As far as I can tell, this whole mess started with a dispute about not using the pronoun a person wanted to be used to refer to them, but using instead, their name or some other neutral and polite designation.

Is the preferred pronoun, or whatever its correct name is, confined to singular they, or are there some new pronouns that people are insisting on? If so, are these new pronouns in the OED?

As for singular they, because I used it twice above, I am clearly OK with it, provided it does not introduce ambiguity or weirdness. It is better than he/she.

I was horrified when, as an ELU newbie, I first encountered singular they in the Profiles, but shortly thereafter there was a Q about it and I learned that it has a long history of respectable usage.

Although I am very unhappy with the way Monica has been and is being treated, I don't know how I feel about the exact English usage that was the ultimate cause of this mess (other than the Orwellian aspect) because that is a mystery.

  • 1
    The Code of Conduct change has been pushed through and the network-wide F.A.Q. has been announced. – Tonepoet Oct 10 '19 at 16:39
  • 2
    Here's the top voted answer to that FAQ. – Lawrence Oct 12 '19 at 13:57
  • 1
    There is a proposed alternate FAQ on meta that I think better represents the intent of the changes: A Pronominal Proposal. – ColleenV Oct 13 '19 at 9:53
  • There is a query that will fetch comments you’ve made on a site that are potentially using he, she, his, or her to refer to someone: data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/1124222/… I found that I really don’t use those pronouns to refer to other users very often. – ColleenV Oct 15 '19 at 15:40
  • 2
    @ColleenV Thanks. I have come to my own decision: no problem with singular they: I have used it for some time as better than he/she, and have no problem with its extended meaning. I will not use the array of neopronouns, period, (except possibly with relatives or close friends, which is unlikely to arise.) Like Monica, I am capable of writing around pronouns. I feel no obligation to respond positively to everything that people demand or request of me, especially strangers, nor do I expect them to respond positively to everything I request. If that means goodbye SE, OK. – ab2 Oct 15 '19 at 18:40
  • 1
    @ab2 I respect, fully understand, and empathize with your decision. I just thought the folks participating in this discussion might be interested in a historical look at how they have used those pronouns in the past. – ColleenV Oct 15 '19 at 18:54
  • @ColleenV I'm sorry to have been so abrupt. The historical info is completely appropriate for ELU and for the current controversy. If an authoritative ELU mod had weighed in very early on singular they, it might have cut out a lot of the ill-informed noise on singular they.. But probably not have done much good on the larger issue. – ab2 Oct 15 '19 at 19:22
  • 1
    I don’t think you can lay this at the feet of the site mods - we sincerely didn’t know what to tell our communities. The handling of this change has been beyond abysmal. – ColleenV Oct 15 '19 at 19:26
  • @ColleenV Sorry, I do think a contribution from an authoritative ELU person on the grammaticality of singular they could have reduced the fuss about whether singular they was grammatical or not and focussed (to some extent) the discussion where it belonged. – ab2 Oct 15 '19 at 21:15
  • I think don’t understand exactly - the official FAQ states quite clearly that grammar is not a viable excuse to avoid someone’s stated pronouns. Grammar is a red herring in this discussion. – ColleenV Oct 15 '19 at 21:27
  • @ColleenV Well so much has been said that I can't remember it all, but I think one of the sticking points was that grammatical they was made up and not really proper English. So my point is that is really not true, and could have been said so at the beginning.. A comment in ELU chat was that "it isn't my job to educate them." And I think it was. We may be going around in circles here; the subject lends itself to circles. – ab2 Oct 15 '19 at 21:35
  • @Tonepoet, the link to FAQ is broken – Michael Freidgeim Nov 9 '19 at 3:56
  • 1
    @MiFreidgeimSO-stopbeingevil: Comments can't be edited past the first few minutes (except by diamond mods), but yes - that's because the old FAQ was replaced with a new one (heavily inspired by Gareth McCaughan's "Pronominal Proposal" linked by ColleenV above). – V2Blast Nov 19 '19 at 0:15

For those interested in delving deeper; Monica Cellio's dismissal as moderator on six sites, including Meta, stems from the updated CoC (Code of Conduct) which Stack Exchange plans to release this coming Thursday.

