What Are Pronouns?

Pronouns are words we use in sentences to replace a previously referenced noun (a person, place, or thing). For instance, someone could say "That tree looks nice. It has pretty flowers." In this case, "it" is the pronoun that replaces the noun "tree."

What Are Personal Pronouns?

Personal pronouns are the ones we use to refer to a specific person or people. Below are some examples of personal pronouns, each with the direct, indirect, and possessive form of the pronoun:

  • She/Her/Hers: The pronoun set generally used by individuals who identify as a woman and many who identify as femme
  • They/Them/Their: Traditionally, this pronoun set is used to refer to a group of people, but, despite common misconceptions, can also be used to refer to a single person in a non-binary or gender-neutral fashion. Yes, the singular "they" is grammatically correct, which you can read more about in the Huffington Post's: Don’t Be A Grammar Snob: The Singular ‘They’ Has Been Around For Centuries!
  • He/Him/His: The pronoun set generally used by individuals who identify as a man and many who identify as masc
  • Ze/Zir/Zirs: A gender-neutral pronoun set that was invented more recently and is popularly used by non-binary and gender non-conforming people. Read more about gender-neutral pronouns on the Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog!

These are samples of personal pronouns, as there are many more in use today! Importantly, an individual's personal pronouns are determined by the person themselves. Thus, we can never assume someone's personal pronouns based on appearances. Additionally, "it" should not be used to refer to person, as it refers to an object or thing and therefore can be dehumanizing when used to refer to a human being. 

Why Are Pronouns Important?

As the above examples illustrate, personal pronouns are very connected to gender and go beyond the binary of he/she. Thus, they are especially relevant to members of the transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming communities and anyone who aspires to be an ally to these communities. Too often, people default to using binary he or she pronouns to refer to another person based on appearances, a practice which can result in misgendering that person. Being misgendered can be a deeply hurtful and uncomfortable experience, as it invalidates an individual's personal gender identity and expression. This is especially true for members of the transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming communities, who often face invalidation of and oppression for their gender identities and expressions from society at large. This is why it is so important to develop inclusive pronoun usage.

How Can I Be More Inclusive Using Pronouns?

Luckily, there are a few ways we can all be more inclusive in the way we use pronouns in everyday life:

  • Ask about Pronouns: As stated above, we cannot determine someone's personal pronouns based off of appearance. Therefore, when meeting someone new, you can ask "What pronouns do you use?" or "What are your pronouns?" This may seem uncomfortable or awkward at first, but it becomes more natural as we practice and this discomfort is far less than the result of misgendering someone!
  • Pronouns as Introductions: Alternatively, cisgender allies can volunteer their pronouns first when introducing themselves, rather than asking them of the other person. If you are in a group setting, have everyone introduce themselves with their personal pronouns in addition to their names. Even something as simple as listing your pronouns in your email signature can go a long way!
  • Learn and Practice New Pronouns: As many non-binary or gender-neutral pronouns can be new for people, it is a good idea to practice using them. The LGBTQ+ Resources team (email: LGBTQ_Resources@uml.edu) is happy help, but there are also many other resources online and in the community. There's even an app for learning and practicing new pronouns!
  • Normalize 'They' and Other Gender-Neutral Pronouns: If you have not gotten the chance to ask someone about their pronouns or are not comfortable doing so, use they/them/their as your default pronouns for anyone whose pronouns you are unsure of.

Additional Resources:

LinkedIn Learning Resources for Pronouns and Names

If you believe something is incorrect or missing please contact the LGBTQ+ Resources Team by email: LGBTQ_Resources@uml.edu! We're always looking for feedback.