Norway ready to add gender-neutral pronoun ‘hen’ to official language

Pronoun stickers on a table, reading 'she/her', 'he/him', and 'they/them' along with blank ones

Norway is set to become the latest country to add a gender-neutral pronoun to its official language.

The new singular third-person pronoun, “hen”, is an alternative to Norwegian’s feminine “hun” and masculine “han”.

“Hen” will be found in Norwegian dictionaries from as soon as this spring, the Language Council of Norway said.

“Over time, we have seen that the actual use of ‘hen’ has increased and stabilised,” said Daniel Ims, a representative of the council, to Norwegian media.

He added that Norway’s grammar community has been discussing gender-neutral pronouns for a while, but their formal inclusion in the Norwegian language had been debated as they are not widely used.

Gender-neutral pronouns, like “they” or “ze”, are used by people of all genders, although they are commonly associated with trans and non-binary people. In Norway, some non-binary people use “de”, another Norwegian pronoun, similar to the English “they” pronoun – which itself comes from Old Norse.

“A hundred years ago it was normal to use singular ‘de’ to address people of a higher rank,” Carl-Oscar Vik, a non-binary person from Skien in south-east Norway, told The Guardian.

Vik doesn’t mind “hen” but feels more at home with “de”, which they say sounds more natural when spoken in Norwegian.

“Ultimately it’s just a question of preference,” Vik said. They said they think that the debate around including “hen” had had a positive impact on non-binary visibility in Norway: “I think that a normal person on the street doesn’t know anyone who identifies as non-binary.

“But I hope that by getting hen into the dictionary we can get the idea out there, because there are many people who don’t feel at home in certain pronouns but don’t have the words to describe it.”

Several languages have incorporated gender-neutral pronouns for centuries, although their use has become more widespread in recent decades.

This has been reflected by several dictionaries who have moved to include gender-neutral pronouns and their definitions, including the Merriam-Webster dictionary adding “they” in 2019 and the French dictionary adding “iel” in 2021.