In 2019, Merriam-Webster chose the singular, gender neutral pronoun “they” as their word of the year. Two years on, the “they” pronoun has become increasingly well known, with celebrities such as Sam Smith, Jonathan Van Ness, Demi Lovato and Indya Moore publicly claiming their non-binary identities.
However, what’s still less understood is the fact that some individuals, particularly those who are non-binary or gender fluid, use more than one set of pronouns to describe themselves, for example she/they or they/he. Some people may avoid pronoun use altogether, instead asking to be referred to with a first name in place of any gendered pronouns. While such combinations can be confusing to the uninitiated, being open to learning can make a huge difference – and taking the time to learn the right pronouns is a way of making queer, non-binary and trans people feel comfortable, respected and valued.
It’s clear that the use of pronouns is evolving, a testament to the queer community’s fluid approach to language and the very personal way in which pronouns can express someone’s gender identity. Unsurprisingly then, a topic which has gained more and more interest recently is neopronouns: pronouns which have been created to express nuanced gender identities.
Keep reading to learn more about neopronouns, what they are and how to use them.
A list of neopronouns you need to know
Neopronouns are pronouns that vary from binaristic pronouns such as “she” and “he” and the more widely known gender neutral pronoun “they”. These pronouns often appeal to people as they do not carry traditional gender connotations. Neopronouns may include any of the below and more:
It is not uncommon for individuals to use a combination of different pronouns, including a mix of neopronouns and he, she or they pronouns.
It's also worth keeping in mind the recent research suggesting that a quarter of LGBTQIA+ youth use non-binary pronouns and 4% of queer young people use neopronouns. It’s possible that this could even increase in future years as non-binary identities become more visible and individuals have more space to explore what gender means to them.
In addition to different gender neutral pronouns, some members of the queer community may use nounself pronouns. It’s important to note that while these pronouns are less common than other pronouns and even other neopronouns, they are a growing point of conversation – particularly online.
Nounself pronouns involve a word being recontextualised as a pronoun. An example of a nounself pronoun might be stars/stars/starself or pip/pips/pipself. Used in sentences, nounself pronouns can look like “I went on a walk with pip”, “that scarf is pips” and “pip wants to go for a swim by pipself”.
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Why do people use neopronouns?
Neopronouns afford individuals the chance to carve out a more personal relationship with their gender. Rather than accepting pronouns with certain predefined gender expectations, queer people are seeking out forms of language which allow for freer or more personal forms of gender expression.
With the pandemic keeping people at home and away from the public space for well over a year, many individuals have reassessed their relationship with their identity and are therefore looking to reinvent the way that they and others experience gender.
"Neopronouns allow individuals to carve out a more personal relationship with their gender."
How to practise using neopronouns
As with using any new word or term, it can be difficult to initially get used to using neopronouns. However, this is nothing that practice can’t fix. When you become aware that someone uses neopronouns, you might want to say different sentences using the pronouns in question – either by yourself in the mirror or by calling up a friend, so that you can try out these pronouns together and gently correct one another if a mistake is made.
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Finding out someone’s pronouns
Many individuals display their pronouns on email signatures or in their social media or dating app bios but in person, the only way to be completely sure whether someone uses neopronouns is to ask!
As a rule of thumb, when you first meet people, you might want to introduce yourself with your own name and pronouns and then ask them their name and pronouns in turn. By offering your own pronouns first, you are indicating that you will be less likely to assume the other person’s pronouns. This might put the other person more at ease, suggesting that you are more willing to understand that “traditional” pronouns are not the only pronouns people may use.
In your journey of discovery with neopronouns, it’s important to remember that everyone makes mistakes but by remaining open and willing to adapt, change and listen, you can make a positive impact to the lives of the queer people around you.
Image credits : NICKY TAKES PHOTOS Getty Images