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Watch your pronouns.

A big university recommends using pronouns like ‘xe’ and ‘ze’ to replace he and she

By Annalisa Merelli

Grammar nerds have long been fighting over whether it is acceptable to use “they” as a gender-netural pronoun to replace he or she, but for the University of Tennessee the debate is settled. Not only it’s okay, it’s recommended—and so is the use of other gender-neutral pronouns, including  ze, hir, hirs, and xe, xem, xyr.

These words, according to the university’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion’s Pride Center, are only some of the “dozens of gender-neutral pronouns” available to English speakers. The office posted a handy primer on use and pronunciations for its staff to use.

These gender-binary options…

Subject Object Pronoun
she her hers
he him his

…can replaced by these gender-neutral options instead:

Subject Object Pronoun Pronunciation
they them their as it looks
ze hir hirs zhee, here, heres
ze zir zirs zhee, zhere, zheres
xe xem xyr zhee, zhem, zhere

Another tip offered to university staff is to ask students, on their first day, the name and pronoun by which they would prefer to be called. “‘Oh, nice to meet you, [insert name]. What pronouns should I use?’ is a perfectly fine question to ask,” explains the office.

In a note published on the university website, the administration clarified that the guidelines are not considered compulsory, but a guide for inclusive practices:

There is no mandate or official policy to use gender-neutral pronouns. We do not dictate speech. Most people prefer to use the pronouns he and she. However, some don’t.