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Pronoun Trouble
Gender neutral pronouns and substitution of names for pronouns allows speakers in fiction to play a kind of pronoun game. The purpose of the game is usually to obscure someone's gender or identity to the audience (or other characters) in a natural manner. It can be used as a way to talk about the Wholesome Crossdresser before revealing their gender without anyone technically lying about it. Occasionally, it's also a way to refer to a machine or other creature as if they were a person.

This can be difficult to translate convincingly into other languages, as rules for grammatical gender are all over the place in languages of the world. For example, in Spanish it's much harder to pull off, but in some cases can be done, and even be easier than English. short breakdown . In French, most words show their gender when written, but both masculine and feminine words are pronounced the same way.

A similar effect is seen whenever a piece of fiction includes a character who identifies with a non-binary gender, or comes from a race with Bizarre Alien Sexesreferring to them as "it" is unacceptably rude, except when they've outright asked you to. More original gender-neutral pronouns, like "s/he" or "zir", can be adopted, and the old standby of singular "they" remains perfectly acceptable from a grammatical viewpoint.

A common trick in languages without a neutral pronoun is to refer to "that person", but that has its own pitfalls in that the unnatural phrasing serves to draw attention to what should, in many cases, go unremarked.

Some languages, such as Finnish or Hungarian, have the opposite trouble - there are no gender specific pronouns at all, just neutral ones. When translating English works into these languages, it's too easy to ignore someone's gender, so when it becomes a plot point that really has to be revealed, the translator is forced to use the less natural "that woman" or "that man" equivalents.

