I am not an English language native, and as such, I may be less sensitive to the difference between open usage of neo-pronouns and plain bad English. In the light of the recent discussions, is it possible to provide grammar resources which I should rely on?

Which of the style guides (e.g. Chicago Manual of Style) should I follow in general in this respect?

  • 5
    It appears neo-pronouns aren't officially recognized English words. onelook.com is a meta-dictionary with all recognized words, and they're not there. Neo-pronouns are niche words coined by individuals at various times over roughly the last century that never got into general use. There's been recent pockets of interest, so you can find information about them in a Google search. If enough people start using them, they will eventually work their way into dictionaries. (cont'd)
    – fixer1234
    Dec 31, 2019 at 10:42
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    Style manuals address writing for their target audience. If they say anything about neo-pronouns, it would likely be to not use them because almost no readers will understand what you write. SE rules about neo-pronouns concern user preferences for references to themselves; there's no requirement for that to be currently-recognized English words.
    – fixer1234
    Dec 31, 2019 at 10:42
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    So it seems that the answer would be "no, even in the most up-to date comprehensive style guides neo-pronouns don't exist, however the one can refer to these for the use of the singular they".
    – Sascha
    Dec 31, 2019 at 14:22

2 Answers 2


There's no real style guide.

Looking at the comments, there's a few things

  • The presumption of the gender of an unknown subject. The default pronoun folks get taught varies wildly. In my time/culture it was "she/her". Some folks default to male. More recently - the singular they gets used more. I have an easier time with it since it's a common form in my native language, and the default in the specific dialect I prefer.

Practically since most SE sites frown on salutations and noise - quite often you'll find that talking about a topic, you will not hit these things as much.

  • Practically, some folks may prefer specific pronouns. For example, some folks are non binary, and may prefer They (or other neopronouns). There's no standard style guide for this and frankly I'm out of touch enough in academia not to know if they are updated to this. I don't even remember that being mentioned in said style guides, which seemed focused on very non personal, serious writing.

While it's a little after when I needed these things, it seems modern revisions of style guides do cover some of it, including the Chicago Manual of Style do include the singular they. I find that they're more useful for business and formal writing over SE answers. It's fine to use one if you need it, but worth being flexible if you encounter things you have not before.

In many cases though, you can get away with social cues. Typically if it's clear someone prefers a specific pronoun then it's a great idea to use it.

  • You may find that in the non social environment of Stack Exchange, that you might actually come across this less than you expect, and in the first case, at worst someone would enquire.

You'd never have to go "Hey Guys!" here, to borrow an example given. In many cases you dive right into processes and details over people. On SO for example, folks are more interested in your code. Most of my SU answers generally don't involve humans.

as an aside, as far as I can tell I've used no 3rd person pronouns except when talking about them in the above post

  • 4
    I'm a non native english speaker. It might actually be easier for some of us since we actually have to be flexible enough to manage different sets of grammar or accidentally confuse people with wierd pidgins. I've also interacted with a few people who use these neopronouns outside the network - I feel rather than a prescriptive framework, playing it by ear is a good idea. Also, ugh, I've never been a fan of formal writing :D Dec 31, 2019 at 6:36
  • "as far as I can tell I've used no 3rd person pronouns except when talking about them in the above post" - there are a lot of 'it's used as a pronoun in the post, no? Dec 31, 2019 at 9:39
  • Do those count? And am I using them correctly? Dec 31, 2019 at 9:43
  • Ok, i guess I will try to stick to the Chicago manual of Style then.
    – Sascha
    Jan 1, 2020 at 12:17

There is a more thorough official FAQ, but generally, you use neopronouns in the same way you would use any third person pronoun. However, when referring to a specific person using a third person pronoun, rather than referring to a style guide, use that persons stated pronoun. There is no single pronoun you can use in all cases (for example, you can't just use "they" for everyone). Just follow the simple rule, don't call someone what they don't want to be called.

  • 3
    How do you know for some neopronoun whether to say "is" or "are", or "has" or "have"? Dec 31, 2019 at 7:23
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    A specific person is singular. Is, has are the forms to use.
    – Nij
    Dec 31, 2019 at 8:26
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    @curiousdannii When someone's stated pronoun is they, use the plural form of the verb, as you would in any usage of the plural third person pronoun. When someone's stated pronoun is a word you're not familiar with, it's generally singular. If it isn't they will let you know.
    – De Novo
    Dec 31, 2019 at 15:30

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