This has led to flurry of resignations (16) and a formal moderators' letter as well as numerous posts on Meta.

Currently, there are three questions about the ‘singular they’ on Meta Stack Exchange.

I'd Personally like to thank @ab2 and @Lawrence's question for bringing this to the attention of the EL&U community.

  • 2
    This answer on Meta gives a good objective summary of why the turmoil in SE, and lest we forget, it is the phenomenal success of Stack Overflow that permitted SE to set up over 174 Q&A sites – Mari-Lou A Oct 9 '19 at 10:22
  • 7
    I don’t think we should get too focused on singular “they”. The underlying problem was a demand to not avoid using pronouns because you don’t want to use someone’s pronoun, whatever it may be. There’s a legitimate concern that people might write awkwardly to avoid using a pronoun which would result in singling someone out for their gender identity. I think that is covered under the current CoC, and that it is possible to be inclusive without using pronouns at all. That said, the current situation is getting better, but I have no visibility into what may be happening with regard to Monica. – ColleenV Oct 9 '19 at 11:57
  • 2
    @ColleenV but the singular/gender-neutral pronoun "they" expressly belongs to that category of pronouns. And it is the most well-known. – Mari-Lou A Oct 9 '19 at 12:25
  • 7
    Yes, but the correct pronoun is whatever someone tells you it is, not the gender neutral pronoun. This isn’t about singular they. If I say my pronoun is “she” and you refer to me as “they”, that is using the incorrect pronoun. (as I understand what I’m being told) – ColleenV Oct 9 '19 at 12:40
  • 3
    @ColleenV yes... I was thinking of actually posting a question about the usage of preferred pronouns, it seems that too is a bit of a minefield. There is no preferred pronouns only correct ones. I can see where the LGBTQ community is coming from but... it's going to be very very difficult to enforce this "legislation" on users and/or among moderators. It's just opening a can of worms, and what about those with deep religious views? – Mari-Lou A Oct 9 '19 at 12:49
  • 1
    @ColleenV is there the remotest possibility that someone might say they do not wish to be referred to as "you"? Is that pronoun also included? – Mari-Lou A Oct 9 '19 at 12:52
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA You’re welcome. – Lawrence Oct 9 '19 at 13:03
  • 6
    @Mari-LouA Someone said their friend has neopronouns, uses “we” as their first person pronoun, and changes their pronouns as their identity changes (or they have multiple distinct identities, I didn’t fully grasp it). Regardless of the actual wording of the CoC, we should do the best we can to treat others kindly and welcome their participation. If someone tells us how they would like to be referred to, don’t argue with them or make them feel like they shouldn’t have spoken up. Most of us are unlikely to ever be in a situation where we can’t be kind w/o compromising our values. – ColleenV Oct 9 '19 at 14:03
  • 1
    @ColleenV - Thanks for these comments -- helpful. My favorite line: "Most of us are unlikely to ever be in a situation where we can’t be kind w/o compromising our values." // I suggest one small but important change, if you can edit your comment or get a moderator here to do it for you: " The underlying problem was a demand etc." -- the word "demand" is more loaded than you would normally write. I'd suggest a more neutral word. – aparente001 Oct 10 '19 at 3:05
  • 2
    @aparente001 inclusivity up to a certain point, but now suggesting which words a person should say, or asking a mod to edit the comment? I suggest that you change the word "helpful" because how you used it sounded a little condescending. Could you replace it with a more positive and unambiguous word? – Mari-Lou A Oct 10 '19 at 6:09
  • 2
    You see, we're approaching the point when anyone can flag a comment or post a comment or even a question and denounce: "I read a phrase that frightened me and is a trigger", "I found that comment hurtful", "That expression reminded me of a previous trauma", "Even if you say the expression is figurative, I find it insensitive. Please delete it." To be clear, I'm speaking about words and expressions that are neither racist, sexist, or transphobic, such as demand and helpful. – Mari-Lou A Oct 10 '19 at 6:17
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA - Sorry, I didn't mean to condescend. I found Colleen's comments helpful. Do you have any ideas for an alternative to "helpful"? // You know what's funny? In the US everything is all about appropriateness, e.g. That's not appropriate! And in the UK everything is about helpfulness, e.g. That's not very helpful. – aparente001 Oct 10 '19 at 6:18
  • 4
    @aparente001 I appreciate your feedback. I used demand quite intentionally because during the conversations you weren't privy to, that's exactly how I perceived it. People are not just upset that Monica was unjustly demodded. The tone that started this entire explosion of drama was demanding and authoritarian, not kind and inclusive. That hurts everyone on both sides of the discussion. I wasn't talking in a more general sense about using the correct pronouns, although I can see how someone might get that impression. – ColleenV Oct 10 '19 at 10:56
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA I understand where you’re coming from, but I think this is a case where we should assume good intentions first. I didn’t interpret aparente001’s comment as trying to force me to change how I expressed myself. I understood it to be constructive criticism explaining that my word choice might be stronger than I intended. That I intended it to be that strong doesn’t mean someone was wrong to make sure that was my intention. – ColleenV Oct 10 '19 at 14:47
  • 1
    And this is why I have never nominated myself as a moderator, I know I would be hopeless! – Mari-Lou A Oct 10 '19 at 15:29

