Swedish Language Blog

HEN Posted by on Jan 31, 2017 in Swedish Language, Uncategorized

Hen is a new pronoun in Swedish. It is a gender neutral pronoun that many people mean was needed very much to fill a hole in the Swedish language. The purpose of the pronoun isn’t to gender-neutralize a person but more like not revealing gender in cases when you don’t want to, or not important. However, it is also used as a collective pronoun instead or writing “he/or she can decide if…” we can simply write “hen can decide if…”. So I personally  really feel that this is one of the most useful area in the language. The Swedish newspaper called “hen” as the you Swedish export product, hoping that it will be used in other countries too. Germanic languages would needed.


On the other hand there are other Finno-Ugric and Turkish-speaking nations who use gender-neutral pronoun. Finnish: Hän, Hungarian: Ö etc.

The Swedish Daily Newspaper thinks it is Sweden’t biggest export product. In Norwegian they started to use hen, in Danish høn and in Icelandic hán as well. English has been a little more conservative when it comes to hen. English had tried a few alternative variations: ce, ze xo but without any results. källa: Dagens Nyheter

The Swedish language has already a gender neutral way to talk about things in general man but recently it has also been exchanged by hen in many cases. Many people find this revolutionary and historic from a language point of view because we have been witnessing such a major change in the Swedish language in our lifetime.

Please do share your take on and how you solve issues like the need of a gender neutral pronoun in your language. Is it necessary at all?

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  1. Lee:

    English already has a gender neutral pronoun: “they”, which is usually plural but is often used in the singular as well. To my ears it sounds just fine in a casual context, slightly conspicuous in a formal context, but much less jarring than a completely new word would be.

    I’d be curious how discordant a native Swede would find “de”, “dem”, “deras” used with a singular antecedent?

  2. Tal:

    Personally, a gender neutral pronoun is important to me because I identify as genderless and use the pronoun “they,” but some people find it difficult or confusing, or even try to argue that it’s not grammatically correct. So I think this is a very cool development in Swedish. (Btw, I’m a Finnish-American living in the US, so I speak English most of the time, but also speak Finnish and Swedish. Yes, the gender neutrality of third person pronouns in Finnish is convenient 🙂 )

    Anyway, even more than being validating for non-binary people, I think gender neutral pronouns are important for the reason you stated, “not revealing gender in cases when you don’t want to, or not important.” In English, I generally use “they” unless I’m talking about a specific person known to the listener. I think it’s one way to reduce sexism and gender stereotypes.

    • Tibor:

      @Tal There has been a massive discussion about this in Sweden whether the pronoun should also stand for people who identify themselves as genderless. It wasn’t maybe the aim from the beginning but it has naturally become and being used in that way too nowadays. But people still haven’t really agreed on the role of the new pronoun. I guess we people develop the language and use it for our purposes and we create new stuff whenever something is missing.

  3. bob:

    English has the word “One”
    “One can usually speak to Swedish people in English”

    • Tibor:

      @bob Yes that’s right I knew about that of course in English

  4. Tibor:

    Hi Lee! Interesting with they. It wouldn’t really fit the language I guess but I know some other languages who use they. Passive is also a way of not mentioning, revealing a subject at all. That is more common. And now we have “hen” as well which seem very practical.

  5. Philip:

    I’ve heard of hen before. Personally I hate it, maybe because it reminds me of a female chook (chicken), which is of course hen in English. Doesn’t paint a nice picture in the mind. English doesn’t need a gender neutral pronoun, you can just say ‘they’ when referring to someone else and you don’t wish to reveal their gender.