1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Swedish
  4. >
  5. Swedish team should update th…


Swedish team should update the database with the new gender-neutral pronoun: hen

March 26, 2015



I strongly agree with what landsend wrote above - hen is a wonderful addition to the Swedish language, but not currently suitable for Duolingo.

That said, I would like to point out that the title of this article is completely wrong. The Swedish Academy does not make words official, and its dictionary is meant to reflect language - not influence it.


As someone who is agender and prefers the use of "hen" when referring to myself in Swedish, I'm definitely very interested in the thoughts of the Swedish team when it comes to the inclusion of this word in their curriculum. I hesitate to say that it should be included outright, because I understand it is not yet in common use and has a lot of political connotations, and I don't like the idea of duolingo being utilized to push an agenda. On the other hand, I have definitely noticed (and appreciated) the inclusion of sentences along the lines of "the priest loves her wife", which would fall along similar lines of "agenda-pushing", if not quite so radical.

Anyway, to sum up: I'm not going to get up in arms if the Swedish team does not want to make this step at this time, but I'd also be very excited and probably throw a party if they did decide to use it.

Of course, now I'm curious--if you don't know someone's gender, or are speaking hypothetically about someone with an unspecified gender, or any other instance where English would typically revert to singular they, what would you do without "hen"? Do people just pick either han or hon and run with it, or tend to say han, or is there another construction that is similarly gender neutral?


I'm not a member of staff, but I can answer your final question.

A common argument made by those who oppose the word hen is that "we don't need a new word for it - we could say 'han eller hon', or 'vederbörande'". However, that's a crappy argument, even ignoring that a lot of people aren't either a "he" or a "she". And the word vederbörande does work - but it's something you'd typically find in lawyer speak; imagine using something like "the concerned party" as a casual gender-neutral pronoun.

Mostly, people use whatever gender-specific pronoun comes into mind, and that's usually whatever is normative. So e.g. talking about other drivers while in traffic would often be "he", and the choice is influenced by variables such as the speaker's age, gender, etc.

But I should note for transparency that I am gender queer myself, and very partial towards the word.


"De/dem/deres" gets used in Norwegian, and I'd use the same format in Swedish if it weren't for the new option.

(By all means wait for someone with better Swedish than mine to confirm, however)


I'll mention that "de/dem/deres" gets used in Norwegian, so it's probably the same in Swedish too

No, we actually don't, or at least we do very seldomly and it sounds weird. That's one of the main reasons hen is so needed.


On a similar topic, why is "man" and "women" (and "the man" and "the woman" etc) so heavily used? I'm on level 9 and still haven't been introduced to the word "person". Why is Duolingo pushing the gendering of all people?

(Thank you for teaching "child" as well as "girl" and "boy".)


Probably unmalicious thoughtlessness rather than a deliberate push, but a fair point.

"Person" would indeed be a good word to include early in most languages. Granted, the grammatical gender of this word varies from language to language, but the idea is the same regardless - that personhood is what is being described, without conveying gender, be it en människa / en person (SV), et menneske / en person (NO), une personne (FR), whatever.

Perhaps, for languages that have the concept in a useable form, an extra skill "Gender neutrality" could be included somewhere in the tree.


Giving my 2 lingots to this:

I don't think the database should be updated until it is in common use. Duolingo is for new learners, so it should reflect the Swedish language as it is most commonly spoken. Once "hen" is in wide common use, I will be delighted to see it included.

Being non-binary myself, I refer to myself with the pronoun "they" in English. But then I usually have to explain to people why I have chosen that pronoun and what a non-binary gender is. Suppose I used "hen" in conversation - I don't know enough Swedish to explain those things, or answer any of the inevitable follow-up questions.

It seems a bit unfair to dump that conversation on any old learner who passes. Someone who is not familiar with the word's history and present queer politics might assume it's a quirk of the Swedish language to have three pronouns, and get themselves into a tangle. The listener might assume their Swedish is incorrect; or if they do know about "hen" but take strong offense at it, as many cisgender people do, they might get embroiled in an argument they didn't even know existed. The only way to do it now would be to add phrases for "They are non-binary - they prefer a gender neutral pronoun", to put it in context for learners who have not encountered the idea before, and to help people who want to use it with additional phrases to explain it.

I would certainly be nervous of using it about myself in Sweden, as I presently struggle to ask for a cup of tea, never mind dismantling the gender binary. Given that trans people can face violence, that's a thing you would want maximum command of the language before bringing up.


Perhaps it should be mentioned on the tips and tricks page, but not included in lessons - that way, the context could be fully explained

Learn Swedish in just 5 minutes a day. For free.