The Code of Conduct did not specifically state a preference for using pronouns when a user's pronouns are unknown. I personally use singular they for this purpose. Others might use a different pronoun, and that's ok, when the user's pronouns are not known. In that sense, there is no "preferred pronoun".

However, when the user's pronouns are known (particularly if they are expressly stated by the user), everyone is expected to make a good faith effort to use them. This isn't a "preferred" pronoun either. It's the person's pronoun.

Generally speaking, using she or he is easy to understand. Most people are familiar with those pronouns and are polite about being corrected. For instance, we can understand not wanting to be called he when we're actually she, even if we don't really mind if that happens to us specifically. So that part of the policy -- let's make sure we respect people's pronouns -- makes sense to pretty much everybody. If you know I'm he and you consistently refer to me as she, even after I have asked you not to, that violates our fundamental "Be Nice" policy.

Where it gets harder is when we talk about gender identity. Online, we're just usernames. I can tell you I'm he without any baggage of your perception of my gender, and we're not sharing a bathroom, so I'm not in a position where I have to justify my identity. I can just be he because I said that's who I am.

But not everyone feels like they fit neatly into a binary gender pattern, meaning they don't necessarily feel like he or she fits right. They might feel gender-neutral, or gender fluid (their experience changes over time), or somewhere sort of in-between he and she, and we call this "nonbinary gender" (or enby). I can't describe the enby experience because I'm not, but all I really need to know is that they feel like a different pronoun is the right pronoun for them. That's commonly they -- it's by far the most common amongst all the enby people I know -- in part, I think, because we are already used to using singular they when gender is unspecified or to specifically obscure gender. There are also neopronouns, which Tonepoet has linked resources for.

I believe these usages are in the OED, but even if they are not, I encourage you to use them when asked. Here is the thing. It's not about whether a person's pronoun is grammatical in your perception of what's proper. It's about that person's identity as a human being. I would be hurt and upset if other people argued whether it was grammatical to refer to me as he, and if they were further offended when they offered to refer to me by some other pronoun that was "proper" so long as it was not that one and I said no because I'm he not some other pronoun.

Again, the change to the Code of Conduct is not intended to punish people who are trying. We know it's difficult, especially for non-native speakers and especially for non-native speakers of gendered languages. The important thing is that we all try to respect people's identities.

Thank you for asking. I know that many, many, probably all of my transgender and genderqueer friends are tired of having to explain it to everyone. I have done my best to accurately represent their viewpoint in an effort to spare them having to do it again, but I welcome education if I have missed the mark.

