I really like having a gender-neutral pronoun, but I know that not everyone agrees on the usage. Now I use it for people that have explicitly asked to have "ri" used for them. I also use it when I don't know the gender of a person and I want to make sure that's clear.

Otherwise I'd use "ri" in feminist contexts, but I might be careful using it around people I think might be conservative.

When should or shouldn't I use "ri"?


I usually use "ri" when another person indicates it as their pronoun, when I don't know somebody's pronoun, and when I talk about a hypothetical person.

Most Esperantists, that I know, know this pronoun, so I don't hesitate to use it when talking with them. And even if I am not sure whether another person knows it, they can easily check the meaning of this word in ReVo or Wikipedia.

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For almost a year now, I have been using ri as a general pronoun independent of the gender of the person, so I use it even when I know the person to be male or female. More generally, I prefer to only mention a person's gender when it's actually important (which isn't very often). And when I do mention it, I prefer not to mention it repeatedly, so I don't want to mention it every time I use a pronoun, just like I don't want to mention someone's age, skin color, native language, nationality, sexual orientation, dress style, religion or political views every time I use a pronoun.

When speaking to people that I rarely speak to and of whom I'm unsure whether they know ri, I sometimes switch to using ŝi and li, but this is becoming less and less common. I also remember one occasion last summer where I switched to ŝi and li when speaking to a conservative person, even though I was quite sure they understood ri, just to avoid that our discussion would move away from the topic we were discussing towards the topic of gender-neutral language. But I already decided that I will stick to ri the next time this situation comes up (maybe with the same person), as I don't want the views of conservative people to govern the way I speak and the way I decide to mention or not to mention certain traits of the people I speak about.

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The pronoun ri may be well-understood in the young Esperanto speakers' filter bubble, but please bear in mind that in the general population of Esperanto speakers, many of them being beyond their 60ies, it is neither well-known nor accepted.

I do not accept a general ri for two reasons:

  1. Their is a viable non-sexist solution: ĝi. Using this a neutral pronoun would not break the tradition (as Zamenhof designed it also for that very purpose, see his Lingva Respondo "Pri pronomo por «homo»" (La Revuo, 1901, August)), and it would lead to a symmetry between humans and animals, where a system ĝi - li ŝi is firmly established.
  2. The pronoun inventary in the Fundamento is complete, as is implied by the definite article in French, English, and German in the Fundamento Grammar, §5.

I myself have been using ĝi as general pronoun for a few years now and it feels totally natural to me.

I do, however, acknowledge, that traditional Esperanto lacks a possibility to explicitly refer to non-binary people. Whether one wants the pronouns li and ŝi to become less used or even archaic or not, it is still a kind of discrimination that their is no pronoun for the third gender. For this reason, although it still violates my second argument mentioned above, I use "ri" in order to refer to non-binary people, as their is a need for that and no traditional means. I can argue based on §8 of the Preface to the Fundamento ("Se ia aŭtoritata centra institucio trovos, ke tiu aŭ alia vorto aŭ regulo en nia lingvo estas tro neoportuna, ĝi ne devos forigi aŭ ŝanĝi la diritan formon, sed ĝi povos proponi formon novan, kiun ĝi rekomendos uzadi paralele kun la formo malnova.") that is such a case, where the old rule (the incomplete pronominal system) is "tro neoportuna".

