two people talking
MoMo Productions/Getty Images

“When you don’t use names, pronouns are what you use to address other people. They, her, and them are the most common pronouns.”

“Many cisgender people who have a gender identity that is in line with their assigned sex and gender at birth don’t know about the concept of pronouns.”

There may be no conflict between their gender expression and their gender identity.

(This isn’t always the case. Someone may misgender a cis woman, for example, if the woman’s gender expression doesn’t align with their personal concept of “woman.”)

pronouns are the primary way people address each other. It is important to be respectful when speaking to other people.

“You wouldn’t call someone a different name than they’ve been given.”

“Being aware of someone’s pronouns and using them properly is a way to make space for people of all genders.”

The English language has pronouns.

“Some languages have gendered pronouns. The Tagalog language didn’t have gendered pronouns until it was influenced by Spanish.”

In English, pronouns can be used to address oneself as well as other people.

Traditionally, English speakers use the pronouns he/his and she/her to address others.

It is necessary to use pronouns when addressing someone rather than using their name.

Some people think that neo pronouns are new, but they have gained more attention over the past decade as cultural literacy surrounding gender identity has increased.

Ze/zir pronouns, for example, were first used in 1864.

“It is important to remember that the pronouns he/his and she/her don’t necessarily mean gender neutral.”

“A person using she/her/hers pronouns isn’t necessarily a woman.”

Some people use only their names and do not use pronouns.

The reception of new pronouns has been mixed. Many people refuse to use pronouns because of fear.

“That is a reason to be respectful of people’s pronouns. It can show someone that they are in a safe environment where their gender identity is respected.”

Pronouns aren’t always a reflection of gender

Many people use pronouns that are tied to specific gender identities without identifying with the associated gender identity or label.

“You can’t assume someone’s gender by their pronouns. Asking someone their gender identity is the only way to know it.”

It’s also important to note that pronouns aren’t a preference. They’re personal and align with someone’s identity.

When approaching others about their pronouns it can be helpful to share your personal pronouns first, especially if you’re someone who is cisgender.

Not everyone is comfortable sharing their pronouns. It is important to remember that trans and non-binary people can be at risk by revealing their personal pronouns.

“If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, you can use the neutral ones.”

“Listening to others refer to someone is a way to learn their pronouns. If you are alone with someone, this can be helpful in learning how to address someone’s pronouns, but it won’t work if you are in an environment where everyone is meeting for the first time.”

When someone shares their personal pronouns with you, they aren’t sharing a preference. They’re sharing their pronouns, and those are the pronouns you should refer to them with from that point on unless they later tell you otherwise.

If you know that some people have more than one set of personal pronouns, you can use any of them.

“If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, you can use any gender neutral pronoun.”

“This can be helpful in situations where you don’t have the option to say your own words, or when you’re addressing someone you’ve just met or don’t know personally.”

“It can be helpful for new to using personal pronouns to practice default to them/ them/ them when referring to people they don’t know, as this helps to eliminate the chance of misgendering someone.”

Discussing personal pronouns with young people

It may be easier to engage young people and children with the concept of personal pronouns and gender identity than some think.

Children are very curious about the world and are receptive to information about how to engage with it.

Check out:

  • These tips from Teaching Outside the Binary, a resource created by middle school teacher Ace Schwarz
  • This overview from On Our Sleeves, an organization dedicated to improving children’s mental health
  • The Lollipop Book Club’s list of children’s books about gender identity and fluidity

“Mistakes happen. You will likely misgender someone at some point if you don’t engage with the concept of pronouns for the first time.”

If that person corrects you directly, resist the urge to express shame or be upset. Doing so puts that person in a caretaking position, where they need to soothe and reassure you, and can call you to attention.

Instead, acknowledge your mistake, apologize, and do better next time.

If you find yourself misgendering someone, you may need to do some personal work on your conceptions of gender identity and expression.

“It can be difficult to move beyond seeing gender as a male/female or male/woman in an environment where you haven’t engaged with a wide variety of people who aren’t cisgender.”

Refer to people in public, at home, and internally by their correct pronouns rather than their gender presentation as you see it is helpful. This will help stop the misgendering of someone.

Building relationships by respecting others

“If you are unwilling to change and resistant to someone’s personal pronouns, they may choose to remove themselves from your relationship. That is their choice.”

“You can repair the relationship by increasing your knowledge and understanding of that person’s pronouns and identity.”

“It is important to understand that no one’s identity is a threat to your own and that when we accept one another as we are we create a more peaceful world.”

Shaming someone for making a mistake is not productive. It can cause resistance to the entire concept.

If someone around you misgenders someone, you can correct them.

If you are in person, you may want to use their correct pronouns when speaking to someone who has been misgendered. You can ask the person their pronouns or introduce your own.

If someone you know is misgendering someone, it is worth talking to them privately and asking why. Send some resources to deepen their understanding of personal pronouns.

Discussing personal pronouns with friends and family

Not everyone is receptive to the concept of personal pronouns beyond the gender binary.

“If you have friends and family who are not respectful of other people’s pronouns, you can send them resources to correct them.”

You can introduce yourself with your pronouns to increase awareness.

There are many free resources that can help you learn more about personal pronouns, gender identity, and the gender binary.

You can check out the following articles.

You can listen to the following:

You can check out the books in written or audio form.


Jan Selby is a graduate of the MFA program at Syracuse University and currently lives in Seattle, WA, where they work as a nanny and writer. Their writing has been published in High Country News, Boulevard, Vox, The New Ohio Review, Allure, and Tricycle Buddhist Review. You can find them on Instagram. They are currently working on a book.