Compare The All-Concealing I, which can serve a similar narrative function in English-language works. See Gender Vocabulary Slip for when crossdressers have Pronoun Trouble. See also Which Me?, for when people have trouble using the right pronouns to distinguish themselves from duplicates.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • The Viz dub of Ranma ˝ has to jump through verbal hoops to hide the true gender of Kurenai Tsubasa before that character's initial appearance in the third season.
  • The Russian dub of Sailor Moon S ran into a similar problem: the translators could not find a way to leave Haruka's gender dubious until she was revealed to be female, which led to Haruka talking about herself in masculine forms. (Verbs in the past tense have genders in Russian, as do adjectives in singular forms.)
  • Ashura in CLAMP's series RG Veda is genderless and has No Biological Sex. This is considerably easier to convey in Japanese, which has genderless pronouns. The English manga incorrectly uses "he", while the dubbed OVA uses "she", leaving some fans very, very confused.
    • This also applies a good portion of the cast of Wish, in which CLAMP followed the "angels are genderless" tradition and some of the angels themselves pointed out they are neither male nor female, as well as to the persocom Dita in Chobits. Ruby Moon from Cardcaptor Sakura is technically also genderless, but enjoyed taking on a female persona while posing as a human, their reasoning being that they'd get to wear cuter clothes that way.
    • Mokona is Mokona.
      • This comes up again in the quartet's newest series, Gate 7, which features a character named Hana whose gender is intentionally ambiguous. Thankfully, the English translation handles this ambiguity remarkably well.
  • Kino's Journey features a protagonist who looks (slightly) masculine but sounds feminine, and who uses both the masculine and feminine forms of "I". Turns out Kino's a girl.
    • The english dub makes it even harder to tell that she's a girl, by the voice actor purposely obscuring this since the English version wouldn't have as much pronoun trouble.
  • Katsura Hoshino, author of D.Gray-Man, uses pronouns that make pinning down the author's gender impossible.
    • Eventually, she made her first major public appearance.
  • Mazinger Z: A meta -and funny- example with The Dragon Baron Ashura, a half male, half female Cyborg made with the remains of two deceased lovers. Fans are divided about what pronoum using to refer to him/her/it.
  • As mentioned above, Chinese does not distinguish between male and female in the third person. This leads to two people being Mistaken for Gay in the manwha (Chinese comic) 1/2 Prince; one guy is in love with a female character's male online persona, whilst the other is in love with her real self. She overhears and eventually concludes that they were fighting over a man and, later, talking about her twin brother. The subsequent Ho Yay writes itself.
  • In Fruits Basket there's a joke where a character talks about her child. When we meet this child about 10 episodes later, we meet a beautiful girl who, of course, turns out to be a boy. The dubbers seemed to have (initially) missed this memo. They erroneously translate "my child" as "my son", potentially ruining the joke. Fortunately, they did eventually catch it; in the episode the son appears, in a flashback to the original conversation, it's correctly translated as "my child".
    • In the manga, however, it was translated in English as "my son", therefore ruining the joke when the boy finally appears.
  • In the Japanese original version of Gundam 00, the very feminine-looking Gundam pilot Tieria Erde changes pronouns depending on his mental state. The traditionally masculine "ore" at the beginning, the more casual but still mostly male "boku" when he starts more emotions, the formal and gender neutral "watashi" when at his most fragile... Good luck making that translate into English.
    • They didn't, though they still did an admirable job of conveying Tieria's gender-identity issues.
      • Similarly, Deadman Wonderland's Toto Sakigami mixes up his pronouns and has to correct himself - usually female (atashi) to neutral (watashi) or male (boku or ore). Yep, he runs the whole spectrum. This is important foreshadowing, for later it's revealed the verbal mix-up is due to him actually being Rinichirou Hagire, a mad scientist and the Chairman of the titular prison. The real Toto having had his personality overwritten once he was Grand Theft Me'd.
  • Crona from Soul Eater. The dub of the anime just uses male pronouns, but they left in the line about Patty not knowing if Crona is a boy or a girl and various commentaries by the voice actors and director actually have them referring to Crona with one pronoun or another, and the English translation of the manga uses female pronouns.
    • Although in the dub Medusa, being Crona's mother and pretty much the only other one who would be sure of Crona's sex, calls Crona "it".
  • A common occurrence in Detective Conan, where Conan claims that he knows the killer is "that person" when there are suspects of both sexes, preventing the audience from getting any information.
  • Probably unintentional in Katekyo Hitman Reborn! with regards to several characters as a side-effect of the otherwise well-recieved Art Evolution. Viper, Kikyou and Daisy were all referred to with gender neutral pronouns, yet their designs are confusing, to say the least. This has led to translations using "he" then "she" for the same characters depending on who's translating.
  • Because of his gender neutral style of speaking, Lopmon in Digimon Tamers could have gone any which way. By the time Shiuchon was trying to teach him male pronouns, it was a case of She's a Man in Japan in the dub.
  • Nabari No Ou will likely run into this in the translated manga, with Sora's confusion over whether to use ore or watashi.
  • Yellow in Pokémon Special. It's possible that it was because she wanted to keep the ruse up, but why would her uncle refer to her as "he"?
    • Crystal has also been referred to as male... after it's clear that she's the one they're all talking about, and pretty much female.
  • Keiichi fell foul of this in Ah! My Goddess when put under a temporary Gender Bender by Skuld's pudding. When his sister and his fellow members of the Auto club came looking for him, he tried to pretend that he was someone else, in a bid to hide the presence of goddesses in his home. Just as he was about to leave, however, he accidentally used the masculine 'ore' when referring to himself, rousing some suspicion in his guests.
  • Death Note's translation always referred to an unknown Kira as "them", that was fitting, because often those who discussed it, didn't even know if it's really a single person or a group.
  • Belbel in There, Beyond the Beyond was the victim of this and Viewer Gender Confusion in the Tokyopop translation; the first volumes used the name "Lady Belbel", but when they changed translators, Belbel suddenly became a "he".
  • HeartCatch Pretty Cure! didn't formally reveal Myoudouin Itsuki's female gender to Tsubomi — and the audience — until Episode Seven. This was a lot easier to get around in the original Japanese than in the subs, where not only Tsubomi, but Erika and the student council, the latter of which know better, refer to Itsuki with exclusively male terms until the aforementioned reveal.
  • In the official subs of the Fist of the North Star anime, the Tentei or Heavenly Empress Lui is continually referred to as a "he" or as an "Emperor" by characters who knows her true identity before her gender is revealed.
  • In the original Japanese version of the Pokémon anime, the somewhat infamous episode where Satoshi (Ash) crossdresses must have been hard to translate. Satoshi's usual pronoun is the somewhat arrogant masculine "ore", and he tripped and had trouble using the feminine "atashi".
  • In Code Geass, Suzaku's mental state can be determined by which personal pronoun he uses: when he's trying to be a good guy, he uses the more polite "boku", but when he was a young boy (and again after he passes the Despair Event Horizon and becomes harsher) he starts using the more boastful "ore". Some fans even took to using this as a label to distinguish his two attitudes (Boku-Suzaku versus Ore-Suzaku). Obviously the English dub doesn't retain this.
  • A minor example for most English speakers, but an obvious one for folks who speak Japanese, is the way in which Hazumu refers to h(er/im)self in Kashimashi ~Girl Meets Girl~ - most notably the use of the 'boku' (male reflexive) pronoun, also referenced in a similarly gender-bending series, Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru.
  • A meta example occurs with Wandering Son as there's been discussion on the wiki about whether to refer to the transgender characters by their biological sex (Shuuichi is "he" and Yoshino is "she") or by their desired/mental genders (Shuuichi is "she" and Yoshino is "he"). The general consensus is to simply match what's used in-story (Shuuichi "he" / Yoshino "she"). Yuki is more straightforward, as she lives as a woman, is implied to have had surgery, and everyone in-story refers to her as "she" even after knowing her original gender.
  • Kurapika in Hunter × Hunter presents translators with plenty of trouble. Again, in Japanese with no gendered pronouns, it's just not mentioned. Ambiguous tribal clothing, a female voice actor, and a tendency to wear female disguises don't help matters. At this point the English-speaking fandom has pretty much settled on him being a guy, since all the dubbers went with that pronoun, but the initial promotions released about the manga specifically stated, "Kurapika's gender has not been revealed." Meanwhile, the Japanese half of the fandom seems to have a pretty even split, so fan art featuring female Kurapika is as common as male.
    • Neferpitou is another problem. While he's referred as male in the manga and by the oversea manga versions, the fansubbers refer him as female despite the using of "boku", just because of his Crossdressing Voice and especially his boobs in the anime.

