Colonel Larabee: Just exactly how do you mean that, son?
Kelly: Well, sir you said, No one knows what he looks like. So we know hes male.
Agent Haywood: Shut up, Kelly.
Gender neutral pronouns and substitution of pronouns for names 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 .
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 Sexes. Referring to them as "it" is unacceptably rude (unless they explicitly prefer it). More original gender-neutral pronouns, like "s/he" or "ze", can be adopted, and the old standby of singular "they" is often acceptable from a grammatical viewpoint, depending on who you ask.
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 problem—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.
- Ranma ½:
- The Viz dub has to jump through verbal hoops to hide the true gender of Kurenai Tsubasa before that character's initial appearance in the third season.
- Ranma himself is a bit of Lost in Translation. To see someone obviously looked like a woman speaking with rough, exaggerated male speech was probably a bit of a surprise to Japanese readers.
- 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.
- Kino's Journey features a protagonist who looks slightly masculine but sounds feminine, and who uses both the masculine and feminine forms of "I". Most characters that Kino encounters in-universe assume that Kino is male. When it comes time to learn our protagonist's backstory, it turns out Kino's a girl. The English dub of the first anime plays this up even more by having the voice actor purposely use an androgynous voice for the character.
- 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 pronoun 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 manhua (Chinese comic) ½ 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 Mobile Suit 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. The English dub didn't do so directly, though they still did an admirable job of conveying Tieria's gender-identity issues. There's even an instance where Tieria, undergoing a minor nervous breakdown, uses all three pronouns in a single sentence: "Ore wa... boku wa... watashi wa..."
- 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 he/him 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 both male and female suspects, preventing the audience from getting any information.
- Probably unintentional in Katekyō Hitman Reborn! with regards to several characters as a side-effect of the otherwise well-received 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.
- Digimon Tamers:
- Because of his gender neutral style of speaking, Lopmon 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.
- In the original Japanese version, Renamon was written to be "genderless"/androgynous, and accordingly uses the gender-neutral watashi as a first-person pronoun. Since watashi is also commonly seen as a casual female pronoun, most dubs went with Renamon being seen and treated as female, which led to an odd situation when a conversation late in the series had Renamon awkwardly answer the question "you're a girl, right?" with a statement that Digimon have No Biological Sex (implying a lack of identification or interest in gender). Because of this, the majority of the non-Japanese fanbase thinks of Renamon as female, and fansubs even follow suit. The German dub outright made Renamon male, leading to an even more awkward situation when Renamon evolves into the extremely feminine-looking and -behaving Sakuyamon (granted, through a Fusion Dance with the female Ruki).
- Nabari no Ou will likely run into this in the translated manga, with Sora's confusion over whether to use ore or watashi.
- Pokémon Adventures.
- It's possible that it was because Yellow 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", which was fitting because often those who discussed it didn't even know whether Kira was a single person or a group, or their gender.
- 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.
- .hack//SIGN: Tsukasa. His real-life player is revealed to be female, which has many fans confused as to how they should refer to him. Some use she/her pronouns at all times, but some prefer he/him pronouns as although Tsukasa accepts that he's female after he's found that out, he still doesn't have much problem with acting like a boy. Most go with the simple solution of referring to his real-life player as female and the character, Tsukasa himself, as male.
- A minor example for most English speakers, but an obvious one for folks who speak Japanese, is the way in which Hazumu refers to herself/himself 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 assigned gender (Shuuichi is "he" and Yoshino is "she") or by their desired gender (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 presents as a woman and everyone in-story refers to her as "she". By the end of the manga almost all fans concretely use "she" for Shuuchi but Yoshino is a more difficult case. Yoshino decides to not transition however there is a vagueness to whether they're cisgender or not. This leaves fans stumped on what pronoun to use, especially since it would be a huge spoiler if you didn't use "he",
- Hunter × Hunter:
- Kurapika 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. No gendered pronouns are used for them in the manga but Neferpitou is a "he" in the databook. Western licensed translations mostly use male pronouns.
- The writer of Attack on Titan has officially stated that Hange Zoe should be referred to with either gender-neutral pronouns or with both "he" and "she" in equal measure. This hasn't stopped several fan translations from assigning them one or the other binary gender. To add to the confusion, the anime and the live action film portrays Zoe with much more noticeable breasts than the manga does.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Yubel is a Hermaphrodite duel spirit who has a literal female right side of the body and a male left side, so it's hard to actually referring to them with any pronouns. The 4Kids dub made them completely female◊ due to the fact that they are in love with the totally male protagonist Judai, but translators for fansubs have a hard time with them. Many of them go with the 4Kids way by referring to them with she/her pronouns but this doesn't sit well with the people who acknowledge that they are half-male. This is still on heated debate even today.
