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Pronouns

What Are Pronouns, and Why Are They Important?

Pronouns are used to refer to a particular person by their gender instead of using their name. For cisgender people, pronouns are often an afterthought because it is assumed they will be gendered correctly. However, for transgender people, pronouns can be extremely important. They indicate they are being gendered correctly, can emphasize and affirm what gender they identify as, or could potentially out them and put them in danger. Therefore, it’s always important to know what pronouns a person uses. Using someone’s correct pronoun takes a small effort but can be extremely affirming and vital to a transgender person. This page is also available as a printable PDF here

Commonly Used Pronouns

The most commonly used pronouns in the English language are she/her/hers and he/him/his, usually referring to women/feminine people or men/masculine people respectively. In English, there is no established gender-neutral pronoun. Therefore, people who would like to be referred to something besides she/her/hers and he/him/his have to create their own pronouns or reappropriate other words. The most common gender-neutral pronoun is they/them/theirs.

 Below is a chart of commonly used pronouns including examples and pronunciation.

   

Pronunciation

Normative

(subject)

Objective

(object)

Possessive determiner

Possessive pronoun

Reflexive

Gendered Pronouns

He

“He”

He spoke.

I called him.

His shirt is red.

That is his.

He likes himself.

She

“She”

She spoke.

I called her.

Her shirt is red.

That is hers.

She likes herself.

Gender-neutral or Nonbinary Pronouns

They

“They”

They spoke.

I called them.

Their shirt is red.

That is theirs.

They like themselves.

Ze/hir

“Zee/Heer”

Ze spoke.

I called hir.

Hir shirt is red.

That is hirs.

Ze likes hirself.

 Asking About pronouns

If you don’t know what pronouns someone uses, it is polite to ask. Generally, this can be done in two ways:

  1. When introducing yourself, list your pronouns, prompting the person to list theirs.
  2. Asking “What pronouns to you use?” in a private setting.

 When asking, don’t use the phrase “preferred pronouns.” Using "preferred" to qualify someone's pronouns suggests the terms they’re claiming don't belong to them— they’re just preferred over their "true" pronouns.

 If someone is presenting in a way that indicates a particular pronoun - dressing very typically feminine or very typically masculine, for example - use context clues and judgement to determine pronoun usage. This way, you’re respecting someone’s gender identity and not indicating to a transgender person that they are not passing well.

If you’re unable to ask someone their pronouns, use they/them/theirs pronouns until you are able to verify.

Making Mistakes

Using the wrong pronoun will happen, especially if you’ve used another pronoun for the person in the past. If you use the wrong pronoun, quickly apologize, correct yourself, and move on. Don’t turn the focus on yourself or make a scene. If the mistake happens a few times, apologize to the person in private.