    Fan Works 

    Film 
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Eddie is Genre Savvy enough to use this to manipulate Roger, since 'Toons will always, always, always fall for it. (Well, maybe not the protagonists like Bugs or Mickey).
  • A version of the pronoun game is played by Alyssa, a lesbian-identified bisexual woman and the protagonist's (Holden's) love interest in Chasing Amy. Her friends press her on why she's less able to spend time with them, and she admits she's found someone—but she refers to Holden (and his friends) as "they" until she's called on playing the pronoun game by one of them, who asks for a name.
    Alyssa: ...Holden.
    Friend: Well. * drinks* Another one bites the dust.
  • In Heartburn, the fact that Hungarian has one pronoun both for "he" and "she" led to the following exchange:
    Rachel Samstat: Mark. For God's sake. Laszlo, we thought that you could put a door here.
    Contractor Laszlo: She's a piece of cake. He's a piece of cake.
    Rachel Samstat: It's a piece of cake.
    Contractor Laszlo: You are Hungarian?
    Rachel Samstat: No. You are Hungarian.
    Contractor Laszlo: Yes.
    Rachel Samstat: Yes. Hungarians have no pronouns.
    Mark Forman: Apparently they don't have fucking doors, either.
    Contractor Laszlo: She is very angry at me.
    Rachel Samstat: He is very angry at you. Yes.
    • It should be noted that this is unrealistic; Hungarians who speak poor English will tend to use "he" instead of "she", and sometimes even instead of "it", but almost never vice versa. By the way, although the above conversation would not have included any pronouns in Hungarian (the language relies on verb declination and context in a lot of cases where English uses pronouns), Hungarian does have pronouns. It just doesn't have grammatical gender.
  • In Hebrew, second-person pronouns, most verbs, and all adjectives also decline by gender. In Frozen Days, the female protagonist is very unsettled when she goes ‘back’ to work as a guard in ‘Azrieli as ‘Alex’, the man whose identity she has assumed, and the rest of the guards act as if she’s always been Alex, even addressing her as a female.
  • In Star Trek, "Mister" can be used in place of a Starfleet rank when a superior officer is addressing a subordinate, regardless of the subordinate's sex. This can be somewhat confusing to the audience when, for instance, Kirk and Spock address "Mister Saavik" in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

