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  5. Han, Hon. But what about Hen?


Han, Hon. But what about Hen?

I was wondering, why the gender neutral personal (or as you say "natural") pronoun hen it not included in this course?

November 18, 2014



Even if it is artificial as some say, I feel it should still be an option. So much of "well-established" language was once "artificial" whim or novel constructs meeting a need in a society. I think they should incorporate "hen" and let people make their own decisions about how to use or promote the language.


If anyone gets here from a link or so, I'd like to point you to a newer topic about this subject which explains everything in a very clear fashion: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/15916853


There is a good old gender neutral pronoun in Swedish: "Vederbörande". I higly recommend it.


Is there an equivalent of "hen" in english? Is there anything to translate to or from?


Some school kids in Baltimore are using "yo" as a gender-neutral pronoun, apparently. http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/04/25/178788893/yo-said-what


Not really; “they” is the usual I-don't-know-what-your-doctor's-gender-is substitute, though (also being the third-person plural) some consider it to sound clunky, and there have been attempts to introduce a gender-neutral pronoun (such as “ve”) over the decades (and, indeed, since the late 19th century at least); they have all had little success, to the point that, some years later, someone else would propose a new gender-neutral pronoun. Though in this day and age, when there are more cases in which you might not know a person's sex (you only communicate with them by email, they're from a foreign country and their first name doesn't signify a gender to you, they're genderqueer/transgendered/intersex, they're artificially intelligent software that's sufficiently humanlike to think of in human terms but hasn't been given a masculine/feminine identity, &c.), perhaps gender-neutral pronouns' time will come?


No, but we need one. People use S/he, his/hers, him/her in writing. I've even heard of gibberish like hisr/himr. Atrocious! We're better off with sexism. Other times, people use they, but that's only good in informal.


The main reason why we don't teach "hen" is because it isn't really accepted by all Swedes. I use it a lot (most of my friends do too) and I believe that there is a need for "hen". However, I usually don't use it in the "queer" way, unless we're talking about Conchita Wurst or something.

A natural way to use it could be:

"I talked to the doctor this morning." "- Oh, what did "hen" say?"

In this case I do not know the gender of the person "hen" is referring to and here "hen" fits perfectly.


Thanks for you answer :)


It is not included most likely because it is an artificial construct almost no one uses in actual real life conversations unless they are making a specific political statement. As such, it is not worth including in a course that is meant to prepare you for speaking in everyday situations.

[deactivated user]

    My Swedish friends use it in speech, especially when talking about their 'genderqueer' friends. It's likely you will encounter the word among young people, particularly if you're around the lefty scene in Malmö.


    … or in the academic computer scene in Linköping where it has been used since the 80's or so. It was proposed in the 60's (http://www.unt.se/kultur-noje/unt-var-forst-med-hen-1702186.aspx ) but haven't been widespread until the last few years.


    Could a Swedish speaker please give the various forms of this pronoun? (ex hon henne sig...)

    I would like to start using it as 1. I am queer, as are many of my friends. This is really personal for me. 2. I am learning Swedish for my study abroad at KTH, so young people around college age is kind of my jam. 3. I am studying Computer Science, so if we're bringing the academic computer scene into this... ¯_(ツ)_/¯


    Many people use henom as the object form, but the form recommended in the dictionary is hen. Jag känner hen 'I know them'. (Be aware you may hear Jag känner henom too, I'd say both are OK.) The genitive form is definitely hens: Det är hens bok 'It is their book'. sig works the same as with han/hon: Hen klär på sig 'They put on clothes'.


    I just came to think of something: based on what you said about yourself, you will also want to use the gender neutral general pronoun en, instead of the regular man (which is taught in Determiners, you'll get there soon): Man behöver alltid vatten = 'One always needs water'. en is originally a dialectal version of the subject form for man, and it is already the standard object form of the same pronoun, but has been picked up to replace the subject form too, for much the same reasons as hen.

    The impersonal pronoun man (or en) is used a lot in Swedish, it is often used where other languages may prefer a passive construction, so it's a very useful word.


    Hi! As it happens I study computer science at KTH. :)

    If you have any questions feel free to ask away on my profile!


    Well hey, thanks, I will! Good to meet you. :)


    The young people that use it are a clear minority though. It is almost only used by middle to upper class young people around college age.

    [deactivated user]

      Young people around college age, perhaps, but it's not really been limited by class in my exposure.


      There might be regional differences. I never hear it in the Stockholm suburbs.


      Now thats what Im talking about =)


      I don't know who downvoted this, but you are absolutely right.

      Although I use it occasionally, it only just became a real word in the Swedish language, and is not something a learner of level A2--B1 really needs to know. Of course one can use it even as a learner -- but it is good to keep in mind that it is not a commonplace, neutral word (at least yet).

      Edit: It seems it's not even an official Swedish word yet, but will be one in 2015: http://www.svd.se/kultur/hen-kommer-med-i-saol_3784100.svd.


      Just want to point out that words don’t become ”official” by being added to SAOL. There are no such things as ”official words” in a language. A word is official as long as it’s used by native speakers.


      Not all languages have official bodies that consider which words are part of the language and which aren't. But for Swedish, the SAOL "is considered the final arbiter of Swedish spelling" (according to Wikipedia). Of course groups of native speakers use and invent different words and expressions all the time, but where else would you draw the line?


      They are still a descriptive dictionary and not a prescriptive one.

      They have a dictionary with spellings that reflect the spelling norms and their own recommendations with a sample vocabulary that they think represents the Swedish language. But if you say that a word is ”official” it sounds like it’s ”unofficial” if it’s not and that you’re not ”allowed” to use it if it’s not included.

      It is the speakers that form the language, not a committee or a body of some sort.


      Yeah, I guess to be exact I mean what samulili says here below.

      But still, I wonder where you would draw the line: how many of my friends do I need to catch on to a word I invented for it to become "Swedish"?


      I wouldn't use these words quite the way you do. I would actually say that being added to an official dictionary is the way a word becomes official. It is not, however, the way a word becomes "real". But like you said, SAOL is is descriptive dictionary so 'hen', for example, had become a real word before it became an official one.


      It is like used to replace she or he when the gender is not given. It is kind of like if someone were to say "My friend fell off a tree", you would not automatically assume that the friend is a guy or a girl. So you would say "I feel bad for them". I am guessing Hen is like "them" but it does not literally translate to that.


      Mostly because it's not a common word outside of certain social groups (young people at university), and because if you know how to use "hon" and "han", one will have no problem exchanging those words for "hen".


      My 9 year old son (English speaking) loves animals and gets offended for them when people refer to an animal as 'it'. As their gender is not often easy to tell, he prefers that people talk about 'hen'! He liked the idea when I told him about the use of 'hen' in Swedish.


      Hen is a relatively new term that many swedish people have strongly rejected, it is mostly used by universities and government bodies. The genderneutral term for referring to someone without knowing their gender has historically been "vederbörande".

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