How to use gender neutral grammar in French?
Hi. First off, I love that this site exists:)
I work at a middle school. Some of the french teachers have asked me how to use gender neutral grammar in french. There are some pronouns we know about, like ielle, or lelle. And one french teacher told me she’s seen some gender neutral spelling of some subjects. But when it comes to making a full sentence, with adjectives, verbes… no one seems to have found a resource that explains making the whole sentence flow together, and how to conjugate all of the words together.
My pronouns are They/ Them/ Their . When I have to write a report, and it needs to be in 3rd person, I use a capital for Them to indicate it refers to me, and not a group of people. It doesn’t seem as simple for french. I also don’t speak much french, so I don’t even know what questions to ask to find out how to do it.
Here are the resources the teachers showed me that they looked at. They also asked friends who work in the government, how they have seen this addressed, and didn’t get very far…
Thank you so much. Have a fantastic day!
First off, I love that people like you exist! Not every school employee would go out of their ways to make sure every student feels safe and included. I’m really glad you reached out to us. 🙂
French is a deeply, profoundly gendered and sexist language and us, trans and non-binary folx, had to get quite creative to fix some of it’s glaring issues. It’s still a work in progress (in French we like to say that “languages are alive and that they’re always evolving”), but in the meantime we did come up with some solutions. I’ll try to keep it simple and present the main ones, but a reminder that there’s lots of different people and communities using their own unique vocabulary, dialect and slang. And this is great that way.
There is no exact equivalent of they/them in French. Here are some of the neo-pronouns that were created to refer our french-speaking gender-neutral siblings :
iel, ille : two different ways of contracting “il” and “elle”, from experience I would say they are the most popular (here in Québec at least). Not everyone likes to use iel or ille because they were still created from the masculine/feminine pronouns. For this reason, it’s also possible spell “iel” as “yel”
el, y : out loud they sound just like “elle” and “il” but they’re written differently. They’re also quite popular.
ul, ol : totally outside the binary! I would say they’re about as commonly used as xe/xem, ze/zir and just as valid and important to remember.
ael : another one not based on il/elle, sometimes with matching accords (i.e. ael est fatigae, see next section)
Celleux, ellui, toustes : contractions of “celles” and “eux”, of “elle” and “lui” and of “tous” and “toutes”, useful and cute for some third person formulations.
En alternance : sometimes people will want you to switch between il, elle, iel, etc. depending on context, their mood or randomly. They might have a default and one or many alternatives, or not. Maybe you’ve seen people go by she/they? It’s like that.
N’importe quel : more and more people don’t care what pronouns you use. In which case, or if I don’t know someone’s pronouns yet, I try to use common gender neutral pronouns.
Oh and of course some non-binary people still use “il” or “elle”. Sometimes people use different pronouns in French and English (i.e. il or elle in French but them/them in English). As you can see, there are many options, which is one of the many reasons it’s so important to ask people their pronouns, especially in French and bilingual contexts.
There’s no equivalent to accords in English, male and female students are still referred to as students. In French, we have étudiants and étudiantes. So usually when we ask people their pronouns we also ask for accords (masculins, féminins, neutres). See next section for neutral accords on paper. Out loud, the most common solution is to use the full masculine and feminine form (l’étudiant étudiante).
Noms et adjectifs
To refer to or qualify a gender diverse group of students (or any other gendered term) in a publication or a speech there are, again, many options (neutral, inclusive or feminized):
Masculin générique : étudiants inclusifs. A lot of people and organisations still just write everything in the masculine form, adding a little note that the masculine includes everyone and is only used to save space. I hate that. 😉
Doublets complets : étudiants inclusifs et étudiantes inclusives. I don’t like this one, it’s not that inclusive in my opinion. Some people will put the feminine version first, which is only marginally better.
Doublets abrégés : étudiant.e.s inclusif.ve.s. The Office québécois de la langue française advises us to only use this form in short publications, but I use it All The Time. The “.” can be replaced by a “-” or a “·”. The étudiant(e)s version is sometimes used, but the parenthesis can give the impression that this is optional so it’s not ideal.
- I’ve seen people spell their name this way (Charl.e.s, Gabriel-le) and I think it’s really awesome.
Majuscule : étudiantEs inclusifVEs. It was created as a response to the (e) debate. It’s good to make the feminine aligned people more visible! However, it’s not the best for non-binary people.
Instead of changing the end of the word, it’s sometimes possible to change the sentence structure (i.e. talking about people’s talents instead of talented people, people on the editing team instead of editors) or use a gender neutral term that does exist (parent instead of mother/father, child instead son/daughter).
Some cool new words were also created to bonify and/or replace the doublet system.
Here is a few :
- Froeur, adelphe (frère/soeur), heureuxe (heureux/heureuse), belleau (beau/belle), Mx (Mme., M.)
Articles in French, much like everything else, are gendered at all times and new ones were created. It’s the same principle as pronouns, so I’ll just go over some quick examples.
Le/la : lea, lae, lo
Mon/ma : maon, man, mo
Ton/ta : taon, tan, to
Son/sa : saon, san, so
And so on.
That’s the gist of it. See it’s not so bad haha. I am fully aware that this is a lot of learning and adaptation but I think it’s fun and exciting and filled with creativity and kindness.
If you want to give some resources (in French) to you colleagues, here are some good ones :
–Le langage neutre en français : pronoms et accords à l’écrit et à l’oral (blog article, simple and clear, has the best graphics)
–Petit dico de français neutre/inclusif (blog article, love this one, will likely answer most questions)
–Les personnes non-binaires en français : une perspective concernée et militante (scientific article, by the one and only Florence Ashley, essential reading)
–Comment parler d’une personne non-binaire? (by and for wikia, important nuances)
–Rédiger épicène, à la portée de tous… et de toutes! (poster, very visual)
–Formation sur la rédaction épicène (extremely long document, detail heavy)
Note : some of them may contradict each other slightly. Because of course they do. There’s more than one way to do it, and making an attempt is already an amazing step.
–Comment traduire les pronoms et les accords non-binaires en français? (Article on AlterHéros website)
We’ll be here if you (or your colleagues, tell them about us!) have any questions or need help with some formulations or with anything else. Also, if any of your students have questions about their sexuality, sexual orientation or gender identity, feel free to share our website to them!
Love & rage,
Maxime, intern for AlterHéros