    Literature 
  • Many in the Star Trek Novel Verse. In addition to the pronouns Peter David uses in Star Trek: New Frontier for the Hermat race (listed in the body of the entry), there's a whole Hermat Language Council, to explain why he did away with the pronoun hish and the practice of calling a commanding Hermat officer "shir". The Hermat pronouns are later applied to other hermaphrodite or androgynous races like the Talosians. Also, a Damiani is either he, she or it, depending on sex. The four-sexed Andorians have a multitude of gender-specific words but usually accept male or female pronouns so as to avoid confusion among offworlders. A Syrath is an it, being asexual (but Damiani its are not asexual). Bynars use "this unit" in place of I or we, neither of which works well for them.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, Betan hermaphrodites (genetic constructs who breed true) prefer to be referred to as "it". Also, instead of "Lady" or "Gentleman," the honorific "Honorable Herm" is used.
  • Yuu Valentine from Project NRI is referred to in-text as "they."
  • The novel Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction by Sue Townsend features an offstage character named Leslie who is in a relationship with Mr Carlton-Hayes, Adrian's boss. Since the Adrian has never met Leslie and Mr Carlton-Hayes always talks about him/her using this trope, both Adrian and the reader are clueless as to whether Leslie is a man or woman.
  • Western example: In Foundation's Edge and Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov, Gaia is a Hive Mind where all residents of Gaia are Gaia and do not consider themselves individuals, which necessitated two Foundationers who came to Gaia (and who did not understand the Hive Mind concept) to coin the hilarious pronoun I/you/we/he/she/Gaia (oftentimes shortened). Arguable Narm.
  • Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness has a near-human race whose members are normally of a neuter sex; during their reproductive cycle, members will switch to male or female, depending on the circumstances. Naturally, this leads to problems with the visiting male human from Earth. The natives' language has words for their sexes during their cycle, but their masculine pronoun for a fixed-sex being is reserved exclusively for animals and "defective" members of their race. It would be like using "it" to describe a member of their race during their neuter cycle.
    • The visiting always-male human from Earth, however, simply uses "he" when referring to natives that are in the androgynous part of their cycle.
  • The whole point of Jeannette Winterson's Written on the Body is that the readers are never told whether the first-person narrator is a man or a woman. The Polish translator had to settle for a female narrator, with the author sanctioning this.
  • In Emma Bull's Bone Dance, Sparrow is neither male nor female, and as such, causes some confusion among some other characters at one point: "Take this and cover her." "Her?" And when a hoodoo ceremony is performed, Sparrow is referred to as "this person" wherever the pronouns usually would go.
  • Not just pronoun trouble, but name trouble in general is a common problem in The Saga of Tuck.
  • "Translation notes" in some of the Dragaera novels indicate that the language the characters are speaking has more commonly-used gender-neutral pronouns. In the Paarfi books in particular, this is generally translated as "he" to match the Antiquated Linguistics of the rest of the text.
  • In The Dresden Files, Harry Dresden finds himself facing this problem when trying to talk about the skinwalker Shagnasty in Turn Coat. Leads to a Crowning Moment of Funny when he accidentally describes this trope as "gender issues" in front of Bob the Skull.
  • In the Codex Alera series, Marat children are referred to by their parents as their "whelp" instead of boy or girl, until they pass a certain rite of adulthood. In the first book the POV character, Tavi, meets (and is injured by) a Marat child, and the narrator refers to this child with male pronouns, since that's what Tavi assumes it to be. Proves to be a major plot point that he's a she.
  • In David Lindsay's classic fantasy novel A Voyage to Arcturus, the protagonist Maskull meets Leehallfae, a member of a genderless race (Phaen), who use the neutral pronoun "ae" to refer to themselves.
  • Scorpion Shards references this, but notably avoids it. Okoya, a Hermaphrodite, is initially assumed by some characters to be a girl and by others to be a boy. Those who make the former assumption refer to Okoya with feminine pronouns, but the narration only bothers with masculine pronouns "for brevity."
  • The novelette on which Enemy Mine was based also had this problem; every member of the Drac species was both male and female at the same time. The story was told from the standpoint of a human who'd been trained to think of the Drac as merely an enemy that needed to be exterminated, so the storyteller used "it" as the pronoun. (e.g., "Jeriba Shigan took out its notepad and began to write.")
  • In the Spanish translations of the earlier Discworld books, Death was referred to with female pronouns since the word for death is feminine in Spanish. When Death became an actual character and the English started using "he" this was rectified.
  • The Discworld novel Monstrous Regiment features multiple Sweet Polly Oliver characters, some of whom have revealed this but continued living as men by the end of the novel. The narrator's use of pronouns gets a bit inconsistent after that, as well as characters forming sentences like "She's a very practical man". And the fandom is even more inconsistent with the pronouns, especially when the desire to avoid spoilers comes into it.
  • In Ender In Exile, Graff does a pretty good job of tiptoeing around pronouns when talking about Demosthenes, but naturally, Ender sees through it anyway.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien mentions in the appendices that the language used in the original version of the book had respectful and informal forms of the pronoun "you", except in the Shire, where the respectful form had fallen out of use. So Pippin referred to Denethor, the steward of Gondor, as an equal, and that fueled the rumors that he was a prince of the halflings.
    • In the Spanish translation of the books, the problem is in number, when a character says "May the Valar protect you." Since the Valar are not mentioned anywhere else, the translator uses "El valar" ("el" is masculine singular for "the"), probably assuming that the Valar is a sort of Crystal Dragon Jesus. It is clear from other works, though, that the proper form would be the plural "Los Valar."
  • The Children of Triad trilogy by Laurie J. Marks features the Aeyries, a race of hermaphrodites that are effectively neuter until maturity. A lot of this trope results when the Aeyries inevitably have to deal with the human-like Walkers, who, like every other species on their planet, have two genders. Because "It" Is Dehumanizing, many Walkers, who are incredibly prejudiced against the Aeyries, call them such, but the correct pronouns are 'id' and 'idre' in the Aeyrie language. As a more direct example, the eponymous main character of the first book, Delan the Mislaid, grows up in a Walker village; because id has no male 'characteristics,' the people of ids village decide id is a very, very ugly 'she' and move on from there.
  • Not so much pronoun trouble per se as the effects of it: J.K. Rowling was forced to assign a gender to the Harry Potter minor character Blaise Zabini when a translator (into Portuguese?) needed to know in order to translate one of the earlier books. Up until then, Blaise had generally been thought of as female, leading to a certain amount of annoyance in fanfiction circles when he was found to be a he. When Half-Blood Prince came out, Rowling actually included him in the plot and he became slightly more than just an ambiguous name.
  • Tar Gibbons of the Rod Albright Alien Adventures, whose species has 5 sexes, actually prefers "it" pronouns. When Rod brings up the obvious objection, it simply states that as it is neither male nor female, "he" or "she" pronouns would be wrong, and it considers that to be more insulting than just going with "it".

