An overview of Polish nonbinary pronouns

Polish is a strongly gendered language: even saying something as simple as “I did” requires specifying which gender you are.

It's problematic for nonbinary people, because we cannot simply switch one set of pronouns for another to express our identity. We need to come up with a system that also includes neutral forms for adjectives, conjugated forms of verbs and declined forms of pronouns. (also: nouns like “painter”, “politician”, “journalist” etc. are gendered as well, but that's a story for another time).

This website is an effort to put together in a structured and accessible way the existing ideas for less gendered pronouns and other forms. We create it in Polish (see: Homepage), but if you don't speak it, yet still are interested in how this language tries to cope with the omnipresent binaries, we've prepared a short overview of those ideas in English.

Normative forms

Because of the limitations of Polish grammar, or simply because they just prefer it that way, many nonbinary people decide to simply use “he” („on”) or “she” („ona”) – either the same as their gender assigned at birth or the opposite. That doesn't make them any less nonbinary! Pronouns ≠ gender.

I received You played Somebody told them they are pretty
on/jego
Masculine
Dostałem Grał Powiedzieli mu, że [on] jest ładny
ona/jej
Feminine
Dostałam Grał Powiedzieli jej, że [ona] jest ładna

Neutrative forms

Polish has three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. Why don't enbies simply use neuter then?

The thing is, historically this grammatical gender has only been applied to inanimate objects, pets and kids (in a very limited way). To apply it for adults sounds dehumanizing for most typic listeners and using the neuter forms of verbs in the 1st and 2nd person is so rare that listeners (falsely) think that it's incorrect. Eg. one could say „dziecko zrobiło” (=“the kid has done”), but the kid themselves would use the forms corresponding to their assigned gender: „zrobiłem”/„zrobiłam” (=“I have done”), but not „zrobiłom”.

In a way, a parallel could be drawn between the Polish neuter forms and the English “it” pronoun. To call someone an “it” is offensive – unless it itself wants us to use “it/its” (and many do). The main difference is that English has singular “they”, while Polish doesn't yet have any normative form that would fit better. That's why English “it” is niche, while Polish neuter is one of the most popular choices among nonbinary people, in hopes of normalising the new usage.

There's one more issue with neuter, though: it is neutral in nominative (the “who?”), but in other cases (the “whose?”, “whom?”, etc.) if falls back to being identical to masculine forms. That's why some enbies mix multiple forms, for instance using neuter verbs, yet feminine pronouns, etc.

I received You played Somebody told them they are pretty
ono/jego
Neutrative
Dostałom Grał Powiedzieli mu, że [ono] jest ładne
ono/jej
Neutrative with female declension
Dostałom Grał Powiedzieli jej, że [ono] jest ładne

Dukaisms

Those forms are neologisms, originally created for a science fiction novel Perfect Imperfection by Jacek Dukaj (hence their name). It's a brand new grammatical gender used by post-human beings (phoebe) that don't have a specified gender.

It's a consistent and relatively complete system, but for people who hear it for the first time, it might sound alien and “incorrect”. It's one of the most popular choices among nonbinary folks.

I received You played Somebody told them they are pretty
onu/jenu Dostałum Grał Powiedzieli wu, że [onu] jest ładnu

Plural forms

Using plural forms to describe a single person is basically a loan translation of the English “singular they”, but it does have roots in Polish historical and regional honorifics as well. Keep in mind, though, that Polish speakers aren't yet too used to the idea of referring to one person in plural forms, so it might lead to misunderstandings.

The bad news is that there's two grammatical genders in plural: „oni” for male and mixed-gender groups, and „one” for female groups (to oversimplify a lot). Still, whichever forms is chosen by a person, the plurality itself already points to them being nonbinary.

I received You played Somebody told them they are pretty
oni/ich
Male & mixed plurals
Dostaliśmy Graliście Powiedzieli im, że [oni] są ładni
one/ich
Female plurals
Dostałyśmy Grałyście Powiedzieli im, że [one] są ładne

Placeholder forms

Another approach is to take the part of the word that differs between the male and female form, and to either replace it with a placeholder, or use the placeholder to merge those parts together. For instance “dear readers” can be translated as „drodzy_gie czytelnicy_czki”, „drodzy/gie czytelnicy/czki”, „drog* czytelnic*”, etc.

The main usage of such forms is to address a group of people or an unspecified person (“dear reader”), however there are nonbinary people who use similar approach in the first person too. It's very easy to understand the intent behind using those forms, even to listeners unfamiliar with the concept of nonbinary. The main disadvantage is that in most cases they are only usable in writing, while being hard or impossible to pronounce.

I received You played Somebody told them they are pretty
onæ/jæ Dostałæm Grałæś Powiedzieli , że [onæ] jest ładnæ
on/a/jego/jej Dostałe/am Grałe/aś Powiedzieli mu/jej, że [on/a] jest ładny/a
onx/jex Dostałxm Grał Powiedzieli jex, że [onx] jest ładnx
on_/je_ Dostał_m Grał Powiedzieli je_, że [on_] jest ładn_
on*/je* Dostał*m Grał Powiedzieli je*, że [on*] jest ładn*
onø/jenø Dostałøm Grałøś Powiedzieli , że [onø] jest ładnø

Interchangeable forms

Many nonbinary people use more than one form interchangeably and are fine with being called either of them.