Using Pronouns

When we use pronouns like “she” or “he” to identify a person without asking them what pronouns they use, we might be making an assumption about that person’s gender that differs from their gender identity. Some people express their gender in a non-binary way and use pronouns such as they/them or ze/hir/hirs. People who look to be one gender to you may identify as another gender.

Example Gender Pronouns (this list is not exhaustive)


Using the table as a guide, see these pronouns in action:

  • Subject: (1) feeds a cat
  • Object: Give a cat to (2)
  • Possessive: (3) favorite cat is orange
  • Possessive pronoun: The cat is (4)
  • Reflexive: (1) likes (5)

So, how do we avoid making incorrect assumptions about gender pronouns and make our campus welcoming to transgender, gender non-binary, and gender creative people? ASK! Or use gender-neutral pronouns, like “they” or “them.” We get that asking for people’s pronouns can be awkward. Here are some tips:

Kick things off by asking: “Which pronouns do you use?”

Recognize that while this might make some people confused, it’s also an awesome opportunity to explain why you doing it, and it will really mean something to those who have been misidentified or care about the issue.

Don’t expect that if you ask once, you’re set forever — people’s (gender) identities can change, so check in.   

Introduce yourself using pronouns!

It’s really easy to incorporate pronouns into your introductions. For example, you could say, “Hey, I’m Schiller and I’m from Germany, I’m a senior English and Philosophy double major and I use he/him pronouns.”

Pronoun Buttons are always available at the Gender & Sexuality Center, feel free to stop by Clader House to get one to put on your backpack, jacket, etc.

Pronoun Etiquette

  • During group introductions, invite people to share their pronouns if they are comfortable, but assure them that they can choose not to.
  • Partially conjugate the pronouns you use during introductions – for example, “I use she/her/hers pronouns.”
  • Do not say “I use female pronouns” or “I use male pronouns.”
  • Do not joke or say things like “Well, I use he/him/his pronouns, OBVIOUSLY.”
  • Asking people to share pronouns does not tell you anything about a person’s identity, just how they’d like to be addressed (like their name). 
  • It’s OK to be uncomfortable with something new; practice lessens discomfort.

Common Pronouns

  • she/her/hers
  • he/him/his 
  • they/them/theirs (singular)
  • ze/hir/hirs 

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