GENDER IN LANGUAGE PROJECT
English is the most spoken (and the most global) language in the world. It is spoken natively or as a second language by more than half the population in over 50 countries and territories. While English is most often referred to as a genderless language, it has masculine-feminine gendered distinctions in its lexicon (e.g. waiter, waitress) and in its system of personal pronouns, among other sites.
Personal pronouns are undoubtedly the most visible feature of gender in English. Many speakers have adopted the gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun they, which survives from the 14th century, and many other neopronouns (e.g. ze) have been proposed by queer speakers over time. In the present day, access to gender-inclusive language is one of the most important issues in English-speaking queer communities.
INCLUSIVE PARTIAL GRAMMAR OF ENGLISH
This grammar identifies all sites of gendered personal reference in English (i.e. everywhere that linguistic gender aligns with the social gender of who is being referred to). We display the prescriptive masculine and feminine forms as well as extant gender-neutral forms (e.g. they) and gender-inclusive forms attested by nonbinary speakers (e.g. ze). It does not identify the sites of English grammar that do not have gendered personal references. Attestations of these genders are listed in References below.
In the English personal pronoun system, only one masculine-feminine gender distinction exists: in third-person singular forms. While speakers' gender identities should not be inferred by the pronouns they use, we mark he as masculine and she as feminine linguistically. English is novel in its retention of the gender-neutral personal pronoun they, which survives from the time of Chaucer (around the 14th century) and is now the most popular (linguistically) nonbinary pronoun being used by many people to self-identify today. For this reason, we consider they to be both gender-neutral and gender-inclusive. Neopronouns like ze [zi] have been proposed and adopted by speakers to varying degrees. To see more classes of neopronouns, click here.
In English, use of the inclusive honorific Mx. (IPA: [mɪks]) is common amongst nonbinary communities.
Mrs., Ms., Miss
missus, —, —
LEXICAL GENDER ITEMS
In the English lexicon, there are many masculine-feminine distinctions in certain pairs of words that are normatively marked masculine and feminine socially. We list equivalent alternatives to masculine and feminine terms in the inclusive column, including innovative forms, which are marked with an asterisk.
As in the case of Mx. and heroix, the -x is often inserted into English words to collapse gendered distinctions (e.g. Mr. and Mrs., hero and heroine) and signify that the person being referenced does not conform to the gender binary.
CITE THIS PAGE
Papadopoulos, B., Bedin, C., Clendenning-Jiménez, S., Duran, J., & Miller, Z. K. (2022). English. Gender in Language Project. www.genderinlanguage.com/english