Are you wondering how to use gender-neutral pronouns in Spanish, or how to translate “they/them” into Spanish? I’m far from fluent, unfortunately, but I do speak un poquito de Español. Since gender-neutral pronouns are important for me to express myself and represent my gender identity externally, I wanted to learn and share about gender-neutral words in Spanish.
This post is all about gender-neutral pronouns in Spanish.
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They them pronouns in Spanish
Spanish has gendered third-person pronouns, like English. “Él” translates to “he” and “ella” translates to “she.” Unlike English, which uses “they” for a group of people, Spanish uses the masculine and feminine: “ellos” or “ellas,” respectively.
Spanish first person or second person pronouns (translated as “I” or “you”) are not gendered: “yo” and “tu” or “usted”.
So how can a nonbinary person, una persona no binaria, represent themselves in Spanish? First of all, not all nonbinary people use gender-neutral language for themselves. A nonbinary person could use she/her or he/him pronouns and the translated equivalents: ella o él pronombres. Another option would be alternating or using both masculine and feminine pronouns.
Elle instead of él or ella
A gender-neutral pronoun, “elle,” is gaining popularity, with some controversy from folks who do not want the language to change. Instead of saying “él” or “ella,” “elle” is the gender-neutral equivalent. For example:
Elle está leyendo un libro.
Drawing from my experience as an English speaker, to use a new set of pronouns for someone, I need to practice on my own to make those words flow smoothly. “Elle” is perhaps closer to neopronouns such as “ze/zir”’ or “e/em” in English, as it’s not already in common usage as a singular pronoun in Spanish, as “they” is in English.
If you get someone’s pronoun wrong, a simple apology and basic correction is best. An extended apology could make someone uncomfortable, or feel like they have to help you feel better about your minor mistake.
Él está leyendo, lo siento, elle está leyendo mi libro favorito.
When speaking about a group of people, you can use “elles,” instead of “ellos” or “ellas.” Gender-neutral language benefits everyone, not just nonbinary people. In Spanish, the default is to use the plural masculine. For example, when speaking about a group of ten women, you can use “ellas,” but as soon as one man arrives, the group becomes “ellos.” What if you read the gender of the (cis or trans) participants wrong? And, it minimizes women’s contributions to group everyone using masculine language.
How to ask someone’s pronouns in Spanish
It’s not possible to infer someone’s pronouns from looking at them, hearing their voice, or reading their name. Many people list their pronouns visibly online, in a social media bio, on their website, or in their email signature. Those places can be a great way to find out what pronouns someone uses without bothering them. If you have spent a few minutes researching, and cannot figure it out, it’s a good idea to ask the person directly, what are your pronouns?
¿Cuáles son tus pronombres?
Some people might use different pronouns professionally, with their family, with their friends, and their pronouns might change over time. If you are a journalist, you should confirm the pronouns of people you are writing about, either with a recent online reference (such as a social media bio) or by asking your source what pronouns you should use for them in your piece.
Hopefully this article has helped you learn how to address someone in a gender-neutral way in Spanish. Thanks for reading!
For the kids in your life, check out They Call Me Mix/Me Llaman Maestre by Lourdes Rivas. This great bilingual (English and Spanish) children’s book shares the experience of a transgender person of color. The empowering story shows a child figuring out the language that works best to describe their experience.
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