Pronouns

Pronouns are words that substitute for nouns. Personal pronouns are part of our everyday language, especially in the Romantic Languages. In English, we often refer to others using gendered pronouns (he/him/his; she/her/hers). The pronouns we select for a person are usually based on our assumptions of the person’s gender, based on their appearance or name. We can be easily mistaken and can cause unintentional harm by mispronouning and misgendering someone. 

People should be referred to by the pronouns which they identify with. Using the pronouns that a person asks for you to use is a way to show them respect and to create a more trans-inclusive environment. Using someone’s pronouns is about basic human dignity. 

Having people automatically use the pronouns with which you identify is a part of having cisgender privilege. If you are cisgender, sharing your pronouns and using the pronouns that someone asks you to use are powerful ways to be an ally to the trans community. 

Tips About Pronouns

  • Do not refer to a person’s pronouns as their “preferred” pronouns or “gender” pronouns. Using “preferred” implies that a person’s pronoun selection is merely a preference and, therefore, something that is not required. Using “gender” ignores people who are agender.
  • Always use the pronouns that a person asks you to use.
  • When you make a mistake, ACT: Apologize > Correct > Try Again. 
  • Do not assume you know someone’s pronouns based on their name, the way they look, their voice, how they dress, or any other factor.
  • If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, ask (politely). Don’t just ask people who you assume are trans.
  • Share your pronouns and create opportunities for people to share their pronouns, like in email signatures or at the beginning of meetings. Please note that some transgender and nonbinary people will opt out of sharing as a means of self-protection.

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).

Pronoun Resources