- 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.
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 shes always been Alex, even addressing her as a female.
- The sirens in Our Bloody Pearl don't have a concept of gender. When asked, the main character accepts they/them pronouns.
- 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 intersex 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.
- Averted in The Wizards On Walnut Street with the help of The All-Concealing "I".
- 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 them using this trope, both Adrian and the reader are clueless as to Leslie's gender.
- 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 pronoun I/you/we/he/she/Gaia (oftentimes shortened).
- There's also the matter of the Solarians, who, being intersex and considering themselves above concepts of 'male' or 'female', give the characters some trouble about what pronouns to use. Generally, they use "it", though for the Solarian child they pick up along the way, they settle on "her".
- Ursula K. 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 what gender the first-person narrator is. The Polish translator had to settle for a female narrator, with the author sanctioning this.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Sweets, a minor character who's a hermaphrodite, is referred to with alternating pronouns; "he" one paragraph, "she" the next.
- 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 Khaavren Romances 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. It turns out there are few ways to adequately gender a sexless demigod of suffering. Leads to a Funny Moment when he accidentally describes this trope as "gender issues" in front of Bob the Skull.
- There is also Capiocorpus, the Corpsetaker. Corpsetaker was probably human at one point, but has existed solely as a body-stealing mind for so long it's unclear what its original gender was, or if it's applicable at this point.
- 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 them to be. Proves to be a major plot point that he's female.
- 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."
- In the Hungarian translation, thanks to the lack of gendered pronouns, when Éowyn and Merry are pitted against the Witch-King of Angmar, the text reads in a way that it is Merry, rather than Éowyn, delivering the killing blow (since Éowyn is only referred to as "she" in that sentence, and Merry is the subject of the previous one). The "no man can kill him" prophecy still works this way, as Merry is no man either (he's a halfling). It led to some Fan Dumb moments when Hungarian fans criticized the Peter Jackson film for changing the scene and giving Merry's Moment of Awesome to Éowyn, even though the scene in the film quite closely followed the English text.
- 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 male. 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, Tar Gibbons 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."
- One superhero novel called Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities has the protagonist, Vincent, discover that the local superhero, Captain Stupendous, is currently his crush, Polly, transforming into an adult man. Vincent's narration notes that, for his own sanity, he's just going to think of Polly as "he" or "she" depending on what body she's in.
- In The Host, the human characters have difficulty referring to Wanderer (an alien parasite who has inhabited many bodies- male, female, and otherwise) because of this. Wanderer herself identifies as female and asks them to call her 'she'.
"In my species, I am the one who bears young. Is that 'female' enough for you?"
- Made the subject of a brief joke in one of H. P. Lovecraft's rare comedic tales, "Sweet Ermengarde":
But these tender passages, sacred though their fervour, did not pass unobserved by profane eyes; for crouched in the bushes and gritting his teeth was the dastardly 'Squire Hardman! When the lovers had finally strolled away he leapt out into the lane, viciously twirling his moustache and riding-crop, and kicking an unquestionably innocent cat who was also out strolling.
"Curses!" he cried — Hardman, not the cat — "I am foiled in my plot to get the farm and the girl!"
- M.C.A. Hogarth
- In Tales of the Jokka the Jokka have three genders: anadi, emodo, and eperu. Anadi and emodo use female and male pronouns while eperu are known as "it".
- The Song Thief features a fantasy human culture with four genders: male, female, hermaphrodite, and neuter. Hermaphrodites use the pronoun "en" while neuters are simply "it".
- In The Pride of Parahumans sexless protagonist Argentum uses "ze" and "zir" most of the time.
- Paul Quarrington's Home Game provides a rare example of number- rather than gender-related pronoun trouble: The conjoined twin dogs who share everything except their two heads are referred to as a singular dog (named "Janus") by some characters, and as two dogs (named "Fido" and "Rover") by others.
- In Terra Ignota, by the 25th century, "he" and "she" have been set aside in favor of the gender-neutral "they". So "they" is used in the in-universe dialogue, but Mycroft uses "he" and "she" — along with "thee" and "thou" when addressing the reader — in the narration to mimic the style of 18th century writing he's trying to use. He doesn't really use them the traditional way, though, often assigning pronouns based on his perception of someone rather than their biological sex or outright stating that it's a carefully kept secret and he's just using what's covenient, as in the case of Sniper.
