In the UK and US, the now prevailing practice (prompted by the preference of people involved) is to refer who do not identify as either male or female (non-binary people) with the singular pronouns they (nom), and them (acc).

In German, ...

  • How do such people (non-binary people) generally like to be referred to with pronouns?
  • Does using the neuter pronoun es for non-binary people carry the same stigma as the English 'it', or does the expanded place of the neuter gender in German compensate for that?
  • Can one use 'sie' (plural), or does that cause confusion because Sie is already used for formal pronouns?
  • 6
    Ich war es. Ich weiß nämlich nicht, was der Standard ist, beziehungsweise, dass es da überhaupt schon einen Standard gäbe. Im Gegenteil, bei diesem Thema wird es vermutlich verschiedene Ansichten geben, oder anders gesagt: es ist opinion-based. Die eben gepostete Antwort von Herrn Scholbach bestätigt das ja mehr oder weniger. Jan 1, 2021 at 18:18
  • 2
    @choXer Eine Antwort auf die Frage "How do such people (non-binary people) generally like to be referred to with pronouns?" kann gar nichts anderes sein als opinion-based, solange nicht alle (oder wenigstens eine Mehrheit) der betroffenen Leute gefragt wurden.
    – Olafant
    Jan 2, 2021 at 6:35
  • 4
    Beobachtungen über den Sprachgebrauch sind keine Meinungen. Auch dann, wenn es keinen einheitlichen Sprachgebrauch gibt.
    – David Vogt
    Jan 2, 2021 at 8:39
  • 2
    In diesem Fall ist die korrekte Antwort wahrscheinlich schlicht negativ: in Deutschland ist es üblich, er/sie zu verwenden. Was ist daran Meinung?
    – David Vogt
    Jan 2, 2021 at 8:50
  • 5
    a) Es gibt keine einheitliche Meinung der Betroffenen, wie sie zu bezeichnen sind. b) In der dritten Person spricht man meist von Personen, die nicht anwesend sind. Man kann sie also nicht fragen. c) Generell spricht man nicht von jedem so, wie er das gerne hätte. Es ist die Entscheidung dessen, der spricht, nicht die desjenigen, über den gesprochen wird. d) Richtig ist, dass "es" sehr abwertend klingt. In manchen Dialekten ist Es aber für Frauen in Gebrauch (Es Gerda hat Kopfweh). Sie ist Plural, Höflichkeitsform oder weiblich. "Sie aß Fisch." (w), "Sie essen Fisch." (pl.) "Essen Sie Fisch!". Jan 2, 2021 at 15:42

2 Answers 2


[Take into account that I identify as a cis-man. I actually would prefer some non-binary persons answering here, with their personal perspective, which I cannot provide. I just give this answer as a "patch" - until people with personal experience might give a better answer. I have made my answer a community-answer, so it can be improved collaboratively.]

How do non-binary people generally like to be referred to with pronouns?

There is a variety of proposed solutions. The following ones are listed in the non-binary wiki, take a closer look there for more details:

  • A
  • as
  • bla
  • dey
  • die (in analogy to english they)
  • el
  • em
  • en
  • eos
  • es
  • er_sie
  • ey/em
  • er und weibliches Nomen (Er arbeitet als Programmiererin in seinem eigenen Unternehmen.)
  • hän
  • hen (inspired by the Swedish pronoun hen)
  • iks
  • ind
  • k
  • le
  • nin
  • per
  • sel
  • Ser
  • sie und männliches Nomen (Sie arbeitet als Programmierer in ihrem eigenen Unternehmen.)
  • sier
  • sir
  • they (using the anglicism they in German, even with the English declination)
  • vii
  • Vorname (use the first name)
  • why
  • x
  • xier
  • xie/xieren
  • z/zet

Maybe with the exception of using the first name instead of a pronoun, none of these is actually established in the mainstream as of today. (I think I have read about x every now and then in some mainstream media before, mostly in language traditionalist articles critising it.)

Anyway, I think these might be the ways someone would like to be addressed. As far as I know, in English there is also some variety besides they, and arguments against using they. Still, I think it is fair to say, that they is far more common in English than any of the German possibilities listed above.

Does using the neuter pronoun es for non-binary people carry the same stigma as the English it?

Yes. It would carry an idea of dehumanizing or humiliating someone to refer to them with the pronoun es if they didn't explicitly choose it.

