What Are Pronouns?

BY Margot Friday, 27 October 2017

Hang on. What are pronouns exactly?

A pronoun is a word that refers to either the people talking (I or you) or someone/something that is being talked about (like she, it, them, and this). Gender pronouns (he/she/they) specifically refer to the people that you are talking about.

It is important to respect people's pronouns. You can't always know what someone's pronouns are by looking at them. Asking and correctly using someone's pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for gender identity.

Gendered Pronouns 

She and He are gendered pronouns. She is typically used by female-identifying people. Similarly, He is typically used by male-identifying people. 

Both of these are sometimes used by people who don’t identify as male or female.

Gender Neutral Pronouns

They, them, theirs common gender neutral pronouns. These are basically pronouns that don’t imply ‘male’ or ‘female’. Neutral pronouns are typically used by gender diverse and non-binary identifying people.

There are lots of other gender neutral pronouns. They can take a bit of getting used to, but it’s important to use the right ones. If you’re not sure, politely ask!

Personal Pronouns

Most people have personal pronouns. Whether they use she, he, or theyor anything else can depend that person’s gender identity. For example, it’s common for gender diverse people to prefer they, or other gender neutral pronouns. A female or male identifying person might prefer her or he pronouns respectively.


Why they’re important

There are lots of reasons it’s important to use the correct pronouns a person prefers, but the simple answer is it can make a person feel pretty shit when you use the wrong ones.

If someone uses 
different pronouns to what you might expect, they’ve probably thought long and hard about which ones and why.

Misgendering is a term used to describe accidentally or intentionally using incorrect pronouns about or towards a person, essentially using any pronouns than the ones a person asks people to use.

It’s not always easy to come out and tell people you’re trans* or prefer a new set of pronouns, so using the right ones really is a big deal and a pretty awesome thing.

Genitals ≠ Gender

This is probably the biggest mistake you can make.

It’s an easy assumption to make accidentally, but genitals and bodies in general don’t reflect anything about a person’s pronouns or gender.

Above all else, don’t try to argue this with a person. Even if you personally disagree, a person who’s asking you to use new pronouns more than likely already has their mind made up, and will probably also feel pretty hurt. Basically, what’s more important? Someone’s anatomy, or their happiness? 

Slipping up

Yes, stuffing up is pretty bad, but it does happen. Using new pronouns for a person can take some getting used to. Some can sound pretty strange, and changing the words you use in general can be harder than expected.

Slipping up can feel pretty awkward or even make you feel guilty, but it’s really important not to snap or take it out on the person you’re talking about or to. 

You might not pick it up instantly, and it’s important to try hard on this, but if you do slip don’t snap over it. Just keep trying your best and you’ll get the hang of it with time!

It’s important not to freak out, or get mad at the person if you’re struggling to use new pronouns. If you stuff up, the best approach is usually a quick correction and apology.

What you can do!

Practice, practice, practice! Now that you've got the basics, start trying to use the correct pronouns where possible.

Remember to always ask people what they prefer. Some people still might not openly use their new pronouns around everyone, like certain family members or friends, so check in and make sure not to 'out' anyone.

Having good, supportive, understanding people around is huge for any young trans person figuring themselves out. By being there for your friends, you're making a big difference.