First, let’s start off with the most frequently asked questions about Personal Gender Pronouns (PGPs).
Frequently Asked Questions
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 say something right away, like “Sorry, I meant (insert pronoun)”.
If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on.
A lot of the time 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. Please don’t!It is inappropriate and makes the person who was misgendered feel awkward and responsible for comforting you, which is absolutely not their job.
Taking an active role inyour classes, you may hear one of your students using the wrong pronoun for someone. In most cases, it is appropriate to gently correct them without further embarrassing the individual who has been misgendered. This means saying something like “Alexuses the pronoun she,” and then moving on. If other students or faculty are consistently using the wrong pronouns for someone, do not ignore it! It is important to let your student know that you are their ally.
It may be appropriate to approach them and say something like “I noticed that you were getting referred to with the wrong pronoun earlier, and I know that that can be really hurtful. Would you be okay with me taking them aside and reminding them about your pronouns?” Follow up if necessary, but take your cues from the comfort level of your student. Your actions will be greatly appreciated.
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 making a hurtful assumption. Also asking about when you can use those pronouns helps protect people from being outed; this can sound like “Are there any situations where you don’t want me to use these pronouns?”
If you are asking as part of an introduction exercise and you want to quickly explain what gender pronouns are, you can try something like this: “Tell us your name, where you come from, and your pronouns. That means the pronouns that you use in reference to yourself. For example, I’m Xena, I’m from Amazon Island, and I like to be referred to with she, her, and hers pronouns. So you could say, ‘she went to her car’ if you were talking about me.”
It is important to remember that by consistently asking people for their pronouns, you can help create a more normalized and safe way for others to share their pronouns, which they may not have been able to do before.
However, there are multiple reasons why someone may not want to share their pronouns in a group setting. If someone does not share their pronouns, feel free to use their name as a placeholder or ask in a more private setting.
Why is it important to respect people’s pronouns?
You can’t 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). All major professional American psychological and psychiatric associations recognize that inclusive language usage for LGBTQ+ youth and adults drastically decreases experiences of depression, social anxiety, suicidal ideation, and other negative mental health factors.
It is a privilege to not have to worry about which pronoun someone is going to use for you based on how they perceive your gender. If you have this privilege, yet fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful, but also oppressive.
What are some commonly used pronouns?
She/her/hers and he/him/his are a few commonly used pronouns. Some people call these “feminine” and “masculine” pronouns, but many people avoid these labels because not everyone who uses he/him/his feels “masculine” and not everyone who uses she/her/hers feels “feminine”.
There are also lots of other pronouns in use, some of them more gender neutral. Here are a few you might hear:
- They/them/theirs (“Shea ate their food because they were hungry.”) This is a pretty common gender-neutral pronoun and it can be used in the singular. Singular “they” is not a new concept to English speakers – singular they is often used if we do not know the person we are talking about (“Who called you? What did they want?”)
- Ze/hir/hir (“Tyler ate hir food because ze was hungry.”) Ze is pronounced like “zee” can also be spelled zie or xe, and replaces she/he/they. Hir is pronounced like “here” and replaces her/hers/him/his/they/theirs.
- Per/per/pers (“Kyla ate per food because per were hungry.”) Think of it as a shortened version of “person”.
- It/it/its (“Alex ate its food because it was hungry.”) It was previously thought that these pronouns could only be offensive when used, but as long as you are not misgendering someone by using it/it/its, these are valid pronouns for someone to use.
- Just my name please! (Ash ate Ash’s food because Ash was hungry) Some people prefer not to use pronouns at all, using their name instead of a pronoun.
Some people also use more than one set of pronouns. This can be denoted as “they/she” or “they/them/theirs and she/her/hers”. When someone uses multiple sets of pronouns, it could mean that they are okay with either one being used, or that they accept both, but have a preference towards the one that is listed first. If you have any questions, respectfully ask the person! A person of any gender can use multiple sets of pronouns.
Purposefully misgendering (using the wrong pronouns, ignoring someone’s pronouns in use, or using incorrect gendered language for someone) is offensive and disrespectful to anyone, but especially to trans and gender non-confirming individuals.
What is a pronoun?
A pronoun is a word that refers to either the people talking (“I” or “you”) or someone or something that is being talked about (like “she”, “it”, “them”, and “this”). Gender pronouns (he/she/they/ze etc.) specifically refer to the person you are referring to.
Pronouns are part of someone’s gender expression, and people can have multiple sets of pronouns for themselves (such as using both he/him/his and they/them/theirs). Pronouns are not “preferred” but instead are required for respectful communication. Not only transgender or nonbinary communities use pronouns, as it is something we all use and have since we were little.
