What are pronouns & why are they important?

Pronouns

What are pronouns & why are they important?

Written by Jen Bell

  |  Reviewed by Mason Dunn

Pronouns are the words we use to refer to another person, such as he, she, or they. Some people use specific pronouns, any pronouns, or none at all. Some people prefer that their name is used instead of a pronoun.

If you’re not sure about someone’s pronouns, ask them!




Singular “they” pronouns

They has been used as a singular pronoun in the English language for centuries. If you’re finding it difficult to use they as a singular pronoun, don’t worry, all it takes is practice!

Here’s an example of how to use they/them in a sentence:
Someone left their water bottle on the field.

Some people use different pronouns, or a combination of various pronouns. To learn more about new pronouns or “neopronouns” check out the website mypronouns.org.

Sharing pronouns

It’s not possible to know someone’s pronouns just by looking at them. Sharing pronouns helps to create a welcoming space for people of all genders, and prevents people from making assumptions about anyone’s identity, or which pronouns they use.

When we tell people our pronouns, we let them know how we want to be seen and addressed — and we give them the opportunity to tell us how they identify.

You can make your pronouns visible by adding them to your nametag, email signature, social media bio, or by wearing pronoun jewelry or clothing.

Here are some helpful ways to invite people to share their pronouns:

  • “Welcome to our group! We’d like to do introductions around the room. Please share your name, what school you’re from, and we invite you to share your pronouns. I’ll start, my name is ____, I’m from Smith Middle School, and my pronouns are _____.”
  • “Hey, I’m Jesse and my pronouns are they/them. It’s nice to meet you!”
What if I don’t want to share my pronouns?

That’s OK! Not everyone feels comfortable or ready to share their pronouns. You should not feel pressured to share your pronouns. It should be presented as a choice for those who want to and feel comfortable with sharing their gender identity. If you are questioning your gender identity, anxious about others’ reactions or being outed, afraid of bullying, or unsure if you’re ready to try a new pronoun, you can simply ask people to refer to you by your name.

Why pronouns are important

Pronouns are an important part of many people’s gender identity. If I use the wrong pronoun to refer to someone, whether accidentally or intentionally, I am misgendering that person — I’m labeling them as a gender other than the one they identify with. Misgendering someone can cause them to feel stigmatized and self-conscious, and it can also put them in danger.

When you misgender someone who is transgender, you also run the risk of outing them to other people — letting other people know they are trans. Outing a trans person is not only disrespectful, it can put them in danger of harassment and discrimination.

Transgender people are the only one’s who have the right to tell other’s they are trans, if they wish to. It’s never OK to tell people if someone is transgender or not, unless you have their explicit consent.

What to do if you use the wrong pronoun by mistake

Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s important to take responsibility for your actions. When someone takes the time to correct you about their pronouns, they are doing you a favor. They’re letting you know how they want to be addressed, and showing you they see you as someone who wants to get it right.

Briefly say sorry or “thanks for correcting me” and move on. Immediately begin using the correct pronouns. Avoid asking the other person for forgiveness or making a scene about how guilty you feel. You don’t want to end up making the person you misgendered have to console you.

Here’s an example of what to do if you accidentally use the wrong pronoun:

“I want you to meet my new friend Tina, she’s in my Biology class.”

(Tina’s friend then reminds you that Tina uses they/them pronouns)

“Sorry, I want you to meet Tina. They are in my Biology class.”

Tips For Using Gender-Inclusive Language

When we use gendered phrases like, “hey guys” or “ladies and gentlemen” to address a group, we’re sending a signal about who is and isn’t included. If I refer to someone whose pronouns we don’t know using words like, “girl, boy, man, woman,” I run the risk of misgendering them and potentially outing them as transgender.

Gender neutral language enables us to refer to nonbinary people and talk about people without specifying their gender. We can address a group in a way that makes everyone feel included. This is good for us all — no matter our gender!

Explore More in Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation!

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