What are pronouns?

Pronouns are how we refer to people or ourselves in the third person, such as "He would like to speak with you." Pronouns may include: he/him/his/himself, she/her/hers/herself, they/them/theirs/themself, ze/zir/zirs/zirself.

Why are pronouns important?

Since birth, many people have enjoyed the privilege of being referred to by the name and pronouns with which they identify. When you have this privilege, but fail to respect someone else's identity, you are not only being disrespectful, but also oppressive. For this reason, we should always do our best to make sure we are using the correct names and pronouns because most people find it uncomfortable and hurtful to be referred to by the wrong ones. For trans people, being misgendered (referred to by the wrong pronouns) and dead-named (referred to by the wrong name) can also trigger feelings of gender dysphoria (the discomfort experienced by people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth).

A person's name and pronouns can change at any time in their lives, and sometimes they change many times. Below are some pointers to help you determine when and which pronouns to use.

How to respect a person's pronouns:

Always Ask

You cannot tell a person's correct name or pronouns from their appearance. For instance, just because a person appears to be female, does not mean they identify with female pronouns. Just because a person's gender identity has changed, does not always mean their pronouns have also changed. A person identifying as a binary (male versus female) gender may not identify with the pronouns for that gender. If a person has not told you their pronouns, ask them.

"Excuse me, I would like to respect your gender identity. May I ask which pronouns you use?"

Until you know a person's correct pronouns, use they/them/theirs to avoid making an incorrect assumption and possibly offending them or triggering feelings of gender dysphoria.​

Always Introduce Your Pronouns with Your Name

Whenever you introduce your name, also introduce your pronouns. This lets everyone you meet immediately identify you as a trans ally and know that you are someone with whom they can feel safe expressing their authentic selves. It also encourages people to provide their own names and pronouns without your needing to ask for them.

"Hi, my name is John Doe and my pronouns are she, her, hers. And you?"

You can also insert your pronouns just after your name in your professional email signature.

J. Doe
My Pronouns: she/her/hers

You can also put them right after your name on a name tag.

Hello, my name is...

J. Doe

Respect & Practice

Now that you have identified a person's correct name and pronouns, it is important to do your best to always use them. When speaking aloud, make sure you are using a respectful tone and body language. The portrayal of a negative attitude, even if unintentionally done, can cause the person to feel mocked or bullied, or to feel as though they do not belong in the current environment.

Apologize & Correct Yourself

We are all human, and humans sometimes make mistakes. When you accidentally use a wrong name or pronoun, always apologize as soon as possible (even if you don't realize your mistake until months or even years later). Keep the apology a quick one and do not go on about how bad you feel about the mistake; a long apology can make the trans person feel awkward and it puts them in a situation to comfort you, which is inappropriate and not their obligation. Keep the apology and related bodily language respectful, so it is not offensive. 

"John—Oops! Sorry. Jane."


 "He—I mean, she doesn't like pizza."


"She—I mean, he. Whatever." (rolls eyes, makes a dismissive hand gesture, etc).

A respectful apology shows you did not mean to disrespect their identity. And remember, there is no expiration date on apologies! It can mean a lot to someone that you thought about them and valued their identity enough to apologize for your mistake even months or years after you made it. It's never too late to show you care and that you never meant to hurt anyone's feelings.

Keep Practicing

If you make the mistake often, promise to continue to make the effort to correct yourself. Then do your best to keep your promise.

"Hey there, I'm sorry I referred to you with the wrong name and pronouns yesterday. I will keep trying to do better, I promise."

Immediately correcting yourself, and promising to do better in the future, shows the trans person matters to you enough that you will continue to make the effort on their behalf, even though you find it difficult or may not understand their identity. But make sure you live up to your promise, and practice, practice, practice. 

Correct Others

It is usually both appropriate and welcome to support the trans person in your life by gently correcting others on their behalf whenever they are misgendered or dead-named. This can also be done by informing the person making the mistake, or if you believe they are already informed, then by immediately saying the correct pronoun or name after the wrong one is spoken.

​"Jay's correct pronouns are 'they/them.'"



It is usually best to address such pronoun and name microaggressions whenever they occur, even if it is someone of high authority doing it. This lets the trans person know that you are their ally and that your office, classroom, or personal space is a safe place.

Ask Before Getting Involved

When a person or group of persons displays an ongoing habit of misgendering or dead-naming a trans colleague, student, friend, family member, etc, before privately handling the situation with the offender(s) themself(lves), it may be appropriate to approach the trans person and ask, "I noticed that you were being referred to by the wrong name and pronouns recently, and I understand that can be hurtful and triggering. Would it be okay with you if I took them aside and reminded them of your correct name and pronouns?" Do not proceed if the trans person seems uncomfortable with this suggestion or explicitly declines it. Regardless, they will likely still appreciate your helpful intentions.

Pronouns to Avoid

"It" is not an appropriate pronoun to use when referring to any human being and "he-she" or "he/she" are offensive slurs commonly used against trans individuals. 

The Time to Be a Trans Ally is Now

It's never too late or too early to be an ally to the trans community and the trans individuals in your life. Train and educate yourself on matters and issues such as this one, and the many others affecting the trans community, so we don't have to and so someday trans lives and the respect of trans individuals will matter as much as they do for people possessing more privileged forms of gender.