Pronouns - A Guide
What are pronouns and how do we use them?
Personal pronouns are what we use to refer to a person instead of using their name all the time, which can make speech wordy and confusing. Most of the time people make assumptions about the gender of another person based on their appearance or name - these aren’t always correct and it can be harmful or upsetting to someone when assumptions are made about them. Here are some common examples of personal pronouns:
She/Her: “She is a teacher and taught the class herself.”
He/Him: “I went to visit him and his puppy.”
They/Them: “They cooked that meal themself – I don't know which I like more, them or their food!”
NB. Although the “they” pronouns here are singular and refer to an individual, the verbs are conjugated the same as with the plural “they” (e.g. “they are”). Also note that in this singular pronoun set many use “themself” rather than “themselves,” although both are typically acceptable.
Some people go by multiple sets of pronouns, and usually that means that it is okay to use any of the sets they go by, but can also mean that they prefer different pronouns at different times. If someone has shared their pronouns in a way that you find unclear, let the person know you want to be supportive and ask the person for more information or examples so that you can get it right.
A great way to be an ally is to share your pronouns, no matter what they are, whenever you introduce yourself to someone new or in a group situation. This reduces the need for trans people to out themselves publicly to ensure they are correctly gendered by normalising sharing pronouns even between non-transgender (cisgendered) folk. For example:
Hi, I’m Bob, I use he/him pronouns. Nice to meet you.
Hi, I’m Sally, I’m the Executive Director of the program and I use she/her pronouns.
If you are leading a discussion in a work situation or elsewhere, you can help others to feel safe by inviting everyone to share their pronouns in an introduction:
Good morning everyone and welcome. I’d like to begin by going around and introducing ourselves and sharing our pronouns; my name is Alex and I use she her/pronouns.
If you make a mistake
Don’t make a big deal out of it. If you realise your mistake, correct it and move on:
He takes his tea black, I mean she takes her tea black.
If someone corrects you, thank them and move on:
Person 1: He takes his tea black.
Person 2: She.
Person 1: Right, thank you. She takes her tea black.
It’s often best not to apologise, as that can put pressure on the person who has been misgendered to say “it’s ok” when sometimes it isn’t.
If you think someone else has made a mistake
If you know someone is being referred to by the wrong pronouns, there are a few ways to correct someone but remember that depending on the person, they may not be “out” to everybody. For example:
Person 1: Did Lee show you her new camera?
Person 2: No, they didn’t – are they around today?
Using someone’s correct pronouns in conversation can be a gentle reminder, without drawing attention to the mistake. This is particularly useful in a group situation, where the person may be embarrassed or even get defensive if they are corrected in front of others.
If you know someone better, they may be ok with you interjecting with a correction, especially if you have had previous conversations on the subject.
Person 1: Did Lee show you her –
Person 2: Their
Person 1: Right, sorry, thanks, their new camera?
Be mindful of the fact that there is a huge difference between a simple mistake from someone who is unused to considering pronouns and a wilful misuse of pronouns from someone who refuses to recognise their importance.
Other ways to use pronouns
We mostly use pronouns when referring to other people, but there are a few other situations in which it’s good to be aware of them. Pronouns can be added to email signatures, user names, biographies etc to help people use your correct pronouns and raise awareness of the importance of them.
If you have questions, Meg-John Barker can probably answer them: https://www.rewriting-the-rules.com/
This post was written with reference to pronouns.org.