Sweden Adds Gender-Neutral Pronoun To its Dictionary

The pronoun, “hen,” (pronounced like a female chicken), will join “han” (he) and “hon” (she) as new official gender-neutral pronouns in the Swedish language in the new SAOL. Svenska Akademiens ordlista (SAOL) is a glossary published by the Swedish Academy. It is a single volume that is considered the most up-to-date electronic dictionary accumulation of Swedish spelling. The SAOL dictionary is updated every 10 years. The newest edition will contain 13,000 new words and offensive word alternatives.

“Hen” can be used to refer to or honor a transgender person, a group of people of mixed genders, a person who chooses not to identify with a gender, or when discussing someone whose gender is irrelevant. The pronoun ‘hen’ can therefore be used without revealing any specific gender identity – either because it is unknown, because the person is transgender, or the information is superfluous. This is much like the English gender-neutral pronouns such as, ‘they,’ ‘them’ and ‘their,’  which can be used to represent any and all gender identities or used as an alternatives for ‘zhe’ which is mostly used for gender non-conforming or non-binary individuals. Gaining identity recognition of this scale is a huge win for the LGBTQQA+ community all around the world.

The word “hen” was coined in the 1960s when the ubiquitous use of “han” (he) became politically incorrect, and was aimed at simplifying the language and avoiding the clumsy “han/hon” (s/he) construction. The Swedish language has now adapted the word to encompass a larger community of non-binary, non-conforming along with other atypical gender identities.

The Guardian reported it’s since been used in court rulings, media texts and books, along with other official texts. The word didn’t become widely used until Sweden’s growing transgender community adopted it in the early 2000s, only to then catch on with the rest of the population in an effort to be more inclusive with certain subordinated identities.


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