    Live Action TV 
  • Pronoun Trouble drives the humor in the Saturday Night Live skit "It's Pat!" Watching any version of this skit at all makes clear exactly how troubling Pronoun Trouble can get.
  • On Malcolm in the Middle, infant Jamie went several episodes just after being born without having a specified gender. (In the end, it was another boy.) This was also parodied with a skit where the parents are skirting around his gender for about 2 minutes before casually revealing it by calling him "mister".
  • Star Trek:
    • The (traditionally male) honorific "sir" is the proper form of address for referring to a superior officer of any gender in Starfleet. Male crewmembers are occasionally heard to subtly give the word extra emphasis when addressing a female officer they feel is being a bit of a hardass. The occasional "ma'am" (the proper form of address for female officers in most modern U.S. military branches) can occasionally be heard as well; it appears to depend at least partially on the preference of the officer.
    • Captain Janeway of Star Trek: Voyager dislikes being called "sir," preferring to be addressed with the more gender-neutral "Captain." She's been known to tolerate the occasional "ma'am" as well.
    • The J'naii in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Outcast" are an andogynous species for whom gender is "primitive". Their pronoun for themselves is supposedly difficult to translate; it comes through to us as "one".
  • Pops up both in-universe and on This Very Wiki with The Sarah Connor Chronicles, in regards as to whether Cameron and other Terminators should be referred to as "he/she" or "it".
  • In How I Met Your Mother, Marshall got himself into this because he didn't want to reveal to Lily than Marshalls co-worker Jenkins is a woman, and not a man, as Lily assumed. As he puts it himself, he just had to avoid pronouns (que flashback in which Marshall tels Lily about how a superior chose people for a job: "him, him, her, him, him, Beat... Jenkins")
  • Some literal Pronoun Trouble happens in-character on ER when Dr. Green's brain tumor began to inhibit his use of "he" and "she". Lambasting the friend of a gunshot victim, his "He blew his brains out!" became "She blew his brains out!", thoroughly confusing the guy he's yelling at.
  • In an episode of Frasier, the titular character learns that Maris has been having an affair and goes to confront her. He asks Niles' Hispanic maid for "Mrs. Crane" and she leads him to a sauna. After a lot of buildup, he opens the door and we see...Niles.
    Frasier: I asked to see "MRS. Crane!"
    Greta: Yes! Missy Crane!
    Niles: Greta has trouble with her pronouns.
  • Similar to the ER example above, Drew in Degrassi calls his transgender brother by his female birth name shortly before passing out from repeated head trauma. (And not like that...)
  • In Bones Booth spends the first couple scenes where he's talking about a transgender, sex-changed-to-woman Body of the Week trying to figure out which set of pronouns to use.

