive

Per

Per walked per dog today.

/pəɹ/

Predicative Possessive

Pers

If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow pers.


/pəɹz/


Reflexive

Perself

Per has to drive perself to school.


/pəɹsɛlf/


Ey 

Christine M. Elverson created an alternative pronoun to the singular they in 1975. The pronoun set was formed by dropping th from they. Since there pronouns were based on they, English-speaking people would say ey were instead of ey was.

 


Ey (Elverson pronouns)

 



Case

Pronoun

Example

Pronunciation

Nominative

Ey

Ey went to the store.

/eɪ/


Accusative

Em

I met em today.

/ɛm/

Pronominal Possessive

Eir

Ey walked eir dog today.

/ɛɹ/

Predicative Possessive

Eirs

If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow eirs.


/ɛɹz/


Reflexive

Emself

Ey has to drive emself to school.


/ɛmsɛlf/

 

Hu

This pronoun set is also known as the humanist pronouns. They were created by Sasha Newborn in 1982. The first known use of the pronouns was in a college humanities text. They are based on the word human and can be considere one of the first nounself pronouns out there.

 


Hu (humanist pronouns)

 

 



Case

Pronoun

Example

Pronunciation

Nominative

Hu

Hu went to the store.

/hju/


Accusative

Hum

I met hum today.

/hjum/

Pronominal Possessive

Hus

Hu walked hus dog today.

/hjuz/

Predicative Possessive

Hus

If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow hus.


/hjuz/


Reflexive

Huself

Hu has to drive huself to school.


/hjusɛlf/

 

E Spivak 

These quite popular pronouns were created by Michael Spivak in 19190. The pronouns were first used in Spivak’s manual The Joy of Tex so that no one in his examples had a specified gender. Spivak pronouns became well-known online because they were built into the popular multi-user chat LambdaMOO in 1991. The pronouns eventually became a very common feature on other multi-user chats made in the 1990s. 

Over 5% of the 2019 Gender Census have indicated that they were happy using or being referred to by Spivak pronouns. Even though many credit Spivak with creating this set of pronouns, he never claimed that they are his own invention. It is not known whether Spivak was inspired by the other "E" pronouns that have existed or by the similar Elverson pronouns. 

 


E (Spivak pronouns)

 




Case

Pronoun

Example

Pronunciation

Nominative

E

E went to the store.

/i/


Accusative

Em

I met em today.

/ɛm/

Pronominal Possessive

Eir

E walked eir dog today.

/ɛɹ/

Predicative Possessive

Eirs

If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow eirs.


/ɛɹz/


Reflexive

Emself

E has to drive emself to school.


/ɛmsɛlf/

 

Ze

Just like the xe pronoun, there are several different versions of the ze pronoun set. It is likely to have been based on the German plural third person pronoun sie. The first known case of ze being used is in 1997. Richard Creel proposed ze/zer/mer. There is also another version which was possibly independently created by Kate Bornstein in the 1998 book My Gender Workbook. This version uses ze as well as zie and/or sie and hir. The most popular variation of these pronouns was created in 2013. 


Ze

 




Case

Pronoun

Example

Pronunciation

Nominative

Ze

Ze went to the store.

/zi/


Accusative

Zir

I met zir today.

/zəɹ/

Pronominal Possessive

Zir

Ze walked zir dog today.

/zəɹ/

Predicative Possessive

Zirs

If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow zirs.


/zəɹz/


Reflexive

Zirself

Ze has to drive zirself to school.


/zəɹsɛlf/

 

Fae

The fae pronouns are a set of neopronouns created by Tumblr user in 2013. That said, these pronouns may have been created independently by someone else earlier. Fae is one of the most commonly used neopronoun sets. It can be either a non-themed or nounself pronoun set. Fae is alsy likely to have popularised the use of nounself pronouns on the internet. 

 


Fae

 

 



Case

Pronoun

Example

Pronunciation

Nominative

Fae

Fae went to the store.

/feɪ/


Accusative

Faer

I met faer today.

/fɛɹ/

Pronominal Possessive

Faer

Fae walked faer dog today.

/fɛɹ/

Predicative Possessive

Faers

If I need a phone my friend will let me borrow faers.


/fɛɹz/


Reflexive

Faerself

Fae has to drive faerself to school.


/fɛɹsɛlf/

 

Other

Even though these pronouns do not fall into the neopronouns category per se, they have a standard usage of pronouns in English. Some people may choose to use them as their personal pronouns

One

One is a pronoun that typically stands for a generic individual. It is typically used in formal speech when discussing individuals or someone hypothetical. Some people also use one as an alternative to them. 

 


One

 

 



Case

Pronoun

Example

Pronunciation

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.


Reflexive

Oneself

One has to drive oneself to school.



It 

It is a pronoun for inanimate objects in English. There are many languages that also have a pronoun that has the same meaning. People may find this pronoun extremely offensive but there are some individuals that may use it as their preferred pronoun. Some may use it as a neopronoun but again the best way to use the pronoun in conversation is double-check with your friend or colleague that is using the pronoun. 

 


It

 

 



Case

Pronoun

Example

Pronunciation

Nominative

It

It went to the store.


Accusative

It

I saw 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.


 

Flag and Symbols

There are many different neopronoun sets out there. Each one has its own flag or a variant of the neopronoun user flag. The most commonly used purple neopronoun flag was designed on April 25, 2020. It represents agender neopronoun users, men who use neopronouns, neopronoun-using women, non-binary/genderqueer as well as multigender neopronoun users. 

