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What are Pronouns?

Pronouns are words that refer to either the people talking (like you or I) or someone or something that is being talked about (like she, they, and this). Gender pronouns (like he or them) specifically refer to people that you are talking about.

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.

Common Examples of Gender Pronouns

Please note that these are not the only pronouns. There are an infinite number of pronouns as new ones emerge in our language. Always ask someone for their pronouns.

Subjective Objective Possessive Reflective Example
She Her Hers Herself She is speaking.
I listen to her.
The backpack is hers.
He Him His Himself He is speaking.
I listen to him.
The backpack is his.
They Them Theirs Themself They are speaking.
I listen to them.
The backpack is theirs.
Ze Hir/Zir Hirs/Zirs Hirself/Zirself Ze is speaking.
I listen to hir.
The backpack is zirs.

Ze, hir (Xena 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.

Singular They?

It may seem tricky at first, but in fact, English-speakers often use “They” to refer to a single person when gender is unknown or unspecified. The singular “They” has been recognized by Merriam-Webster Dictionary and 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 Make A Mistake?

Totally fine, it happens to everyone! Do not make a big deal about it, just apologize quickly, correct yourself, and move on. A simple “Oh I’m sorry, I meant he”. What if someone else makes a mistake? The same rules apply, don’t make a big deal about it; correct the person politely and in private. For example, “I heard you talking to Tara earlier, I believe they use he/him pronouns”.

What Can I Do To Be More Inclusive?

Here are a couple some simple things that you can do to help familiarize yourself with pronouns and be more inclusive.

  • Add your pronouns to your email signatures
    • Ex: John Doe (He/Him/His)
  • During verbal introductions when asked to introduce yourself.
    • “My name is Jane Doe, I use she her hers, and I started working here a year ago.”
    • “Tracy Doe, they them theirs, and I work in automotive.”
    • A simple way to ask students their pronouns are to use one of the methods above and ask what pronouns they use.
  • When in doubt, use “They/Them/Theirs”