Here you will find some frequently asked questions on using preferred pronouns.

How do I take an active role?

In your classes or elsewhere on campus you may hear students or colleagues using the wrong pronoun for someone. In most cases, it is appropriate to gently correct them without further embarrassing the individual for whom the incorrect pronoun was used.

  • You can try saying something like “Actually, Frankie prefers the pronoun she.” And then move on.
  • It might help to ask the individual who has been misidentified what, if anything, they would like you to do.
    • You can say something like “I noticed that you were getting referred to with the wrong pronoun earlier, and I know that that can be really hurtful. Would you be okay with me speaking to them and reminding them about your personal pronoun? What can I do to make sure that this group is a safe space for you.” Follow up if necessary, but take your cues from the individual.
How do I ask someone what their preferred pronoun is?

Try asking: "What is your preferred pronoun?" or "Which pronouns do you prefer that people use for you?" or "Can you remind me which pronouns you use for yourself?"

  • It can feel awkward at first, but asking for a preferred pronoun can avoid hurtful assumptions. People will most likely appreciate your effort if you start off by asking what their preferred pronoun is, and for those who aren’t familiar with preferred pronouns, this is your chance to share what you know!

If you are asking as part of an introduction exercise and you want to quickly explain what a preferred pronoun is, you can try something like this: “Tell us your name, where you come from, and your preferred pronoun. That means the pronoun you like to be referred to with. For example, my preferred pronouns are they, them, and theirs.”

  • When taking class attendance, one method is to call roll by last name, and have students respond with their preferred name and pronouns.
What is a personal pronoun?

A pronoun is a word that refers to either the people talking (I or you) or someone or something that is being talked about (he, she, it, them, and this).

What are some commonly used pronouns?

She, her, hers and he, him, his are the most commonly used pronouns. Some people call these “female/feminine” and “male/masculine” pronouns, but some choose not to use these labels because they do not identify as female/feminine, male/masculine, or for political reasons.

A gender-neutral or gender-inclusive pronoun is a pronoun that is not gender-specific. Some languages, including English, do not have gender-neutral or third gender pronouns and instead “he/his” and “she/hers” are typically used when referring to a generic individual in the third person. People who are limited by languages that do not include gender-neutral pronouns have attempted to create them, in the interest of greater equality.  

Some examples of gender-inclusive/gender-neutral pronouns that have been added to the English language and how to use them grammatically:

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Here are the most commonly heard gender-inclusive/gender-neutral pronouns:

  • They, them, theirs (Alex ate their food because they were hungry.) This is a pretty common gender-neutral pronoun…. And yes, it can in fact be used in the singular.
  • Ze, hir (Quinn ate hir food because zewas hungry.)
    • Ze is pronounced like “zee” and can also be spelled zie or xe, and replaces she/he/they. Hir is pronounced like “here” and replaces her/hers/him/his/they/theirs.

 Name Preference

  • Just my name please! (Phoenix ate Phoenix’s food because Phoenix was hungry.) Some people prefer to not use pronouns, and would like their names to be used instead.
Why is it important to respect preferred pronouns as students, faculty, staff, administrators and allies?

When someone is referred to by the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, or alienated. Asking and correctly using someone’s preferred pronoun is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity and to cultivate an environment that respects all gender identities. Making a commitment to this action sets an example for our community.

What if I make a mistake?

Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. If you use the wrong pronoun, apologize, correct it, and then move on. If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on. Avoid continually talking about how bad you feel for making the mistake, because it could make the person feel like they need to console you and/or create uncomfortable or unsafe environments for them if others are not aware of differences between their preferred and legal name/pronoun.

Never refer to a person as “it” or “he-she,” unless the individual requests that you do so. These are offensive slurs used against trans* and gender non-conforming individuals.

What is a preferred pronoun?

A preferred pronoun is a pronoun an individual chooses to identify with and would prefer others use when talking to or about that individual. It is the pronoun that a person uses for themself.