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French word of the Day: iel

French word of the day: iel
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
This gender-inclusive pronoun has been in the news - and is part of an important evolution in French language.

Why do I need to know the word iel

Because gender is a construct. 

What does it mean? 

Pronounced ‘eee-elle’, it is the combination of the French words il and elle, (he and she) and is a gender-inclusive pronoun, the equivalent of calling someone they or them in English.

It can be either used to describe someone whose gender is not known, or to describe people who identify themselves as non-binary (neither male nor female, or both at the same time). 

The recent inclusion of iel in Le Petit Robert, a famous French dictionary, has been criticised by the country’s education minister – a longtime critic of so-called ‘inclusive writing’. 

READ ALSO French dictionary includes gender-inclusive pronoun in new edition

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In response, the dictionary publishers said that usage of the word iel was becoming increasingly common. 

“Defining words used in the world allows people to better understand them,” wrote Charles Bimbenet, the director of Éditions Le Robert.  

Use it like this

As a pronoun, iel replaces il or elle:

Iel a réussi à me convaincre – They (singular) have convinced me

Iel est là – They (singular) are here. 

It can also be used in a different context to replace lui or elle

On verra ça avec iel – We will see that with them (singular). 

What about adjectives? 

Because iel is neither a masculine of feminine pronoun, you may wonder how to ensure whether to follow with gendered adjectives. The rules are flexible, but you essentially have two options: 

  1. Use adjectives that don’t change depending on the gender of the noun e.g. aimable (likeable) is a better choice of adjective than gentil (nice), which is written gentille in the feminine. 
  2. Use inclusive language e.g. iel est gentil·le 

READ ALSO What is ‘inclusive writing’ and why is it banned in French schools?

Synonyms 

While iel is probably the most common inclusive pronoun in France, there are plenty of others to choose from. 

To replace il and elle, there is: ul, ulle, ol, olle, aelle, ille and im

To replace lui and elle, there is: ellui (singular) 

To replaces eux and elles, there is: elleux and euxes


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