"xe", "xem", and "xyr" are sex-neutral pronouns and adjectives

You've come to this page because you've asked a question such as

What is this "xe"/"xem"/"xyr" business?

This is the Frequently Given Answer to such questions.

They are sex-neutral third-person pronouns and adjectives.

For a long time, there was a hole in the pronoun system of the English language. The first-person and second-person pronouns do not imply sex. However, the third-person singular pronouns all implied sex, and there was no third-person pronoun that did not either imply a specific sex or imply a specific lack of a sex. Although the pronoun "one" implies nothing with regard to sex, it is an impersonal, rather than a third-person, pronoun.

This hole becomes particularly apparent when referring in the third person to people only known by pseudonyms that do not reveal their sex, a common occurrence on Usenet.

However, the existence of this hole is far from a new thing, and it has been acknowledged for many years. As pointed out by Henry Churchyard, Otto Jesperson in 1894 wrote that "it is at times a great inconvenience to be obliged to specify the sex of the person spoken about. […] if a personal pronoun of common gender was substituted for he in such a proposition as this: 'It would be interesting if each of the leading poets would tell us what he considers his best work', ladies would be spared the disparaging implication that the leading poets were all men.".

"Xe", "xyr", and "xem" fill this hole. They are sex-neutral third-person singular pronouns, that unlike the other third-person pronouns (but like the first-person and second-person pronouns) imply nothing about the sex of their antecedents. With them, the pronouns in the English language are as in the table.

Inferior alternatives

Singular "they"

Using "they"/"them"/"theirs" as if they were singular pronouns does not fill this hole, as it leads to contradictions in number and ambiguities about antecendents, and cannot be used reflexively:

Other alternatives

There have been numerous attempts to fill this hole over the years, dating back as far as 1850. The most common modern alternatives to "xe"/"xem"/"xyr" are:


  1. "thou", "thee", "thine", and "thy" are considered archaic by many U.S. English speakers, although they are still in common use in some dialects of U.K. English.

  2. The original object pronoun "ye" is considered archaic by many U.S. English and U.K. English speakers, who use "you" instead, but it is still in common use by Republic of Ireland English speakers.

  3. For first and second person reflexive pronouns, the pronouns are formed by appending "-self" to the pronominal adjective. However, there are two schools of thought on the formation of third person reflexive pronouns:

    Thus the first school uses "himself" and "themselves", whilst the second school uses "hisself" and "theirselves".

    There is no settled formation for the reflexive sex-neutral pronoun, which could be either "xemself" or "xyrself", following either school. The latter, using the regular formation from the pronominal adjective in all cases, is the more popular, however.

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