    Toys 
  • A presumably accidental invocation of this trope (a bio with no gendered pronouns used) led to a Transformer from the Beast Wars toyline (a bat named Sonar) to be considered female by the fanbase (eventually this was apparently made canon).

    Video Games 
  • The original Metroid had Samus's gender (hint...not male) as a Tomato Surprise at the end. The English-language manual seems to use "Samus" as a pronoun — although it does cheat and use "he" in places.
    • The Japanese manual, due to the inherent linguistic quirks, has less trouble keeping Samus's gender a secret... and it still uses the "he" cheat.
    • Later on in the series, it gets similarly cagey around Sylux, introduced in Metroid Prime Hunters as The Rival to Samus. Every other Hunter is a "he;" Sylux is... a Sylux, or "it" if pronouns must be stooped to. Thus, there is some speculation that Sylux is female as well.
      • Though Sylux may be a truly genderless being, possibly a computer or an Energy Being.
  • For certain reasons, Knights of the Old Republic goes to great lengths not to specify Darth Revan's gender, but some conversations use male pronouns. (This may be justified since Revan wore face- and figure-concealing clothing at all times — the speaker just assumed Revan was male).
    • KotOR 2 allows the player to specify the gender of Revan and the Jedi Exile, your player character. Specify that both are female and you're in for a wild ride of Pronoun Trouble - the lengthy cutscene with the Jedi Council flashback (and, for that matter, nearly the entire game after Citadel Station in Revan's case) is littered with hard-coded "hes" and "hims" despite your choices.
  • Zohar in Silhouette Mirage can change genders at will, and was created with this ability, which is linked to the ability to change attributes between Silhouette and Mirage. Despite the character being equal parts male and female, Zohar is referred to as "He" in the English translation of the game.
  • In the fourth case of the second Ace Attorney game, an important plot point is the fact that the name Adrian Andrews can apply to any gender, and Shelley de Killer messes up by using "he" instead of "she" despite claiming he met her in person. The script does a good job of dancing around using pronouns for that person, but it's helped in that the name is only mentioned a few times during the time it's important.
    • Also, when presenting profiles which people don't have a specific response to, they'll often say things like, "I don't know anything about this person."
  • NiGHTS is officially genderless, as (s)he is capable of bonding with both males (Elliot, William) and females (Claris, Helen). Not really a problem with the first game, which was entirely devoid of dialogue. The Wii sequel, Journey of Dreams, however, has several voiced cutscenes, and using pronouns to refer to NiGHTS was largely unavoidable; the game settles on using male pronouns, but then has it so (s)he speaks with a female voice to further confuse the issue.
  • Legion in Mass Effect 2. It's iffy on whether the entity identified as Legion should be called a "he" (male-sounding voice), "it" (inherently genderless robot), or "they" (gestalt consciousness consisting of 1,183 "programs" in a single "platform"). Shepard refers to Legion as "it" (...usually), though most of fandom refers to Legion as "he."
    • In the third game, Legion refers to himself as "I" right before his Heroic Sacrifice, if you manage to achieve peace between the Quarians and the Geth.
    • This is averted with Shepard him/her self, since unlike with KOTOR, the developers had planned from the beginning to have Shepard be either male or female, so there are separate voice files that have pronouns refer to either a male or female Shepard.
  • In Prototype, Blackwatch is very specific when they say that Alex Mercer must be referred to as an "it", not a "he"; and it turns out, they're right. "Alex" is revealed to be a shapeshifting, sentient virus that originated as a vial of inanimate goo rather than an infected human, with no real gender - or identity, or shape. He does, however, end up wearing a male form most of the time since he can only use his weapon and armor powers in his default shape. And there is a distinct shortage of women to consume, but that's another trope.
  • Pronoun Trouble is what started the whole Sheik controversy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. When it was translated, Ruto had to call Sheik something. They decided to have her call Sheik "He".
    • In the earlier Super Smash Bros games, Sheik's design was still physically clearly male (the spandex could leave no doubts...), but was referred to as "she". In Brawl, the new design was given boobs and long hair.
  • Arguably, Saint Ajora in Final Fantasy Tactics was victim to this. The original PSX version of the game (both English and Japanese) referred to Ajora Glabados as a he. However, during the game he's possessed by the female Lucavi Altima and is also reincarnated into the female body of Alma Beoulve, though no one ever refers to Ajora as a she even in these cases. A Japanese-only Ultimania release refers to Ajora as female, as does Final Fantasy 12 in a fleeting reference, but the PSP retranslation keeps the male pronouns.
  • In Persona 4, Naoto's social link runs into a translation problem for this reason. In the original Japanese, once you leveled up her social link far enough, you got a scene where she asks if you prefer her using "boku" or "atashi" to refer to herself. In the English version, the scene is changed to being about the pitch of her voice.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Olga persistently refers to her child as, well, "my child", even in extremely convoluted circumstances. One would assume she at least got a glimpse of its gender after she gave birth to it, so there's no reason for this except to lampshade the mystery about the child's identity.
  • An Idolmaster MAD averts this with Ryo Akizuki, It uses "me" and "the other (Idol Singer) me".
  • The intro to My Sims Agents has Buddy talking about how his comics are really about his best friend... but has to use "they" when forced to use a neutral pronoun to refer to you, because you choose your Sim's gender, and won't have done so yet. It would have been better to move at least that part of Sim creation to the beginning.
  • Nintendo has trouble whether they should refer to the Transsexual Birdo as male or female at times, so they've used "Birdo" as a pronoun at least once.

