Pronouns 101

Pronouns are part of our everyday language, especially in the Romantic Languages.  It is difficult to speak without using pronouns, when we have been socialized and educated to use them.  Pronouns are an important part of language.  However, their use in understanding gender is often underestimated.

Respecting the pronouns which someone uses is an important part of treating people with respect and dignity.

Pronouns matter.

Have questions or challenges?  Check out our FAQ section at the bottom of this page.

Pronoun Resources

Check out the infographic below that shows how to use gender pronouns.

Pronouns FAQ

What if I make a mistake?

It’s okay!  Everyone slips up from time to time. The best thing to do if you use the wrong pronoun for someone is to correct yourself right away, like “Last week, she and – he and I went to the store.”  If you realize you made a mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on.

It can be tempting to go on and on about how bad you feel that you messed up or how hard it is for you to get it right.  But please, don’t do that.  It is inappropriate and makes the person who was misgendered feel awkward and responsible for comforting you, which is absolutely not their job.  It is your job to remember people’s pronouns.

How do I ask someone what pronouns they use?

Try asking: “What pronouns do you use” or “Can you remind me what pronouns you use?”  It can feel awkward at first, but it is not half as awkward as getting it wrong or making a hurtful assumption.

If you are asking as part of an introduction exercise and you want to quickly explain what a pronoun is, you can try something like this:

Tell us your name, where you come from, and your pronouns.  That means the pronoun you use in reference to yourself.  For example, I’m Sparty, I’m from East Lansing, and I use he, him, and his pronouns.  So you could say, ‘he went to Spartan Stadium’ if you were talking about me.”

Why is it important to respect people’s pronouns?

You can’t always know what someone’s gender pronouns are by looking at them.  Asking and correctly using someone’s pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity.  When someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, and/or dysphoric (but most often, it is all of the above).

We recommend reading Sam Dylan Finch’s piece on “What You’re Actually Saying When You Ignore Someone’s Gender Pronouns” to learn more about respecting gender pronouns.