Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Gender neutral French pronouns
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Pronoms neutres et inclusifs

Gender-neutral pronouns, aka inclusive pronouns,* are used to avoid sorting individuals into the binary world of male vs female. Gender-neutral language is evolving in French** and is not considered standard, but is becoming more common, especially on the internet, so it’s important to be able to recognize the most common terms.

Probably the most important aspect of inclusive language has to do with personal pronouns, particularly subject pronouns and stressed pronouns. A neutral pronoun may be used for

  1. A non-binary person
  2. A person whose gender the speaker cannot or does not wish to specify

In addition, plural neutral pronouns may be used to avoid referring to a group of mixed gender people with the default masculine plural (ils / eux), as required in standard French grammar.

What are your pronouns?

There is a growing tendency on social media and when meeting people in informal situations to ask "What are your pronouns?" or "Which pronouns do you use?" The French equivalents are

  • Quels sont tes pronoms ?
  • Quels pronoms utilises-tu ?

The answer to this question will always include a subject pronoun and stressed pronoun.

 In English, it might also include a possessive adjective, but not in French because French possessive adjectives agree with the noun that is possessed rather than the possessor.

Par exemple …

My pronouns are he/him/his.   Mes pronoms sont il/lui.
My pronouns are she/her.   Mes pronoms sont elle/elle.
My pronouns are they/them/their.   Mes pronoms sont iel/ellui.

 Please note that this lesson is about neutral language rather than grammar per se, so there are no explanations about how to use each type of pronoun. Click any link for a detailed grammar lesson with examples.

Subject pronouns

The standard subject pronouns are:

il   he
elle   she
ils   they (all male or mixed)
elles   they (all female)

By far the most common neutral French subject pronoun is iel ( IPA: [jel] ), which may also be spelled yel or ielle. The plural is iels (yels, ielles).

 Because iel was created by combining the binary pronouns il and elle, some people prefer other pronouns, such as

Singular   Plural
ael   aels
eil   eils
elil   elils
ellui   elleux
ille   illes
ol   ols
ul   uls

Direct object pronouns

The standard direct object pronouns are:

le   him
la   her
les   them

There are several different neutral French object pronouns and, unlike for the subject pronoun iel, there does not seem to be a clear preference for any one of these over the others.

Neutral direct object pronouns (singular):

  • li
  • lia
  • lo
  • lu

The plural les and the elision l’ remain the same.

Stressed pronouns

The standard stressed pronouns are:

lui   him
elle   her
eux   them (all male or mixed)
elles   them (all female)

Neutral stressed pronouns:

  • Singular: ellui, iel, luel, luiel, soi
  • Plural: elleux, euxelles, euxes, iels

Notes

* Though the terms are related and often used interchangeably, there is a difference between gender neutral and inclusive:

  • "Gender neutral" does not include any reference to gender: it is used only for non-binary people.
  • "Inclusive" refers to language that includes any and all genders.

** And in English, though the use of the singular "they" has been in use since 1375, far longer than the French equivalents: A brief history of singular ‘they’

 References

I consulted a number of different online sources when writing this lesson. Any omissions are unintentional and any mistakes my own. Please let me know so I can keep this page up to date and accurate.

Guide de grammaire neutre et inclusive – This PDF is particularly useful, as it goes into detail about other types of gendered pronouns (possessive, demonstrative) and beyond: articles, noun and adjective endings, and titles. I don’t know how official the guide is, but clearly a great deal of thought and effort has gone into it.

Petit dico de français neutre/inclusif – Based on the author’s 2017 survey of language in the non-binary community.

Pronoms épicènes néologiques – An attempt to gather consensus on inclusive pronouns in order to incorporate them into the online dictionary and grammar Grammalecte.

Qu’est-ce que le pronom iel ? – Includes pronunciation notes on various pronouns as well as comments on grammatical agreement.

Usage d’un langage neutre du point de vue du genre – PDF about the European Parliament’s efforts to use neutral language in official communications, and encourage other organizations to do the same.

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Pronoms neutres et inclusifs

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