START A PETITION 27,000,000 members: the world's largest community for good
1,439,220 people care about Women's Rights

Sweden Adopts a Gender-Neutral Pronoun

Sweden Adopts a Gender-Neutral Pronoun


Swedes are shaking up their language with a new gender-neutral pronoun. The pronoun, “hen,” allows speakers and writers to refer to a person without including reference to a person’s gender. This month, the pronoun made a big leap toward mainstream usage when it was added to the country’s National Encyclopedia.

The majority of world languages already have gender-neutral pronouns. However, similar to the English language, Swedish has had pronouns for “he” and “she”, but not one that refers to a person without suggesting the person’s sex. Proponents of “hen” are eager to have a single word that describes a hypothetical person rather than the awkward “he or she.” The word is also useful when referring to someone who does not identify with a traditional gender role.

“Hen” (pronounced like the English word for chicken) is a modified version of the Swedish words “han” and “hon,” which mean “he” and “she” respectively. The pronoun first emerged as a suggestion from Swedish linguists back to the 1960s. Though it has taken a while for the word to catch on, some Swedish magazines and even a children’s book have now adopted it in their texts.

When it comes to gender neutrality, Sweden is one of the most progressive countries in the world. Sweden has the highest percentage of working women, the Swedish Bowling Association is moving toward having men and women compete in the same events, clothing stores do not always have separate sections for male and female attire, and there is even a preschool dedicated to eliminating gender.

Despite all of the ways Sweden deconstructs notions of gender, language has been slower to catch up, still readily identifying people as either male or female. As it stands, Sweden has regulations over what parents can name their children, with most of the choices being specifically for one gender. Only 170 unisex names are permitted. Recently, activists have been pushing the government to allow parents to choose a name for their kids regardless of gender.

Of course, there are plenty of Swedes opposed to these changes. Swedish author Jan Guillou attributes the popularity of “hen” to “feminist activists who want to destroy our language.” Overall, many critics fail to see the reason for a gender-neutral pronoun when the country already takes so many steps to ensure both genders are equal.

However, fans of “hen” believe that true equality cannot be reached without gender neutrality. As long as the distinction is made, they argue, it reaffirms differences between male and female and perpetuates stereotypes. When speaking about a person, it is easy to avoid mentioning that person’s age, ethnicity and sexuality, yet existing conventions of language often forces people to label the same person a he or a she throughout the course of a conversation.

The push to make “hen” mainstream could face challenges. Even for those sympathetic to the plight, after a lifetime of saying “han” and “hon,” switching to “hen” requires breaking a force of habit. Still, even if the majority do not adopt “hen” into their everyday speech, having an accepted alternative available is yet another step toward Swedish gender-neutrality.

Related Stories:

Ze, Hir, Hirs; He, She, They: Which Pronoun Are You?

Swedish Preschool Eliminates Gender

Sweden Listened: Reindeer Cruelty to End

Read more: , , , , ,

Photo Credit: AnonMoos

quick poll

vote now!

Loading poll...

have you shared this story yet?

some of the best people we know are doing it


+ add your own
7:03AM PDT on Sep 8, 2015

I believe it is a good idea!

2:14PM PDT on Jul 8, 2015


11:32AM PDT on Apr 29, 2015

Hello! I just want to offer you a huge thumbs up for the excellent information you have got here on this post. I am coming back to your blog for more soon.

9:15AM PST on Feb 19, 2015

Interesting thank you.

2:46PM PST on Jan 17, 2015

Kevin Mathews -- can you contact me about the graphic used for this story? I'm a journalist, working on a film about people who are neither male nor female, and I'd love to use that graphic and will need to get permission. Any idea where it came from? lonny at photowords dot com , or through my web site Thanks!!

2:34PM PST on Jan 17, 2015

Kevin Mathews -- I'm a journalist and interested in where you got the graphic for this story. I'd like to use it for another story and need to track down the origin to get permission. Please contact me at lonny at photowords dot com or through my web site photowords dot com. Thanks!! Great article. Lonny

12:34PM PDT on May 29, 2014

خدمات شركة الشايع شركة رش مبيدات نقل اثاث كشف تسرب المياة شركة عزل مائي شركة مكافحة حشرات نقل اثاث شركة نظافة عامة غسيل خزانات المياة تنظيف خزانات المياة شركة عزل حمامات عزل خزانات المياة شركة تسربات الميا ة بالرياض غسيل سجاد موكيت نقل اثاث بالرياض ش&

12:08PM PDT on May 29, 2014

شركة عزل خزانات المياة
شركة عزل اسطح
شركة عزل حمامات
شركة عزل اسطح
شركة عزل مائي

12:07PM PDT on May 29, 2014

شركة كشف تسربات المياة
شركة تنظيف مجالس بالرياض
شركة مكافحة حشرات بالرياض
شركة تخزين اثاث

12:05PM PDT on May 29, 2014

شركة تنظيف مجالس بالرياض
شركة مكافحة حشرات بالرياض
شركة تخزين اثاث
شركة تنظيف فلل وقصور

add your comment

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

Care2 - Be Extraordinary - Start a Care2 Petition
ads keep care2 free

Recent Comments from Causes

Disgusting people ! I hope they get their comeuppance in the worst possible way.

SCI -sociopaths incorporated. Money certainly talks, walks and kills here. I'm so disgusted. this club…

Our strong collective voices can be heard in many ways, including petitions, voting and what we buy or…

ads keep care2 free

more from causes

Select names from your address book   |   Help

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.

site feedback


Problem on this page? Briefly let us know what isn't working for you and we'll try to make it right!