Can one use sie (plural)?

I think, people familiar with the English they would understand you. But don't expect people to understand you, it is by far not common.

  • 1
    The list omits the possibility of non-binary people using gendered pronouns, either those of their assigned gender at birth or the other.
    – Max
    Jan 2, 2021 at 6:00
  • 2
    That's not only opinion-based, it doesn't answer the question at all. 1) No-one was asking for all of the possible pronouns. 2) How would you know? Maybe that's exactly, what one or another non-binary person would like. 3) "I think ..." - and I think that no-one would get it, because - as you state yourself - it's "by far not common".
    – Olafant
    Jan 2, 2021 at 15:08
  • 3
    Der Disclaimer unterstellt, dass eine betroffene Person nicht nur autoritativ für alle sprechen könnte oder ernster zu nehmen wäre, als jeder andere, als auch, dass diese eine besondere Kompetenz hätte, die Frage zu beantworten, obwohl doch ansonsten herrschende Meinung ist, dass Betroffene befangen sind, und wenn, dann schlechter geeignet sind, neutral Zeugnis abzulegen. Und wieso sollte manchen Menschen das Privileg zuerkannt werden, dass diese festlegen, wie über sie gesprochen wird, Dir als Cisheteromann aber nicht? Wohin würde es führen, wenn es zur Regel würde? Jan 2, 2021 at 15:49
  • 1
    @Olafant: Isn't the sheer number of suggested personal pronouns, along with the hints that none of them is particularly well-known or wide-spread, very much an indication that there is no common way yet to do what was asked in German? Jan 2, 2021 at 21:37
  • @userunknown Welcome to the wonderful world of postmodernism and identity politics.
    – Uwe
    Jan 2, 2021 at 21:53

In the German subtitles for the recent Netflix show "Star Trek: Discovery", the word "per" is used when people talk about a non-binary person and use "they" in the original English sentences. Example: "They have to decide this on their own" would be translated to "Per muss das selbst entscheiden". I must say though, as a native German speaker, this is the first time I have encountered such a usage of the word "per". As a binary person myself, I can also not really provide further insight, but for me personally, "per" sounds a bit arbitrary. But this is just my opinion.

Note: I would have put this as a comment to the excellent answer of Mr. Scholbach, but I am a new user here and do not have the necessary reputation for writing comments. Sorry about that.

  • welcome to German.SE. You might just edit your answer a bit so that it covers this example and no general rule. Doing so, you might be able to avoid "comment style" :-) Jan 1, 2021 at 20:07
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    According to the Nichtbinär-Wiki, "per" is derived from "person": "Er mag Schokolade" -> "Per mag Schokolade". "Das ist ihr Hund" -> "Das ist pers Hund". "Ihr gebe ihr die Hand" -> "Ich gebe per die Hand". But it seems to me, as others have noted, that this is one of a long list of proposed approaches, of which none has taken hold as the way to address non-binary people so far. Jan 2, 2021 at 0:12
  • 1
    Curiously enough, the German audio for the show uses what I thought was a badly pronounced "they" (but what may also be "dey", now that I've read in Jonathan Scholbarch's answer that that's a thing), even though the subtitles say "per". I think that alone is already an indication that there is no real consensus in German yet. And even though some may be discontent with that state, I think one can take for granted at this time that the vast majority of native speakers will have no idea what you are talking about when you use either of them. Jan 2, 2021 at 11:13
  • 4
    Wie wird das denn ausgesprochen? Per wie Peer in Peer Gynt? Damit sind Missverständnisse ja vorprogrammiert. Außerdem ist die Unterscheidung binary vs. non-binary Humbug. Entweder es gibt mehr als 2 Geschlechter, dann ist niemand binär, oder es gibt genau 2, dann ist jeder binär. Was aber sprachlich auch so oder so falsch ist - die Kategorie kann binär sein, aber der Einzelfall ist ja immer nur eines, kann also nicht selbst binär sein. Genausowenig kann ein Einzelner divers sein - auch so ein Quatsch! Jan 2, 2021 at 15:56
  • 1
    @O. R. Mapper: I wasn't speaking of German specifically but that it seems unlikely that the Federation would never have never have encountered a culture where grammatical gender differs from English; even here on Earth, Georgian, for example, has no gender. (See Wikipedia's list.)
    – RDBury
    Jan 4, 2021 at 3:38

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