A Modest Pronoun Proposal


I’m a guy that knows my grammar, yet I’m constantly messing up a person’s preferred pronouns. I forget that a friend formerly referred to as she now uses the pronoun they. But they is a plural pronoun and so I get confused. And he is now zhe. But what’s the correct pronunciation of zhe? And then there’s hir, which looks like a typo.

As much as I appreciate your desire to use your pronouns of choice because you don’t want to use gender-oriented pronouns, from a grammar and usage point of view, it just ain’t working.

The time has come for using gender-neutral pronouns. I’m not the first to suggest this idea, and I don’t have an original solution. Instead, I tip my hat to activist and writer Marge Piercy, whose 1976 speculative novel “Woman on the Edge of Time” used the gender-neutral pronoun per.

Let’s see how this works. Pronouns, as we all know, stand in the place of nouns. Per is a pronoun for person, which is a gender-neutral word that can universally apply to any human.

There are many different types of pronouns, but we don’t need to mess with all of them, just the ones that are gender-specific. Plural pronouns—we, they, their, theirs, them, our, ours, us—are not gender-specific and can stand as is. So can first-person pronouns—I, me, my, mine, myself. No gender is implied.

What we’re left with are forms of personal pronouns, possessive pronouns, and reflexive pronouns that are gender-specific.

  1. Personal pronouns: He, she, as subjects. Her, him as objects.
  2. Possessive pronouns: Her, hers, his.
  3. Reflexive pronouns: himself, herself.

Let’s apply forms of the pronoun per in these cases.

Per as a subject pronoun:

  • “Jane is a doctor of existential maladies. Per (she) is very busy.”
  • “Vincent paints in an abstract style. Per (he) likes the color blue.”

In the first example, we know per refers to Jane. In the second, we know per refers to Vincent. In most usage cases, a subject pronoun is used to replace the subject noun only after the noun is introduced.

As a possessive pronoun, per can become pers. “The book is pers.” The reflexive pronoun version would be perself. “Spencer taught perself to play the French horn.”

Languages evolve all the time. Every year, new words are added to a language, and new usage develops within a culture. Why not per? It can neutrally and equally apply to everyone. No more having to add your preferred pronouns to your email signature or worrying that you’re referring to someone by the wrong pronoun.

Who would object? Well, he might, because he might think the language is his. And he might not like that per rhymes with her and he’d rather have pis because it rhymes with his. We’ll have some work to do to persuade per.

Don’t be surprised if the next email you get from me or my next post includes per as a pronoun. The change has to start somewhere, and it might as well start right here with me.

David Klein

P.S. I made a change and put a strikethrough on ‘preferred’ above after Julia pointed out that people don’t have preferred pronouns, they just have pronouns.

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, journalist, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.


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