What are pronouns?
Within the English language, pronouns are used to describe ourselves and/or other people. For example:
- Using the first person, you might say: I/me/my/mine/myself (singular) or we/us/our/ours/ourselves (plural)
- Using the second person, you might say: you/your/yours/yourself (singular and plural)
Unlike first and second person pronouns, third person pronouns are words that people use to refer to others without using their names.
However, when we talk about someone in the third person, we often imply someone’s gender, such as ‘he/him/his’ to refer to a man/boy or ‘she/her/hers’ to refer to a woman/girl.
As Using someone’s creates an inclusive environment. a society, we often make assumptions about the gender of another person based on their appearance and/or name. However, these assumptions aren’t always correct.
Personal pronouns, therefore, refer to someone using language that is unique and individual to how that person wishes to identify themselves (often based on their gender identity or expression).
Why is it important to use people’s pronouns?
When someone asks you to use their pronouns, they are asking you to respect their identity. Using someone’s preferred pronouns shows that you respect them as person and creates an inclusive environment.
When someone refers to another person using the wrong pronouns, this can lead to that person feeling disrespected and can lead to dysphoria, exclusion, and alienation. In particular, for those who are transgender, nonbinary or gender non-conforming, incorrect use of personal pronouns can be offensive or even harmful to their wellbeing.
Using gender neutral pronouns means we don’t associate the person we’re talking about with a specific gender. It also means we don’t make stereotypical assumptions about a person’s life such as who they love, what they do for a living or their hobbies or interests.
How do pronouns impact my day-to-day life?
An easy way to ensure that you do not assume someone’s pronouns is by using ‘they/them’, by default, when you do not explicitly know a person’s gender. By using gender-neutral pronouns (and language), we can avoid making assumptions about another person’s gender, as well as avoid making any stereotypical assumptions about that person’s lifestyle.
One of the best ways to be inclusive and respectful is to ask a person what their pronouns are. People may use different pronouns in different settings, so asking about a person’s pronouns, means that you will not only valid them as a person, but ensure that you are not accidently ‘outing’ them.
Mistakes happen. If you mistakenly use the wrong pronouns, apologise, correct the pronouns, and carry on. It is recommended not to over-apologise, as this can draw more attention, putting the person in the spotlight, and forcing them into a situation where they have to validate your mistake (for example, saying ‘it’s OK’).
Another way to promote inclusivity is to share your own personal pronouns. Sharing and displaying pronouns:
- Helps people respectfully refer to one another
- Helps avoid mistakes that can be helpful
- Visibly demonstrates allyship
Adding pronouns to email signatures and LinkedIn can help normalise the importance of using correct pronouns, developing an inclusive environment. However, it should be noted that this is not the only act of allyship you can demonstrate, so if you are not comfortable sharing your pronouns publicly, this does not mean you do not support inclusivity.