    Web Comics 
  • Most characters refer to Vaarsuvius of The Order of the Stick as V because they don't know whether V's male or female. Every now and then, someone will refer to V with gender-specific language; but it's often contradictory, and Word of God says any character who refers to V as male or female is reflecting their own perceptions, not necessarily reality.
    • An interesting example here… with Durkon's accent, the pronoun comes out to an ambiguous "'E".
    • In this strip, even V's kids (stated to be adopted) refer to V and V's mate as "Parent" and "Other Parent." Their conversation is presented via Translation Convention; supposedly, we're to understand that the elvish language itself is gender-ambiguous in this setting. Or, we're to accept it on the grounds that it's funny.
    • In the preface for the third chapter of the second collection "No Cure for the Paladin Blues", the author does slip up and refer to V exclusively with male pronouns. But he'd probably deny that that proves anything.
      • And all of that is dashed to bits with this, where V admits that he/she ignores pronouns.
  • Ash in Misfile suffers from this. He's a guy turned into a girl who has to maintain The Masquerade that he was always a girl or end up stuck that way permanently. Those who are in on the secret sometimes swap male and female pronouns in the same sentence. It doesn't come up much anymore, as Ash doesn't want anyone overhearing conversations to get ideas, and so accepts the use of 'her' and 'she'.
    • On the forums, you can usually figure out which way someone ships the Official Couple by their pronoun use. Those that use "he" typically want to see Ash turned back to normal; those that use "she" want to see Ash stay Misfiled permanently. There are also those who go to great lengths to avoid using pronouns for Ash at all.
  • Narbonic doesn't seem to have any gender problems at all, happily referring to a gender-swapped Helen as "he". The fans do it, too (and also refer to "He-helen" and "Davette").
  • El Goonish Shive, on the other hand, seems to stick to the appropriate pronoun for the character's internal gender.
  • This 8-Bit Theater comic had a particularly squickworthy take on the whole "undefined gender" trope...
  • LOTA (Longshoreman of the Apocalypse), a robot from Schlock Mercenary, avoids the issue entirely. "LOTA is too large for your puny pronouns!"
  • The case of Sire attempt to avoid this by referring to Riley by name whenever a pro-noun is required to describe Riley. It comes off a little awkward. Some characters gave up and just selected one of the two binary options to avoid having to deal with the language issue.

