Pronouns 101

What Is A Preferred Pronoun?

Pronouns are how you refer to someone if you are not using their name. They are linguistic tools that we use to refer to people. For example; Alejandra left her book at the library last night. Pronouns are connected to gender expression. According to LGBTQ Education organization GLAAD, gender expression is the "external manifestations of gender, expressed through a person's name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, and/or body characteristics."

The pronouns you want people to use are your preferred pronouns. Or, as we like to call them, your pronouns. Saying “preferred” makes it seem like using someone’s pronouns is optional when, in reality, using a person’s pronouns is the most basic need they have to feel safe and to exist in public spaces.

Why Are Pronouns Important?

You cannot always know what someone’s 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, or dysphoric (often all of the above.)

What If I Do Not Know How To Use Pronouns?

That’s fine! Pronouns take practice! Here’s a handy chart to help you along this step.

pronouns chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Note! There are many, many more than these out in the world. These are simply the most common. If you want to see more, Google is your best friend.)

Is Singular “They” Incorrect Grammar?

Actually, it is correct grammar! English speakers have been using it for a very long time in their speech, and language evolves first from the way we speak, then the way we write. The singular they has been recognized by Merriam-Webster Dictionary and it was chosen as Word of the Year in 2016 by the American Dialect Society. It is also recognized by MLA and APA formatting. It might take some getting used to, but you’re already using it every day without realizing it.

What If I Am Unsure About A Person’s Pronouns?

Sometimes people just do not want to share their pronouns and that is fine. Usually it is safe to use they/them/theirs unless that person tells you otherwise. Try to introduce yourself with your own pronouns so that everyone you meet knows that you are aware and that you will not assume a person’s pronouns. It also prompts them to provide pronouns without it being awkward. (Ex. Hello, my name is Ladonia and I use they/them/theirs pronouns.)

What Is Considered Offensive?

There are many terms that are offensive for people that identify as transgender or any other form of gender non-conforming. Some of these would be “it,” “he-she,” etc. Unless given explicit consent from everyone who will hear it, avoid using any of these words when referring to anyone, as they can be incredibly offensive.

What If I Make A Mistake?

Totally fine, it happens to everyone!
What is most important is that you do not make a big deal about it. Just apologize quickly, correct yourself, and move on.


Ex: “Oh, I’m sorry, I meant they.”

If you make it a big deal, you draw more attention onto someone who maybe does not want it. As long as you portray that you are sorry and you try harder next time, it is going to be okay. Remember; this is more for them and not you, so never make your apology about you. Always make it about the person you have wronged.

What if someone else makes a mistake?
Easy, correct them politely and quickly, do not make a big deal about it.
Ex: “Actually, Maribel uses he pronouns.”
Do not ignore a situation where people continuously use the wrong pronouns. The mark of a true ally is never giving up on the people you want to help. Plus, Transgender and gender non-conforming people tend to get tired of always correcting other people, so having a friend to help is amazing.

Additional Resources for Understanding Pronouns 

What are personal pronouns and why do they matter?

Princeton University LGBTRC classroom pronoun guide

University of Wisconsin-Madison LGBTRC pronoun guide

Trans Student Educational Resources