Pronouns – A How To Guide
Note: the top line is meant to indicate two separate – but similarly spelled – sets of pronouns. They are ae/aer/aers and fae/faer/faers.
Gender Neutral / Gender Inclusive Pronouns
A gender neutral or gender inclusive pronoun is a pronoun which does not associate a gender with the individual who is being discussed.
Some languages, such as English, do not have a gender neutral or third gender pronoun available, and this has been criticized, since in many instances, writers, speakers, etc. use “he/his” when referring to a generic individual in the third person. Also, the dichotomy of “he and she” in English does not leave room for other gender identities, which is a source of frustration to the transgender and gender queer communities.
People who are limited by languages which do not include gender neutral pronouns have attempted to create them, in the interest of greater equality.
History of Gender Inclusive Pronouns
Native English Pronouns
“Ou, a”: Native English Gender-Neutral Pronouns. According to Dennis Baron’s Grammar and Gender:
In 1789, William H. Marshall records the existence of a dialectal English epicene pronoun, singular ou : "'Ou will' expresses eitherhewill,shewill, oritwill." Marshall traces ou to Middle English epicene a, used by the fourteenth-century English writer John of Trevisa, and both the OED and Wright's English Dialect Dictionary confirm the use of a forhe, she, it, they,and evenI.
The dialectal epicene pronoun a is a reduced form of the Old and Middle English masculine and feminine pronounsheandheo. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the masculine and feminine pronouns had developed to a point where, according to the OED, they were "almost or wholly indistinguishable in pronunciation." The modern feminine pronounshe, which first appears in the mid twelfth century, seems to have been drafted at least partly to reduce the increasing ambiguity of the pronoun system....
He goes on to describe how relics of these sex-neutral terms survive in some British dialects of Modern English, and sometimes a pronoun of one gender might be applied to a person or animal of the opposite gender.
In 1770, Robert Baker suggested use of “one, ones” instead of “one, his”, since there was no equivalent “one, hers”. Others shared this sentiment in 1868, 1884, 1979, and even now. Others throughout this period disagreed, finding it too pedantic.
“His or Her” vs. Singular “They”
Around 1795, the language authorities Lindley Murray, Joseph Priestly, and Hugh Blair, amongst others, campaigned against pronoun irregularities in pronoun use, such as lack of agreement in gender and number. Without coining words, this can only be done in the third person singular by use of compound terms like “his or her”. Grammarians in 1879, 1922, 1931, 1957, and the 1970s have accepted “they” as a singular term that could be used in place of “he” or “he or she”, though sometimes limiting it to informal constructions. Others in 1795, 1825, 1863, 1898, 1926, and 1982 argued against it for various reasons. And whatever the grammarians might argue, people have been using the singular “they” for about the last 600 years, though (as mentioned earlier) it can only be applied in certain cases. If new gender-neutral pronouns are not adopted, i’m sure that singular “they” will still be a point of contention for centuries to come. For further information on the use of singular “their” throughout the centuries, see thelarge body of informationthat Henry Churchyard has compiled on the subject.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Pronouns can be in the first person singular (I, me) or plural (we, us); second person singular or plural (you); and the third person singular (e.g., she/her, he/him, they/them, ze/hir) or plural (they/them). Gendered pronouns specifically reference someone's gender: he/him/his or she/her/hers.What's up with gender pronouns? ›
Gender pronouns are the terms people use when referring to someone in the third person. Like their name, gender pronouns affirm part of a person's identity. It is just as disrespectful to use the wrong pronouns as it is to call someone by the wrong name. As a general rule, you shouldn't assume a person's pronouns.What are my pronouns if I'm a girl? ›
She, her, hers and he, him, his are the most commonly used pronouns. Some people call these "female/feminine" and "male/masculine" pronouns, but many avoid these labels because, for example, not everyone who uses he feels like a "male" or "masculine." There are also lots of gender-neutral pronouns in use.What are appropriate gender pronouns? ›
Here are a few you might hear:
- They, them, theirs (Xena ate their food because they were hungry). ...
- Ze, hir (Xena ate hir food because ze was hungry). ...
- Just my name, please!
