Pronoun Explainer: What Do Ella, Él, And Elle Mean In Pronoun Sets?

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If you’ve recently seen pronoun sets like she/her/ella, he/him/él, or they/them/elle, you may be wondering what the third word in each set means.

In familiar pronoun sets like he/him/his, the third word indicates the possessive form. But that’s not the case with él, ella, and elle. Instead, these terms are used by people who speak both English and Spanish as a way to indicate their pronouns in both languages.

What does she/her/ella mean? And he/him/él?

In she/her/ella, the word ella—pronounced [ eh-yah ]—is the Spanish pronoun equivalent to the English she or her (in Spanish, the same word is used regardless of whether it’s the subject or the object).

In he/him/él, él—simply pronounced [ el ]—is the Spanish pronoun equivalent to the English he or him. (It is often spelled without the accent mark.)

Bilingual speakers of English and Spanish frequently use both English and Spanish in everyday life, so indicating their pronouns for both languages makes a lot of sense, especially in contexts where they may be conversing in both languages.

⚡️ What else bilingual pronoun sets show

Informationally, bilingual pronoun sets can do double duty—not only do they indicate a person’s pronouns, they also indicate the two languages that a person speaks. Apart from its practical function, displaying a mixed-language pronoun set can also be a way for a person to express pride in their cultural identity.

What does elle mean in they/them/elle?

In English, pronouns like they and them can be used as singular, gender-neutral pronouns, including by people who identify as nonbinary or whose gender identity exists between or beyond the spectrum of strictly male or female. This is what the pronoun set they/them indicates.

Sometimes, you’ll see the pronoun set they/them/elle.

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Because formal, traditional Spanish does not have a gender-neutral, singular pronoun (equivalent to the English they), some Spanish speakers use the neopronoun elle, which some pronounce as [ eh-yeh ].

It’s used to avoid the grammatical gender that’s built into the Spanish language, whose traditional plural equivalents of they are the masculine ellos and the feminine ellas.

Like singular they, elle is also used as a pronoun by some Spanish speakers whose gender identity is not strictly male or female. Some people use the similar neopronoun ellx, which like other terms uses the letter x to create gender-neutrality.

Relatedly, the avoidance of gendered language is also the reason why some people use the term Latinx.

Learn about the difference between person-first and identity-first language.

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