Learn the basics of how to use personal pronouns effectively (and why you might want to make yours known).

By Lisa Milbrand
April 16, 2021
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You may have noticed a new addition to many social media profiles and introductory conversations with a new friend or colleague—a person's name followed by a set of preferred pronouns: she/her, he/him, they/them, or even some nonbinary pronouns, such as ze/zir, per/pers, ey/em and xe/xem.

This has made it easier for trans, nonbinary, and other LGBTQ+ people to let everyone know how they'd like to be addressed—and sharing your own personal pronouns (even if your personal pronouns line up with the gender you were assigned at birth) is a way to show respect and be inclusive of everyone.

Here's a quick primer on how to include everyone by using the appropriate pronouns.

How do I ask someone what pronouns they use?

If you meet someone and they don't volunteer the information themselves, notice the pronouns their friends and loved ones use for them—odds are, that's what they would like you to use for them. "Friends and people who know the person best will probably use the correct pronoun," says GLAAD.

If that isn't an option, volunteer your own to encourage them to share theirs. For example, "Hi, I'm Eileen and I use she/her pronouns. What pronouns do you use?"

What if I don't know what pronouns to use for a person?

If you don't know what pronouns to use for someone (and they're not there to ask), the safest option may be avoiding using pronouns by just using their name. 

GLAAD also suggests using the pronouns that are consistent with the person's appearance and gender expression (for instance, if they wear dresses and go by the name Ella, she/her is probably safe), or using the singular "they." 

What if I make a mistake when I'm using pronouns?

It happens—especially if it's someone you've known for a long time who changed pronouns. (For instance, if your cousin was born male and now identifies as female.) 

The solution: Apologize. "If you accidentally use the wrong pronoun for someone, apologize quickly and sincerely, then use the right pronoun moving forward," according to GLAAD. "It's best not to make a big deal out of your mistake and draw attention to it—that just makes everyone more uncomfortable."

Avoid misgendering a colleague repeatedly—as misgendering a person could be considered harassment in a workplace. 

What are neopronouns?

Neopronouns include ze/zir, per/pers, ey/em, and xe/xem. Most of them were created within the last century, according to MyPronouns.org, a site dedicated to helping people understand personal pronouns and use them in an inclusive way. 

While many people who use neopronouns may be nonbinary, they could also identify as male, female, or something else entirely. 

Should I share my own pronouns?

Even if you think it seems obvious what pronouns to use (for instance, if you're a cisgendered woman who goes by she/her), sharing your pronouns lets everyone know exactly how to address you—and perhaps more importantly, it helps everyone feel welcome.

"When cisgender people share their own pronouns in meetings, social situations, email signatures, etc., it creates an environment where transgender and non-binary people feel they can safely share their pronouns, too," GLAAD says.

What else should I consider?

You might want to think about other ways to make your language more inclusive. For instance, if you're addressing a group, rather than saying "ladies and gentlemen," try addressing them as "friends," "guests," or "colleagues." It's a small change that can make everyone feel welcomed.