    Web Original 
  • The Chakats of Chakona Space use "shi" and "hir" to refer to themselves and other herms.
    • Whereas the gender-shifting Skunktaurs use "hy" and "hys" for some reason.
  • In the Whateley Universe, Heyoka (the codename) is a person of Lakota Indian origin whose first name is Jamie. Heyoka's superpower means that he/she shifts from masculine to feminine to in-between, as well as from human to part-animal. Even the other transgender at the school have trouble with pronouns in Jamie's case.
    • Jade and the manifested J-Team have it even worse, as she cannot keep personal or impersonal pronouns straight. This is used as a Running Gag.
      • The J-Team issues aren't so much male/female, though, as a situation where their singularity/plurality varies over time. Plus, there's a Masquerade going on where she/they are pretending that she/they are "they" 24/7. Whereas, as she says, "It's all just me." Now if you want a Team Kimba member whose male/female pronouns get a beating, try Ayla. Originally male, legally female, mentally male, physically intersex (but 95% female). His pronouns change depending on whether characters are talking about his legal, mental, or physical aspects, how much they know about him, and whether they remember to switch. Even the readers can't agree!
      • Oh, and Jade is transsexual. Pre-Op near the beginning, post-op later on. Not a spoiler. Interestingly, no pronoun trouble, Jade is ALWAYS she. The omniscient narrator, however, uses He for Ayla, when written by Diane Castle.
  • Orion's Arm has a surprisingly simple pronoun system for referring to the six standard sexes in the setting plus addition pronouns to denote virtual and alien life forms of indeterminable gender.

    Western Animation 
  • The Trope Namer is "Rabbit Seasoning": The entire plot – and classically so – is based on Bugs' confusing Elmer Fudd with a very clever series of misplaced pronouns, and Daffy – himself trying to avoid getting shot - forever misspeaking and, growing more exasperated as he's repeatedly wounded, mixing up the pronouns even more. The sneaky but very smart Bugs, as always, emerges unscathed while Daffy is blown to bits!
  • For Brazilian translators, the English word "friend" is a nightmare. The word, as most denotative nouns in the Portuguese language, has a version for men ("amigo") and another for women ("Amiga" (gives a whole new meaning to the term "motherboard", doesn't it?)). So whenever an animated show wants to use the neutral meaning to create a plot-point, confusion ensues. A particular example in Avatar: The Last Airbender comes to mind - Aang asks Waterbending Master Paku if he can bring a friend to practice with them. When it turns out the friend is a girl, Paku denies it. In the Brazilian dub, Aang immediately referred to Katara as his "amiga", already giving out that she's a girl... yet the rest of the scene plays the same way. The only possible explanation is that Paku has bad hearing...
    • This is not just about the word 'friend', but about pretty much any word, period. In Portuguese (and other romance languagesnote  for that matter), it's much harder to stay gender neutral then English, since you have to specify the gender for most nouns.
  • The titular character in the Futurama film "The Beast With A Billion Backs" is a hermaphroditic extra-dimensional being who asks to be referred to as "Shklee" and "Shklirr".
  • In one episode of King of the Hill, Hank's sex is printed as Female on his driver's license. His Rant Inducing Slight is when a Department of Homeland Security employee, after refusing to fix the issue, calls him "ma'am." Hank almost gets arrested for threatening him, when Dale, who had recently become patriotic, rattles off the employee's entire chain of command and demands, as a taxpayer (as of a few hours ago), that he correct Hank's license.
  • Baby Nameless, the infant child of Natalie and Carlos in Mission Hill, does not have a name yet since Natalie does not want her child "to fall into a preconceived gender stereotype". The child's gender is never revealed in the series.

    Real Life 
  • This is a concern when writing software, both translated from English, and written directly in a gendered language. Sometimes a software doesn't need to know the user's gender at all, except to say "Welcome". In the best case, you get "Bienvenido/a" or "Bienvenid@" (indicating both options: masculine and feminine). In the worst case, you get "Welcome back, Mr Mariah Carey!"
    • To respect the identities of LGBT users, Facebook will come right out and explicitly ask the user how he or she would like to be addressed (he, she, or one of the more esoteric non-gender specific pronouns like "xe"), if the user leaves the box blank, Facebook will default to using the singular "they".
  • Some official letters (medic results, etc.) are done on a template, and don't bother much with adressing the recipient by their gender.
  • In most modern co-ed militaries, male officers are addresses as "sir" and female officers as "ma'am." In certain branches, however, there are complex sets of rules for when a female officer may (or occasionally must) be addressed as "sir."
  • As the concept of non-binary gender identification has gained more notice, this problem often crops up with people attempting to be polite. Many just use he/she based on their bodies; others who identify as "masculine but not male" will use he while "feminine but not female" use she; others who identify as both or neither might use either, or, and even alternate between both; and to top it all off there's a growing trend of coming up with entirely new pronouns or adopting others'. It's often a good rule of thumb to just ask first, and default to singular "they" if you can't ask. And never, ever, call them "it" if they haven't asked you to.


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