Non-Binary Pronouns

What Are Non-Binary Pronouns?

The non-binary pronouns are "they," "them," and "their." When talking about someone who identifies as non-binary, use "they/them" (not "he/him" or "she/her"), and use "their" (not "his/her").

Some people identify themselves as both male and female while others as neither male nor female. (The singer Sam Smith is a famous example.)

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. (I have bolded "about" because there is no issue if you're talking to them.)

Simple Guidance

The following rule will see you right in 95% of circumstances.
Don't Use
Do Use
he or she wrong crossthey correct tick
him or her wrong crossthem correct tick
his or her wrong crosstheir correct tick
Put simply, don't use the pronouns that identify the person as male or female. While that seems easy enough, it can lead to some awkward-sounding sentences as singular and plural concepts collide. More on this to come...

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 are 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.

Table with Pronoun Changes for a Non-Binary Person

The table below shows where the changes occur.
Subjective Case
Objective Case
Possessive Determiner
Possessive Pronouns
Reflexive Pronouns
First Person Singular I me my mine myself
Second Person Singular you you your yours yourself
Third Person Singular
he > they
she > they
him > them
her > them
his > their
her > their
his > theirs
hers > theirs
himself > themself*
herself > themself*
Sarah self
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 Quirks

Here are two grammatical quirks associated with non-binary pronouns.

(Quirk 1) "They" is plural, but the person's name isn't.

  • He They is are taking his their exams tomorrow. correct tick
  • (This sounds natural because we have plurals throughout, i.e., "they," "are," and "their.")
  • Jo is taking his their exams tomorrow. correct tick
  • (This sounds less natural. We now have two singulars ("Jo" and "is") with a plural ("their"). This example is correct though.)
Even though the last example might sound awkward, "their" is routinely used as a singular in English. Look at this example:
  • Anyone who forgets their passport will be sent home. correct tick
  • (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.)
Read more about "they" and "their" being singular in standard English.

(*Quirk 2) Use "themself" instead of "themselves."

When referring to one non-binary person, use "themself" not "themselves." For example:
  • She They is are managing herself themself. correct tick
  • (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.")
The growing popularity of "themself" as a standard word has been helped by the rise of people identifying themselves as non-binary. However, in truth, "themself" has been in common use for decades and has been gradually catching up "yourself/yourselves," which does make the distinction between singular and plural.
  • You can do it yourself. correct tick
  • (Talking to one person)
  • You can do it yourselves. correct tick
  • (Talking to several people)
  • They can do it themself. correct tick
  • (Talking about one person)
  • They can do it themselves. correct tick
  • (Talking about several people)
Remember that "they" can be singular or plural (just like "you"). For example:
  • If a student cheats, they will be dismissed. correct tick
  • If students cheat, they will be dismissed. correct tick
Therefore, it makes sense to have a singular and plural version of the reflexive pronoun, i.e., "themself" and "themselves" (just like "yourself" and "yourselves").

The Emergence of Other Gender-Neutral Pronouns

You 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 Pronouns

Here is a test to help you with selecting the correct non-binary pronouns and associated verbs.
Interactive Test
Your score:

Click on each grey word and then select the correct non-binary version. (Be aware that some do not change.)

Key Point

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.