Gendered Pronoun Resource

What are Gendered Pronouns and Why Do They Matter?

Pronouns are the words we use to refer to other people in place of their name. We deploy pronouns every day in our speech and writing, sometimes unconsciously. Gendered pronouns are those that indicate a gender, such as he, him or she, hers. Using gendered pronouns makes an assumption about the gender identity of the person we’re talking about.  

These assumptions can be wrong, and can lead to uncomfortable and embarrassing situations. Using the incorrect pronouns can make a person's working and learning environment feel unwelcoming. While this is especially true for transgender and non-binary students, staff, and faculty, it's also true for everyone on campus. Because pronouns are a powerful tool for communicating identity, it is important that we learn how others should be referred to and proactively utilize the correct pronouns in our speech and writing. 

Pronoun Chart

This chart was adapted from the University of California-San Francisco’s LGBT Resource Center and is included here with permission.


People may choose to use a variety of pronouns. Below is a list of some commonly used pronouns and how they are used:

Subject Object Possessive Possessive Pronoun Reflexive
He
"He Studied"
Him
"I called him"

His
"His Pencil"

His
"That is his"

Himself
"He trusts himself"

She
"She studied"
Her
"I called her"
Her
"Her pencil"
Hers
"That is hers"
Herself
"She trusts herself"
They
"They studied"
Them
"I called them"
Their
"Their pencil"
Theirs
"That is theirs"
Themselves
"They trust themselves"

Ze (or Zie)
"Ze studied"

Pronounced "zee"

Hir
"I called hir"

Pronounced "heer"

Hir
"Hir pencil"
Hirs
"That is hirs"
Hirself
"Ze trusts hirself"

This is not an exhaustive list. It is good practice to ask which pronouns a person uses.

How to Ask About Pronouns

(Information adapted from American University’s Pronoun Guide)

The easiest way to start a conversation about pronouns is to offer your own first. This makes space for others to do the same if they are ready to. For example, “My name is Sam and my pronouns are he and him.”

  • Put a space on the nametag, or add into the sign-in instructions for folks to share their name and pronouns if they’d like.
  • Normalize pronoun sharing within group spaces- this makes it safer and easier for everyone to share their pronouns!

  • If you are in private with an individual, you can simply say, “Can I ask what your pronouns are?” 
  • Other ways of asking an individual their pronouns respectfully are: “How would you like me to refer to you?”;“How would you like to be addressed?”
  • This may feel uncomfortable at first, but you do not want to say the wrong pronouns based on assumptions, and the student will most likely appreciate your effort.
  • Be sure to not just ask the gender ambiguous folks – ask everyone so as not to single anyone out.

  • First consider whether this is a safe place for students/staff to potentially out themselves. This means examining power structures—is a student going to worry about their grades being lowered or losing a job/friends/family?
  • Never make group pronoun sharing a requirement. Some people’s identities will be validated by sharing their pronouns. For others who may be questioning identities, making sharing pronouns mandatory feel constricting.
  • You can also ask about pronouns as part of a group exercise, which would allow you to explain to the group what pronouns are. You could say something like: “Everyone tell your name, a fun fact about you, and your pronouns if you’d like to share. For example, my name is Erin, I like to cook, and my pronouns are she, her, and hers.”

  • Event name tags
  • Office doors/signage
  • Syllabi
  • Email signature
  • Business cards

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I Use the Wrong Pronouns?

Mistakes happen. Simply say you're sorry, correct yourself, and move on.

Example: "I'm sorry, I mean they plan to join the meeting"

If you discover you've been using the wrong pronouns for a long time, it might be appropriate to send a personal message to the person to apologize.

Example: "I see now that your pronouns are he/him, I apologize that I've been using they/them. I'll be sure to use correct pronouns from now on.”

When you get someones pronouns incorrect, it is inappropriate to explain that you are having a hard time with their pronouns or that you don't understand why it matters. We are all trying our best, this world is large enough for us all.

What if Someone Gets My Pronouns Wrong?

If someone gets your pronouns wrong, you can simply correct them.

Example: "Actually, I use they/them pronouns"

What if Someone Else Uses the Wrong Pronoun?

If you hear someone using the wrong pronouns for someone else, you can correct them gently by reminding them of the correct pronouns.

Example 1: “Sam uses she/her pronouns.”

Example 2: "Sam mentioned previously that she uses she/her pronouns. It sounded like you said ‘he’; just wanted to be sure you remembered."

As in the case of apologies, simply make the correction and move on.

Please note that not everyone feels comfortable having their pronouns corrected in their presence. If possible, reach out to the individual being whose pronouns are being misused and ask their preference.

Additional Campus Resources for Pronouns

 

Compiled by the Special Committee for Gendered Pronoun Resource:

Sophie Ziegler (They/Them)

Alexandra Chiasson

SK Groll (They/Them)

Ashley Mack (They/Them)

Aparajita Dutta

Fahima Ife

Austin Svedjan