  • 5
    As a side note, sometimes people use they online to obscure their gender for safety or social reasons where they might use a gendered pronoun in real life. – Kit Z. Fox Oct 9 '19 at 14:57
  • 15
    Thanks for this great answer. Personally, I have no problem with calling a person who has a Y chromosome "she", if they feel like a "she". And ditto for an XX chromosomed "he". And I have no problem with singular they (provided it does not make a sentence ambiguous or horribly awkward) . But, as a very early adopter of Ms, which took a generation to hit the mainstream, and as an early refuser to be called Mrs. John Smith, (which is still entrenched in the mainstream), I am impatient with people who create an large array of pronouns and expect instant adoption, and use "bigot" too freely. – ab2 Oct 9 '19 at 16:12
  • 4
    @ab2 My personal opinion is that adding more gendered language (in the form of pronouns) is a step backwards. What if instead of introducing Ms. we had introduced one title for all genders? I won’t misgender someone, or oppose someone choosing to use neopronouns, but I won’t help push the language in that direction. – ColleenV Oct 9 '19 at 16:36
  • 2
    The present code of conduct doesn't even mention pronouns. By no means the least of the current problems is enforcing a code that doesn't exist (yet?). – Tim Lymington Oct 9 '19 at 16:37
  • 3
    @TimLymington If you misgender someone by using the wrong pronoun after you’ve been made aware of the correct one, that is a violation of the current CoC. You’re required to avoid language that alienates people. – ColleenV Oct 9 '19 at 16:38
  • 7
    @ab2 I understand your feelings. I would say that singular they isn't the only pronoun that can cause sentence ambiguity -- Her mom told her daughter that she could use her phone, for instance -- and avoiding ambiguity is possible without using incorrect pronouns. Neither that nor a refusal to use neopronouns caused the current uproar. What I agree with in your last statement is that there is a categorical difference between bigotry and a lack of knowledge and empathy about the pain that gender constructs and societal expectations can cause. I am disappointed by the entire situation. – Kit Z. Fox Oct 9 '19 at 16:42
  • @TimLymington The problem came up when moderators were told about the upcoming changes to the CoC. It was presented as an extension of the existing policies, like an example of being welcoming. I can't recall exactly. I believe the new CoC will be announced ... tomorrow? Or has it been already? – Kit Z. Fox Oct 9 '19 at 16:48
  • 5
    @KitZ.Fox My hope is that they will extend the comment period for a few days after Yom Kippur instead of sticking to their original schedule. – ColleenV Oct 9 '19 at 17:05
  • @ColleenV I hope so too. – Kit Z. Fox Oct 9 '19 at 17:37
  • 1
    @ColleenV: does that mean I can complain if somebody (mod or otherwise) refers to me as they or by a new pronoun? Nobody knows at present. – Tim Lymington Oct 9 '19 at 20:49
  • @TimLymington You should make that person aware of the correct pronoun to use. If your pronoun is “he” and you’ve told someone who persists in using “they”, yes you should bring it up to the mod team. You decide what your pronouns are, but you have to let people know if you want them to use them. – ColleenV Oct 9 '19 at 21:12
  • Kit, would you mind adding the thing you called a side note to the answer itself? This is an important point in an online community where many of the individual sites have a severe gender imbalance. – aparente001 Oct 10 '19 at 2:58
  • 2
    @aparente001 I'll add it as a separate answer. I think the discussion on it would be different. – Kit Z. Fox Oct 10 '19 at 12:20
  • Thank you for responding to my feedback. Well, I was hoping you would include the considerations mentioned here: meta.stackexchange.com/a/334119/287826 – aparente001 Oct 10 '19 at 18:26

Sometimes people use they online to obscure their gender for safety or social reasons where they might use a gendered pronoun in real life. I don't think I have much to add, but it seemed like this was a completely separate point in the discussion, so I made a separate answer for it.


A preferred pronoun is basically anything a person might prefer to be referred to in place of the normally assigned third person pronouns, and the only way to know somebody's preferred pronouns is to be informed on a per-individual basis.

Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue by Nicholas M Teich

Pronouns can be a bit more complicated than just he or she. Because we know gender is on a continuum, in a way, pronouns are, too. The vast majority of trans and nontrans individuals use he or she. Some people may prefer their (used as a singular pronoun) or a host of other words. It can be very difficult to remember to use nontraditional pronouns, but it is important to respect people's wishes.

Social Work Practice with LGBTQIA Populations: An Interactional Perspective

On Pronouns

You cannot assume that you know anyone's pronouns, and therefore, it makes sense to ask every new client what their pronouns are. You may want to start by introducing yourself with your pronouns the first time you meet any new client (i.e., 'Hello, my name is Kate, my pronouns are "she" and "hers"), giving space for your client to then respond with their pronouns. By introducing yourself and identifying your pronouns, you are not only clarifying the client's pronouns for your own use, but also modeling the use of inclusive language, which benefits all clients. When inquiring about a person's pronouns, avoid asking a client what their 'preferred' pronouns are. Asking a client for 'preferred' pronouns implies preference over truth. A person's pronouns are their pronouns, it isn't about preference at all.