- Jeffrey Archer's short story "You'll Never Live to Regret It" revolves around the twist that "Pat" is a guy rather than a girl, and the main character is in a homosexual relationship, which isn't revealed until late in the story. Though Polish is a heavily gendered language, the Polish translation manages to pull this off, although not without awkward solutions such as the writing suddenly switching between past and present tense.
- 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.
- Drew in Degrassi calls his transgender brother by his female birth name shortly before passing out from repeated head trauma. (And not like that...)
- Doctor Who: The Doctor can change bodies upon death, essentially reincarnating as the same character. Because the first twelve (thirteen counting the War Doctor) incarnations of the Doctor were male, only "he" was required. However, with the announcement of the Thirteenth Doctor (played by Jodie Whittaker), things got a bit complicated pronoun-wise. Most people seem to settle for "he" or "she" for individual incarnations and singular "they" for the Doctor as a whole, though some people consider the Doctor as a whole to still be a "he" because the majority of their incarnations have been male.
Doctor: I am he and he is me.
- At one point late in "The Ghost Monument", Thirteen herself (who has, at this point, only had her current body for about a week) gets confused, saying the below quote while sonicking the TARDIS to materialize:
"Come to daddy! I mean mummy!"
- When no. 2 arrives and Jo gets confused about which doctor is which in "The Three Doctors," no. 3 tries to put it in context:
Jo: And we are all together, goo goo ga joob?
- At one point late in "The Ghost Monument", Thirteen herself (who has, at this point, only had her current body for about a week) gets confused, saying the below quote while sonicking the TARDIS to materialize:
- 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: Marta, you said Mrs. Crane was in the box!
Marta: Si! Missy Crane!
Frasier: No, no, that's MISTER Crane!
Niles: Marta has trouble with her pronouns.
- In an episode of Friends, Rachel doesn't want to admit to Phoebe that she chose an inexperienced but hot man as her work assistant over an experienced woman that Phoebe expected her to pick, so she tries to avoid using any names or pronouns by telling her that "my assistant was very happy that I hired... my assistant".
- In How I Met Your Mother, Marshall got himself into this because he didn't want to reveal to Lily that his co-worker Jenkins was a woman, and not a man, as Lily assumed. As he puts it himself, he just had to avoid pronouns (queue flashback in which Marshall tells Lily about how a superior chose people for a job: "him, him, her, him, him, Beat... Jenkins")
- 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".
- On M*A*S*H, Radar was frequently unsure how to address Major Houlihan and often ended up calling her "Ma'am, sir" or "Sir, ma'am".
- There's no consistent set of pronouns for The Machine in Person of Interest where everyone seems to refer to her differently. Her creator, Finch, uses "it" while her analog interface, the person she talks to most often, uses "she" while the main character, Reese, uses "he" but tends to avoid pronouns. The majority of secondary characters don't know what The Machine is and tend to assume that she's a collective and use "they". Generally, though, the show used "it" to refer to her early on and "she" to refer to her later, once Root came along and especially after The Machine took Root's voice.
- 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 Scandal, a flashback to when Cyrus was closeted has him talking to Fitz about seeing someone new (James). Fitz actually handles it really well; he uses the terms "person" and "this person", leaves the door open for Cyrus to tell him more if Cyrus decides to, and upon establishing Cyrus is happy and in love, declares, "Then, that's all that matters." Cyrus, on the other hand- "it" and "they" are used when, in both instances, "this person" would work just as well for him as it did for Fitz. Granted, trying to tell the President of the United States he has a gay Chief of Staff who is dating an opinionated male journalist who was critical of said President's campaign likely would be an extremely stressful situation. Whether how Cyrus does eventually come out is a better or worse way to do so from a professional standpoint, it's certainly a big Heartwarming Moment.
- 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."note 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 androgynous species for whom gender is "primitive". Their pronoun for themselves is supposedly difficult to translate; it comes through to us as "one".
- Shortly after Ezri becomes the next host of Dax on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (an arrangement she never sought), she gets mixed up between first- and third-person pronouns when referring to previous hosts.
- Pops up both in-universe and on This Very Wiki with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, in regards as to whether Cameron and other Terminators should be referred to as "he/she" or "it".
- Angels on Supernatural have No Biological Sex and can possess human vessels of either gender. They get around "It" Is Dehumanizing by referring to each other as "brother" or "sister" depending on the gender of the vessel and using the appropriate accompanying pronoun (though they use the blanket term "brothers" to talk about angels in general). When the angel Raphael switches from a male vessel to a female one, however, the demon Crowley has trouble deciding which pronoun to use, starting with "she", then reverting to the "he" he was used to using before. Fortunately for him, Raphael doesn't appear to care.
- 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).
- 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 Shelly 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 they are 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 they speak with a female voice to further confuse the issue.
- Mass Effect
- 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." Legion refers to himself as "we" and most often makes no distinctions between himself and the geth as a whole species. 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 themself, 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.
- Because of Bizarre Alien Biology, the non-birthing parent of an Asari can be any gender but is still called the "father". In the third game, mentioning that calling a female parent "father" is confusing to a human gets Shepard called an "anthropocentric bag of dicks."
- Discussed in Mass Effect: Andromeda, when an angaran ambassador asks the head of the Nexus Cultural Center, an asari, how they deal with pronouns as a monogendered species. The asari informs him that it largely depends on the asari.
- 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 heavily androgynous but was referred to as "she". In Brawl, the new design was given boobs and long hair. The English translation of Hyrule Warriors avoided gendering Sheik at all.
- 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.
- Metal Gear
- 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.
- Pronoun trouble also reared its head in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots with mention of the mysterious "Dr. Clark" from the original game. In the English version of MGS1, they used male pronouns whenever the character was mentioned. Then MGS4 came along and suddenly Dr. Clark was really the female Para-Medic from Metal Gear Solid 3.
- An Idolmaster MAD averts this with Ryo Akizuki, It uses "me" and "the other (Idol Singer) me".
- The intro to MySims 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.
- Super Mario Bros.
- In Citizens of Earth, when you recruit the Alien, the message box says that "He (or she?) can upgrade the VR Arena". All other situations that would require gendered pronouns for this character use "it" instead.
- Fallen London
- As one of the choices of gender is "An individual of mysterious and indistinct gender", you will naturally stumble into this when speaking with almost anyone, who will call you "Ah, sir- er, ma- er, yes," rather than Ma'am or Sir. Or in the case of a particularly belligerent soldier, being referred to as a "...whatever it is you are!".
- Eventually the devs got around it by just asking the player what they want to be called in-universe. Now you can pick masculine, feminine, or gender-neutral titles regardless of your character's actual gender. But you can again tell the relevant NPC to quit bothering you with such trifling matters, and continue to be referred to as "ah, sir- er, ma- er, yes".
- Sunless Sea reduces this somewhat; the gender neutral terms for your captain are plain and blunt (ex: captain), and the narration tends to avoid bringing gender up in general. There is definitely some pronoun trouble with the Alarming Scholar, however. Neither you nor the narrator can decide her (his?) gender, and constantly stumble when referring to him (her?).
- Dark Souls gets hit by this occasionally, thanks of course to the fact that the series was developed in Japan and thus Japanese genderless pronouns were used to refer to a great many characters. When translated to English, the default pronoun is pretty much always "he", so a lot of female characters are referred to as "he" (such as Guthry and the Throne Watcher in Dark Souls 2), especially in the item descriptions which are tied to female characters. This isn't helped by the fact that the series is fond of Gender Blender Names, making things even more confusing for translators.
- Being a sentient fungus, Miko from Battleborn has no biological sex. As a result of this, other characters tend to have trouble on what pronouns they should use to refer Miko as, whether to refer Miko as a "he", a "she", or an "it". Miko personally uses plural pronouns such as "our" and "we" though due to having a Hive Mind and all. Battleborn Tap the mobile phone game however confuses the matter as it uses female pronouns when referring to Miko.
- Vgperson, an English translator of several Japanese RPG Maker games, has run into pronoun trouble a number of times during their translations.
- Ib: Garry refers to himself as "atashi" and uses other traditionally feminine speech patterns, which codes him as a possible member of the LGBT community, and it's noticeable enough that Ib can ask him at one point why he talks like a lady. However, it's extremely difficult to translate this to English without making Garry come across as a gay caricature, so vgperson ended up greatly toning it down to the point where many English players were unaware that he was supposed to have an unusual way of speaking.
- The Gray Garden: Many of the characters had androgynous appearances and/or no pronoun references, so vgperson had to guess at several characters' genders as avoiding gender references for them entirely would have come off as too awkward in English. Their guesses turned out to be mostly right, but they still had to change the pronouns for Etihw after the game's creator told them that Etihw was genderless.
- Similar to Knights Of The Old Republic above, the game Jedi Academy allows you to specify your player character's gender. And, similar to Knights Of The Old Republic above, cue a whole game full of awkwardly dancing around pronouns (it does help that most NPCs are talking to your character rather than about him... um, or her). In fact, one case of Pronoun Trouble makes it through anyway: at one point, the villain taunts your character with "Ooo, sounds like someone is losing his temper [emphasis added]", even if your character is female.