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  • Thank you! As you can see, this is exactly why I posed this question. – Charlotte SL Mar 18 '19 at 15:21
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    Por mi regulo, laŭ kiu la sola sekse neŭtrala pronomo riskas esti interpretata kiel humiliga, estas "tro neoportuna". Simile kiel vi permesas al vi aldoni neduumulan pronomon al la Fundamenta pronom-repertuaro pro ne-oportuneco de ĉi lasta, mi permesas al mi uzi jam vaste uzatan kaj akceptatan pronomon aldone al la Fundamenta pronom-repertuaro, same pro ne-oportuneco de ĉi lasta. – Marcos Cramer Mar 18 '19 at 16:07
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    La pronomo "ri" estis origine konceptita kiel ĝenerala pronomo kun la signifo "tiu persono", do kiel pronomo portanta nenian seksan informon, kaj daŭre estas plej ofte uzata kaj komprenata tiel. Via provo ŝanĝi ĝian signifon al "tiu neduumulo" estas laŭ mi tre problema. Se vi ial volas pronomon kun ĝuste tiu signifo, prefere proponu novan, anstataŭ krei konfuzon per reuzo de alisignifa pronomo por tiu celo. – Marcos Cramer Mar 18 '19 at 16:09
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    While I'm not a big fan of “ri” (for unrelated reasons), this excerpt “The pronoun inventary in the Fundamento is complete, as is implied by the definite article” is a distorted view. The definite article does not necessarily imply a complete and unchangeable set of things. Maybe it does in a few languages, but it doesn't in many others. It looks like someone is trying really hard to justify a preconceived notion (It may not be your intention, but it sounds like that). – marcus Mar 19 '19 at 14:25
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    You answered your own question. There's a variety of reasons to leave details for later (including “the others hadn't been invented yet”). Having an example on your face and dismissing it with "is no counterargument" doesn't really count. – marcus Mar 20 '19 at 11:24

As with any unofficial root/affix, use with caution. I asked two native kids about "ri" and they did not understand it (they had never heard it). They feel it is a pronoun, but have no idea of what it means.

There is an Esperanto for reduced communities (for example interest groups, some families) where many experiments are made (ri, ŝli, na, iĉ ...). In a more global setting though, talking to (or writing to) other people you don't know, I'd highly recommend against "ri", "na", etc.

Why? It just hinders communication, and that kind of defeats the purpose of Esperanto. It's like willingly using your local slang with people that share your language.

Anyway, if you feel the urge to innovate, and you firmly believe in that new feature you (or somebody else) came up with, go ahead and use it, it might even be fun to try it (in our family we every now and then use "ŝli" in jest, for example). But be ready to fall back to the common "normal" international Esperanto if you want the communication to flow.

So the general answer to when you "should" use it: never. You "might" want to use it though in some situations, as explained above.

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    - Native speakers (a very tiny fraction of speakers) is not representative of Esperanto usage. (By the way, they are also less likely to know what is an "official" root or not). - Ri is not an experiment, it is used as a day-to-day word. - The word "ri" emerges from a need in communication. - Not being able to use a useful word hinders communication. - If someone does know a word, they can learn it. Usage helps. The word "Ri" won't cause the mythical "downfall into dialects" since it is already global. A significant fraction of Esperantists know the word, much more than say "ci". – Vanege Mar 18 '19 at 19:11
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    I don't understand the word "reduced communities". I'd also disagree with the "never", since I should definitely use it for people that request it as their pronoun. For people that I'm sure don't know it, I might explain if I am talking about a person that requested ri, since that might be important to understanding that person. – Charlotte SL Mar 18 '19 at 22:28
  • +1 for a level headed answer. It's true that even in relatively small communities like Esperanto's there are subsets that use different “styles” of communication and these “styles” might include, ignore or reject some neologisms. – marcus Mar 19 '19 at 14:31

It's a very controversial pronoun that almost no one likes to use besides feminists and the like so even while most know it very few will actually use it really (but it might seem to be a lot of people as the most active online are feminists and allies) so I'd recommend you to not to use it unless explicitly asked for someone as their pronoun, enjoy Esperanto!

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    I think it’s quite an exaggeration to say that almost no-one likes to use it. Either way, it seems pretty clear the OP herself does like to use it, so the main question is whether she will be understood, not whether the person she is speaking to would also use it. I think most people do at least understand it, or even if they don’t it only takes 10 seconds to explain it. People saying “nobody uses it” seems pretty similar to the most common argument against Esperanto “nobody speaks it”. It’s not a real argument, it’s just an attempt to stop something the person personally doesn’t like. – Neil Roberts Mar 17 '19 at 11:04
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    Welcome to StackExchange! I think we must have had quite different experiences in Esperantujo, since I do feel like it is a normal part of Esperanto experience. Not too long ago I saw people claiming we shouldn’t use “mojosa” so I feel like there is quite a divide in the movement. – Charlotte SL Mar 17 '19 at 20:00

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