Neopronoun user flagNeopronoun user flag

The green and orange flag was designed sometime in 2019. The flag features green for masculine identifying neopronoun users, blue for older pronouns sets and the history associated with them, white for non-binary neopronoun users, yellow for newer pronouns and happiness, orange for feminine-identifying neopronoun users

Neopronoun user flagNeopronoun user flag

How to Pronounce

There is a great list of neopronouns above as well as elsewhere on the internet, but don’t panic if you cannot pronounce all of them. Some of the most pronoun forms may be easier pronounced than others. If in doubt over pronunciation - ask the neopronoun user you are talking to. No dictionary can tell you better than the friend you're having a conversation with. Ask about the many different forms and ways their pronouns can be pronounced. They will definitely point you in the right direction. 

Some neopronoun users will be more open about the history behind their preferred pronouns. Be polite and non-intrusive but you should definitely ask for clarification if you are unsure. 

The best way to approach the person about neopronouns is to ask them how to pronounce the neopronoun in order to use it properly during the conversation. Say something like: 

“Hey Xanu, I’ve noticed your social media profile states ze/zeem pronouns. Can you please tell  me how to properly pronounce them so I get it right?” 

Remember, practice makes perfect. So, even if you don’t get the neopronoun right the first time - don’t panic! You can always use the person’s name instead. 

How to Support Those Who Use Neopronouns? 

Let’s start off with the fact that neopronouns are real. They are here to stay! So, one of the best ways to support those who choose to use a pronoun is actually using them in the language you speak. If a person asks you to use their pronoun - be polite and agree to use them. 

Neopronoun users are serious about their identity. You are not in the position to question it or ask them intrusive questions. People who use neopronouns are well versed in them, so if you do ask questions, make sure you’re not crossing any lines. 

So, how do you support people in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond? Start by doing some of the following: 

  • Learn more, reading this article is a great start!

  • Research the origin and  reasons behind them

  • Educate others about third person pronouns

  • Always share your pronoun in written and oral communication

You can always join LGBTQ+ organizations and volunteer your time at queer events and marches. The best way to show your support is by being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community 365 days a year, not just during Pride Month. 

Another great way to help LGBTQ+ people who use neopronouns get more recognition is to raise awareness in public and on social media. There will always be someone who criticizes others because they lack understanding. Try to do your best to educate people who are ignorant. 

How to Use Neopronouns?

Some people refuse to accept the usage of a personal pronoun. That said, there are a lot less people who do not accept a neopronoun than there are those that make the best attempts to use inclusive terminology.

A personal pronoun is a form of speech that stands in for a human being in a group of people. So if you are confused about the ways to use xe/xem, fae/faer or ey/em in a sentence - you're not alone. This article aims to help you learn the meaning behind each pronoun people use while talking. For example, we use the pronoun set she/her or he/him when referring to a female or a man in the group. 

Non-binary pronouns, as well as they/them words are now much more widespread. In fact, a recent study found that one in five people in the United States uses singular they pronoun. 

There are also various pronouns that fall into a different category. Some of these references are below.

Alternating

A pronoun set that a human being may use to refer to oneself. This pronoun set sees people use other forms of a binary pronoun. Some people may choose to alternate between the male and female pronoun. For example, a traditional he/him or she/her will develop into he/her or she/him. A fairly regular way to use this pronoun set is in legal documentation. So instead of using alternative gender neutral pronouns set, an individual will use an alternating pronoun. 

No pronoun

Yes, no pronoun set to accept or use in a sentence. No plural or other form to use to refer to oneself. Instead, a person's name at all times. There are many articles on Taimi’s LGBTQ+ wiki stating that people may often opt using their name instead of a pronoun. Some folks do not like pronouns at all when it comes to them. They may go pronounless. These individuals prefer to be addressed  by their name instead of pronouns of any kind. 

Nounself

This article mentioned nounself pronouns above. These are a form of neopronouns derived from words that have been in existence for a while. So think of nouns that xenogender people may identify with. It is important to note, the same nounself pronoun set may have a different meaning to the one using them. So, always double-check with those you are having a conversation with.

Emojiself

Just like nounself, these are a type of neopronoun that identify with something already in existence. In the case of emojiself, these are typically used on the internet. They are derived from emojis. Their usage is typically limited to a post on a social media website. People will usually put an explanation of how their emojiself pronouns should be pronounced. They are not intended to be used by someone in oral communication but possibly may be one of the other forms to talk about oneself.

Nameself

A gender neutral pronoun contraction that forces people to accept using the person's name instead of a pronoun. It may be one of the many ways human being attempts to describe themselves in conversation with other people. The nameself pronoun is essentially derived from using the individual’s name instead of a certain word or an emoji posted on the web. In some cases, nameself pronoun may us a shortened version of someone’s name for example Samatha or Samuel may use Sam. Their pronouns will be sam/sams/samself. 

An alternative version of the flag featuring green, white and purple stripesAn alternative version of the flag featuring green, white and purple stripes

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Julia Sotska is a former Senior PR Manager at Taimi. She hails from Toronto, Canada where she studied Communications and Journalism Broadcasting. Julia is an experienced journalist, TV producer, editor and communications manager. Her work has been featured in prominent publications in Canada, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and more. Julia is passionate about LGBTQ+ and disability rights, mental health, wellness, and parenthood.

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