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The Evolution of Gender Pronouns — How, Why to Use Them in Email

He, she, zie, hir? Which is it and why use it? Today, gender pronouns are being discussed—and used—yet it’s anything but a new phenomenon.
The Evolution of Gender Pronouns — How, Why to Use Them in Email - gender pronouns

Gender-neutral pronouns are slowly peppering the American dialog, but where did it all begin? Linguist Dennis Baron found a reference to gender-neutral pronouns as early as 1841—specifically, “e,” with “em” for the object and “es” for the possessive.

Even the Suffragettes from the 1870s to the early 1900s were sensitive to pronouns, arguing that if “he” is treated as generic in criminal law, that same rule should apply to women in voting. However, some may find that Chaucer and Shakespeare’s use of “they” as singular to describe someone puts them at the forefront of this evolution.

In more contemporary times, the San Francisco Bee has used “hir” for the last 25 years. Today, there’s real discussion around gender-neutral pronouns on a more mainstream level. In fact, a Pew report shows that about one-in-five (18%) say they personally know someone who prefers a pronoun other than “he” or “she.” And Merriam-Webster chose “they” as its 2019 Word of the Year based on the number of dictionary lookups; the  singular “they” was also added to its online dictionary.

What’s the impetus behind non-binary, gender-neutral pronouns? Generally speaking, a neutral choice of words reduces misgendering and furthers a strategy of inclusion in business. For transgender people, it shows others how they’d like to be referred to. For “cisgender”—those who identify with the sex assigned to them at birth—it shows understanding and respect for others.

A breakdown of gender-neutral pronouns

While many are aware of gender-neutral pronouns, they aren’t familiar with them nor do they know how to correctly use them. The following are those currently in use, but as the discussion heats up on gender neutrality, the list may continue to expand.

  • He/him/his – used if you identify as male.
  • She/her/hers – used if you identify as female.
  • They/them/their – used if you don’t typically identify strictly as female or male.
    • Can also be used when referring to multiple people.
  • Ze/hir/hirs – can replace both he/him/his and she/her/hers.
  • Ey/em/eirs – can replace both he/him/his and she/her/hers.

A quick guide for business communications

How do you use gender-neutral pronouns? Whether or not an individual identifies as non-binary or simply wants to show respect for others, there are several ways to incorporate gender-neutral pronouns into business communications.

First, you can simply add a few words at the beginning of your emailfor example, “I’m Joe and I’m referred to as ‘they/them/their’ pronouns. If you prefer, you can add it to your email signature. “Sincerely, Joe (they, them, their).

Clearly, the gender-neutral pronoun conversation will grow. It’s expected that over time, the use of these pronouns will be better understood, and with understanding, accepted in everyday life and business.


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