This includes more than just the standard set of pronouns. It includes any number of spivakian pronouns which is defined by trans@mit's Trans and Gender Variant Terminology* glossary as

New terms proposed to serve as gender-neutral, thirdperson, singular, personal pronouns in English. See also “hir” and “ze.”

A more complete but non-exhaustive list of examples can be found at The Western Organ University's Safezone Webpage for Pronouns:

This is a Partial Screenshot of The Western Organ University's Pronouns Webpage Displaying the Pronouns.

  • 1
    Pronoun Island is also a useful resource. – Matt E. Эллен Oct 9 '19 at 8:20
  • 6
    I think the question falls more into: What does SE think the preferred pronouns are ..... – David M Oct 9 '19 at 15:08
  • What do you mean by "normally assigned"? And in what way is anyone's pronoun "instead of" anything? A person has a pronoun; there is no other relevant pronoun. – Rosie F Oct 15 '19 at 20:25
  • 2
    “I called Thor”, with that capitalisation, is just begging to be misunderstood. I wonder why they capitalised that particular pronoun (I can’t find enough info on it elsewhere to say for sure whether it’s even intentional)… – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 19 '19 at 9:41

Is the preferred pronoun, or whatever its correct name is, confined to singular they, or are there some new pronouns that people are insisting on?

No, it's not confined to singular they. Yes there are new pronouns.

From the Official FAQ on gender pronouns and Code of Conduct changes (now deleted by Stack Exchange):

Q9: Do I have to use pronouns I’m unfamiliar or uncomfortable with (e.g., neopronouns like xe, zir, ne... )?

Yes, if those are stated by the individual.

An updated answer to a newer post was given by SE community manager Cesar M (emphasis in quote as in original, please don't edit; see link for full context):


We believe that all participants on Stack Exchange’s websites have the right to participate using the gender pronouns that reflect their identity. You cannot knowingly misgender people. This is what the CoC update is about at its core. Our intention is not to tell you what to think or force you to act in a way that makes you uncomfortable. Interacting with people online is often confusing and distressing. We want to minimize this for everyone. When users are in a situation that makes them uncomfortable, they can always step away or ask for help (raise a flag).

Following the CoC doesn’t require someone to go out of their way to use pronouns. If someone prefers to omit pronouns entirely, they’re welcome to do so, as long as it’s not used in an obviously unnatural way. For example, you can change "The OP wrote in his question" to "the OP wrote in the question" this is a non-obvious rephrasing. If you're writing "The OP wrote in the OP's question" for a user who asked you to refer to them with a neopronoun, that is more clearly discriminatory unless this is your default way of writing. No matter the case, no one can knowingly misgender people, so if/when you use third-person pronouns for someone, use their stated pronouns. – Cesar M♦

I was horrified when, as an ELU newbie, I first encountered singular they in the Profiles, but shortly thereafter there was a Q about it and I learned that it has a long history of respectable usage.

Don't worry about it too much, the FAQ has you covered:

Q3: What should I do if I make a mistake and use the wrong pronouns?

If you make a mistake, apologize and correct your mistake if possible (e.g. by editing your post). We recognize that this may be new to many people, particularly members of our community who do not speak English as a first language, and so mistakes will happen as we all learn together.

  • 1
    Just FYI, you’ve got a link to the old CoC FAQ post which has been deleted. – ColleenV Nov 11 '19 at 19:12
  • @ColleenV I see, well, they're still licensed under the Creative Commons license, I think. So I guess it's still fine to keep the quotes? I don't think SE has since shifted their position on this. – JJJ Nov 11 '19 at 19:16
  • 1
    The new FAQ is a bit different wording that might be more helpful and less off-putting. I think it would be worth linking the updated FAQ just as a “further information” for anyone that comes across this in the future – ColleenV Nov 11 '19 at 19:21
  • @ColleenV yea I think I found a new statement by Cesar that conveys pretty much the same, I'll add that in, give me a minute. ;p – JJJ Nov 11 '19 at 19:23

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .