Pronoun Problems

Ugh. I’ve written… well… created… myself into a linguistics corner and I don’t know how to get out.

In Onyx Sun, one of the main characters is Ayess.  He’s Araxian – a race that does not have sexes or genders as we know them.  Cool, huh?

The Araxian pronoun for others is “ni” and it works out as follows:

ni = he/him/she
ni-es = his/her/hers
ni-en = they/them
ni-en-es = theirs

Before my FMC knew that, she referred to Ayess as “he” but has now switched to ni/ni-es when talking about…

And that’s my problem. In the narrative, do I continue to use he/him/his? Or use ni and ni-es?

An example to help explain what I mean:

(Taliya is the human FMC.)


Ayess turned when she entered and Taliya pulled up short. “I thought you’d be in bed,” she said as she sank into her chair.

“I could say the same for you.” Ayess searched her gaze for a long moment. “What is wrong?”

She shook her head and sighed. “Nothing. Everything. I’m not sure.” He tilted his head and she managed a smile. “I’m all right, Ayess.”

It’s the “He” and “his” that are problematic.  Should I keep using them or should I switch to the Araxian words?

Ni tilted ni-es head and she managed a smile.


(And yes, the terms ni and ni-es have been introduced before now, and Taliya uses them when speaking about her first officer.)

I posed the question to several writing groups on FaceBook and the camps seem to be fairly evenly divided between stick with he/him, use the Araxian, avoid pronouns altogether, and use they/their, or use “it.”

Avoiding pronouns just isn’t practical.

I refuse to use “it” because it’s demeaning.

I suppose I could use they/their but it’s going to be tough to think of a plural pronoun standing in for a singular.

So that pretty much leaves me with using he/him/his or ni and ni-es.  And I think I’ve reached a compromise of sorts.

I’ve finished the first round edits and it’s in the hands (well, on the computer) of a pre-beta reader.

I’m taking it to be printed again so I can do another round of edits on it and when I do them I’m going to highlight all of the he/him/his that refer to Ayess and when I finish the other changes I’m going to make two versions for beta readers.  If the ni version makes their eyes bleed I’ll stick with he/him/his and include a note explaining why.

(And for those who are curious: Ayess doesn’t care if she uses male pronouns. In fact, Ayess is highly amused at the reason that she thinks ni is male — “You’re taller than I am.”)

(And for those who are curious: Ayess doesn’t care if she uses male pronouns. In fact, Ayess is highly amused at the reason that she thinks ni is male — “You’re taller than I am.”)


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3 responses to “Pronoun Problems

  1. shegyes

    Oh! That’s an interesting predicament… I honestly don’t know the answer to this either. :/

    • Pronouns are going to be the death of me. I have another WiP in my “Novels I’m Ignoring” file in which a female MC is masquerading as male…

      • shegyes

        I think the way I’d use it is the native tongue pronouns when speaking to someone and then him/her outside of dialogue, but you’re right… That’s a tough one.

        In the case of a female masquerading as a male, hmm… Again, same thing honestly…

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