He + she = they

Last changed: 11 July 2023

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He + she = they

In Swedish, ‘hen’ is a gender-neutral pronoun that is used instead of ‘hon’ (she) or ‘han’ (him).

‘Hen’ first appeared as early as the 1960s as an alternative to the slightly clumsy ‘hon/han’. It took off during the beginning of the 00s and in 2015 it was added to the official dictionary of the Swedish language (SAOL) produced by the Swedish Academy.

When writing in Swedish, ‘hen’ is a practical option – you do not always know the gender of the person you are referring to, or it is unnecessary to mention in a particular context.

In English, ‘singular they’ is a practical option if you cannot or do not want to specify gender. Example: ‘The student should be informed of what kind of insurance cover they have.’

This use of ‘they’ dates back to the 14th century, but was considered ungrammatical by some well into modern days. Today, it is commonly used in most varieties of English.

Another solution, one that works for both languages, is to use the plural instead.

Published May 2017.