Using Non-Binary Pronouns (Examples and Test)
Non-Binary Personal PronounsSome people identify themselves as both male and female while others as neither male nor female. (A prominent example of this was singer Sam Smith in September 2019.) Described as "non-binary," many of those who do not identify as male or female prefer to use the pronoun they (and of course their, them, theirs, themself) instead of he or she. Occasionally, a non-binary person might ask you to use their name instead of a pronoun (e.g., Sarah, Sarah's, Sarah's self) when talking about them.
Simple GuidanceThe following rule will see you right in 95% of circumstances.
|he or she||they|
|him or her||them|
|his or her||their|
The pronouns only change when you're talking ABOUT one non-binary person.Before we discuss the grammatical quirks, it is worth noting that this only affects you when you talking about one non-binary person. It doesn't affect you if you are talking to a non-binary person, about yourself (if you are non-binary), or to several non-binary people. The table below shows where the changes occur.
|First Person Singular||I||me||my||mine||myself|
|Second Person Singular||you||you||your||yours||yourself|
|Third Person Singular
|First Person Plural||we||us||our||ours||ourselves|
|Second Person Plural||you||you||your||yours||yourselves|
|Third Person Plural||they||them||their||theirs||themselves|
Grammatical QuirksHere are two grammatical quirks associated with non-binary pronouns.
(Quirk 1) They is plural, but the person's name isn't.
HeThey isare taking histheir exams tomorrow.
(This sounds natural because we have plurals throughout, i.e., they, are, and their.)
- Jo is taking
histheir exams tomorrow.
(This sounds less natural. We now have two singulars (Jo and is) with a plural (their). This example is correct though.)
- Anyone who forgets their passport will be sent home. (This example also has two singulars (anyone and forgets) with a plural (their). Using their is a perfectly acceptable alternative, actually a strong preference, to writing his/her. This has nothing to do with non-binary people. This example has been included to highlight that their is already used as a singular.)
(*Quirk 2) Use themself instead of themselves.When referring to one non-binary person, use themself not themselves. For example:
SheThey isare managing herselfthemself.
(The word themself is still not listed in many dictionaries. If you try to write themself, your autocorrect will change it to themselves. However, when using a reflexive pronoun for one non-binary person, you should use themself.)
- You can do it yourself. (Talking to one person)
- You can do it yourselves. (Talking to several people)
- They can do it themself. (Talking about one person)
- They can do it themselves. (Talking about several people)
- If a student cheats, they will be dismissed.
- If students cheat, they will be dismissed.
The Emergence of Other Gender-Neutral PronounsYou might also have noticed other gender-neutral pronouns appearing. Ey, per, sie, ve, and zie are all recently proposed alternatives to he or she, but at present none is showing any signs of entering into common usage.
A Test on Using Non-Binary PronounsThis is a test to help you with selecting the correct non-binary pronouns and associated verbs.
Interactive TestYour score:
Click on each grey word and then select the correct non-binary version. (Be aware that some do not change.)