What is a proper pronoun? A proper pronoun references a specific person in third person. Proper pronouns show who is spoken of. Proper pronouns are not capitalized, except at the beginning of a sentence. Proper pronouns are derived from the first letter of their first or last name:
In formal settings (classroom, formal writing, public gatherings…), proper pronouns can be used as a way of avoiding mis-gendering or generically gendering* a person. Examples of proper pronouns used in sentences:
Kiki is a French professor. K works on gender inclusive classrooms.
One of k’s students asked…
Download a guide for using proper pronouns in the classroom here.
As with proper name, individuals may request a derivative of one’s proper pronoun in the same way that William may wish to be called Bill:
*Generic gendering is any usage of language that expresses an assumption about a person’s gender. This practice is and has always been improper because generic gendering leads to misgendering.
The concept of Proper Pronouns was created by Kiki Kosnick and Vickie R. Phipps and in the summer of 2018. Our first public presentation on the topic occurred in April 2019 at Queer Modernisms III in Oxford England:
On the question of (im)proper pronouns: a provocation for queering linguistic networks
In recent years, familiarity with gender-neutral and non-binary pronouns has continued to increase as speakers of English are identifying themselves as “they,” “xe,” and “per” with greater frequency at the same time as many educators and activists are mindful to avoid gender-coded language. Although it is now common in some educational and community settings for folks to share their pronouns as part of routine introductions, at best, one notes a chasm between everyday linguistic practices and the grammatical standards of editorial and scholarly bodies that overwhelmingly reinscribe traditional forms despite their limitations. In the everyday, resistance to non-binary pronouns manifests in statements like “I’m willing to call people what they want to be called, but I won’t be ungrammatical.” Meanwhile, in the case of formal writing, academic style guides favor restructuring the sentence to avoid non-binary pronouns –which is to say, to render the non-binary invisible.
Our provocation intervenes in these ongoing debates by providing an alternate framework that leverages sensibilities already embedded in English grammar (e.g., proper nouns and proper adjectives) while making room for the articulation of queer experience. Whereas third-person singular pronouns have always been improper because they govern access to linguistic agency by relegating subjects to a binary, we propose an eighth class of pronouns: proper pronouns. Our presentation both defines and details the usage of proper pronouns in common language and formal writing.
A little about who we are:
Dr. Kiki Kosnick and Professor Vickie R. Phipps are faculty at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois (USA).
Dr. Kosnick, holds a Ph.D. in French and Gender and Women’s Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Kiki’s work involves queer approaches to teaching language, literature, and culture, with a current focus on non-binary inclusivity in French. Ki’s article on this topic is forthcoming in a special issue of Modern and Contemporary France.
Professor Phipps is an artist, educator, and freelance designer who holds an MFA from the University of Tennessee. Vi has two decades of experience in television. Most recently Vickie has taught design on location in Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, Japan and The Netherlands. Vi is interested in (visual) narrative and the construction of identity– be that brand identity, personal identity, national identity, etc.
Proper Pronouns Public Presentations:
- Lavender Languages and Linguistics. California Institute of Integral Studies. San Francisco, California. March 27–29, 2020.
- TEA Talks. Augustana College. Rock Island, Illinois. November 20, 2019.
- Queer Modernisms III. Oxford University. Oxford, England. April 25–26, 2019.