Pronouns: A Brief History & Guide on How to use Them

Some languages, such as English, do not have a gender neutral or third gender pronoun available. This has been understandably criticized, as many writers will use “his / hers” when referring to an individual in the third person – in addition, the split between “he / him” and “she / her” does not leave room for other gender identities, which is a source of frustration within the trans community.  Individuals who are limited by the language that doesn’t include gender neutral pronouns have made some, in the interest of gender equality.

Around  1795, the the language authorities Lindley Murray, Joseph Priestly, and Hugh Blair and others campaigned against pronoun irregularities (e.g. lack of agreement on the number of genders). Grammarians such as 1879, 1922, 1931, 1957, and the 1970s accepted the the term “they” as the gender neutral pronoun. However, people in 1795, 1825, 1863, 1898, 1926, and 1982 argued against it for various reasons – and for whatever reason, people have been using the “they” as a singular pronoun for the last 600 years. 

  1. Making Mistakes: It’s OK to makes mistakes when it comes to pronouns, as it will take time to get used to. The best thing to do if you make a mistake is to say something like, “Sorry, I meant (insert pronoun)” straight away. But if you realize that you’ve made a mistake after the incident, apologize in private and move on. 
  2. Ask for someones pronouns: You can’t know what pronouns someone uses just by looking at them – asking and correctly using someones pronouns is one of the most important ways to show your respect someone’s gender identity. I know I mentioned this in my “How to Be a good Trans Ally” blog, but I want to re-emphasise this, but ask someone their pronouns. 
  3.  Practice: This will help you familiarize yourself with how someone chooses to identify, and will lessen the amount of mistakes that you make. You could practice using someones pronouns by, for example – looking in the mirror, or thinking about what they like and replace the old pronouns with the ones with the ones they currently use. 
  4. Keep. Practicing: You won’t master someones pronouns straight away – it will take time and a LOT of practice. Don’t beat yourself up if you mess up from time to time yes – but also try and use someones pronouns. 


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