Intentional refusal to use someone's correct pronouns is equivalent to harassment and a violation of one's civil rights. The Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 expressly prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.What does Ze Zir pronouns mean? ›
The ze/hir, ze/zir pronoun sets come from the trans community as another gender-neutral pronoun set. It's up to each individual to decide which pronoun best fits them and their identities. Ze is typically pronounced like the letter Z.Why did pronouns become a thing? ›
Somebody coined pronouns because they felt a word was missing from English,” he said. “A few of the words made it into dictionaries. None of them ever achieved widespread use. “One word that seems to be filling the gap is the singular 'they,'” he said.What is the big deal with pronouns? ›
And for some people, pronouns are a big deal because other folks don't always use the correct pronouns to describe them. Asking someone's pronouns simply means asking someone what the most respectful way to refer to them is, if you're not using their name.Why do people go by pronouns? ›
Pronouns are important because they correspond with a person's gender. If someone is misgendered, it can cause distress because they may feel their gender identity isn't valid or respected. Using someone's correct name and pronouns is a way of showing respect and courtesy.Can I be forced to use a pronoun? ›
The short answer is yes. There is nothing to prevent your employer asking employees to make voluntary pronoun declarations. However, speech rights are likely to be engaged when there is an element of compulsion.
But she says it was from the 18th century onwards that people started using male pronouns when describing someone of a non-specific gender in writing and this marks the time when opinions on what pronouns should be used started to change.Why do gender pronouns matter? ›
Addressing someone by the wrong name or misgendering them, by using incorrect pronouns, can feel disrespectful, harmful, and even threatening to a gender-diverse person. Misgendering results in marginalization and communicates that a person's identity is not seen as important.What pronoun is gender-neutral? ›
Gender-neutral pronouns are words that don't specify whether the subject of the sentence is female or male. 'They', for instance, is a third-person pronoun that is gender neutral. Other gender-neutral pronouns include 'them', 'this person', 'everyone', 'Ze', or 'Hir'.What is it called when you are genderless? ›
Some people's gender changes over time. People whose gender is not male or female use many different terms to describe themselves, with nonbinary being one of the most common (sometimes spelled with a hyphen, as “non-binary”). Other terms include genderqueer, agender, bigender, genderfluid, and more.
A person may refrain from using pronouns for many reasons. There may not be a set of pronouns that feels right for that individual. The person might be figuring out what pronouns to use in the future and may not want to use any in the meantime.Is it OK to not use pronouns? ›
Sometimes people just don't want to share their pronouns and that's fine. Usually it's safe to use they/them/theirs unless that person tells you otherwise.Should gender pronouns be mandatory? ›
When using gender pronouns in the workplace it's important to never make it mandatory to provide pronouns. You may think it's being inclusive, and your heart may be in the right place, but some people will not feel safe sharing due to past experiences, fear of discrimination, or other personal reasons.What is the difference between Xe and Ze? ›
Ze is pronounced like “zee” can also be spelled zie or xe, and replaces she/he/they. Hir is pronounced like “here” and replaces her/hers/him/his/they/theirs.What is the meaning of XEM? ›
Xem is a pronoun that serves the same grammatical function as him or her, except that it's gender-neutral. Xem is typically used by people who identify as nonbinary or genderqueer, meaning that their gender identify falls outside of the strict binary of only male or only female.How do you pronounce hir? ›
Pronunciation: Please note that “ze” is usually pronounced with a long “e” and that “hir” and its forms are usually pronounced like the English word “here.” Instead of ze/hir pronouns, some people go by "ze/zir" pronouns because of the more consistent pronunciation and spelling.
That said, an employer can prohibit workers from including their pronouns in their email signatures, but only if the policy is enforced consistently across the company. "The company can say company policy is that emails do not have identifier attached to them.Why is everyone putting pronouns in their signature? ›
It's a way for the person receiving the email to understand the preferred way for them to address you. By adding pronouns into your email signature, it shows the person receiving the email which pronouns they should use when referring to you and talking to you directly.Can my employer ask my pronouns? ›
Preferred Pronouns versus Personal Pronouns
We can simply ask, what are your pronouns? To be more inclusive, employers can create opportunities for employees to share pronouns if they are willing to share that information. However, employers cannot require them to disclose pronouns.
A lawsuit filed last week by theater professor Richard Bugg against administrators at Southern Utah University alleges that key school officials violated his First Amendment rights when they punished him for refusing to use a student's preferred pronouns.What are the 6 pronouns? ›
- Personal Pronouns.
- Possessive Pronouns.
- Demonstrative Pronouns.
- Reflexive Pronouns.
- Relative Pronouns.
- Reciprocal Pronouns.
There are 12 personal pronouns for a person or group, and they are: I, you, he, she, it, we, they, me, him, her, us and them.What are 15 pronouns? ›
In Modern English the personal pronouns include: "I," "you," "he," "she," "it," "we," "they," "them," "us," "him," "her," "his," "hers," "its," "theirs," "our," "your."What are some genderless pronouns? ›
Gendered pronouns are those that indicate gender: he, she, him, her, hers, his, himself and herself. All others, like "it, "one," and "they," are gender-neutral. You probably already use some gender-neutral pronouns: they, their, and them.