- Most characters refer to Vaarsuvius of The Order of the Stick as V because they don't know whether V is 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.
- This presents a problem with translations into languages where it's much harder to stay gender-neutral in first-person speech. A Russian fan translation of OOTS resorted to V alternating masculine and feminine language forms when speaking about him/herself.
- 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 any more, 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 (the Longshoreman Of The Apocalypse), a robot from Schlock Mercenary, avoids the issue entirely. "LOTA is too large for your puny pronouns!" Note that this includes second-person pronouns as well as the standard pronouns. Additionally, LOTA seems to identify as male, considering that LOTA takes on the role of King of Credomar.
- 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.
- Nobles in Deep Rise are probably best described as hermaphroditic, the only pronoun they ever use is "they", which might be particularly appropriate given their Mind Hive nervous system.
- Natani in TwoKinds is a troublesome case because she was originally female forced conceal her gender due to misogynistic attitudes of her peers, but after having her soul damaged by a magical attack parts of it were repaired with her brother's soul, leaving him/her perceiving himself as a male in female body. What's even more troublesome, it appears that the female part of him isn't as dead as previously thought.
- In a supplemental short story for Reversed Star, theres an alien with four heads called a stalk. A single head uses the prounoun it, while the whole creature (which is implied to have a sort of shared consciousness) is referred to as they.
- Sticky Dilly Buns features a slightly unusual instance. Faced with the problem of how to refer to the gender-flexible Angel, Dillon digs up the gender-neutral pronoun "zie". However, because someone named "Zii" features in the comic, this just leads to more confusion.
- 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", presumably because they are all born in male phase while mature Chakats always have breasts.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Hydraulic Press Channel is based out of Finland and hosted by native speakers of Finnish, which has no grammatical gender of any kind- there's no 'he'/'his' or 'she'/'hers' equivalent, only 'it' or singular 'they'. Lauri's spoken English is not quite as good as his wife's, so he sometimes forgets which English pronouns apply to which gender. Once, he accidentally referred to his wife as a 'he', resulting in lots of confused comments on the video.
- 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! (However, it's technically not an example of its eponymous trope, as Daffy's trouble is not with gender but with basic pronouns such as "you" and "me.")
- 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 than 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.
- On Steven Universe, Garnet, a Gem Fusion, sings a song where the switch between singular and plural becomes almost a Badass Boast.
This is who we areThis is who I amAnd if you think you can stop meThen you need to think again
- Also, when Steven and Connie first fuse into Stevonnie, they get "my" and "your" pronouns mixed up.
- Stevonnie is the first nonbinary character in the show, and for the longest time, the fan base wasn't sure which pronouns to use. The show's staff eventually said via Twitter that Stevonnie would use they/them pronouns, and this was later confirmed in Season 3's Beach City Drift.
- Also, when Steven and Connie first fuse into Stevonnie, they get "my" and "your" pronouns mixed up.
- Star vs. the Forces of Evil:
- In the episode "Heinous" Miss Heinous, who first met Marco Dragged into Drag, uses female pronouns for him even as everyone she talks to uses male; no one on either "side" questions this, or even seems to notice.
- In "the battle for Mewni," when a monster is at the edge of the Mewman capital, River first uses she/her pronouns, then several scenes later, River uses the word "it" once, then both River and Marco refer to the monster as "he" once each. The monster speaks with a male voice. Again, this passes without comment.
- Later in the same, Manfred, immediately after referring to Ludo as "sir," responds to an order with "yes'm."
- In Home: Adventures with Tip & Oh, Boov have Bizarre Alien Genders that for easier human understanding, are expressed in combinations of "Boy" and "Girl". Thus the proper pronouns are used the same way; a Boy-Boy-Girl can be referred to as "Him-Him-Her", and so on.
- In The Flintstones episode "Swedish Visitors", after Ole introduces himself, the not-too-bright Sven repeats, "Ole Ericsson, at your service," possibly because he thinks Ole's name is part of the English greeting. Ingmar, who's the brains of the group, corrects him, "No, no, he is Ole, you are Sven." and Sven dutifully parrots, "Duh, he is Ole, you are Sven," while Ingmar facepalms.
- 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 (female)!" To respect the identities of users, Facebook will come right out and explicitly ask the user how they would like to be addressed (for example, "he", "she", "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 addressing the recipient by their gender, sometimes resulting in Hey, You!.
- In most modern co-ed militaries, male officers are addressed 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".