You’ve probably heard a lot about pronouns lately. You may even have a few friends who list their pronouns in their social media bios or e-mail signatures. So why do pronouns matter? This guide will shed some light on what pronouns are, why they’re important in shaping our identities, and how to get comfortable talking about them.

What exactly is a pronoun?

A pronoun refers to a person (like I and you), or someone or something that is being referred to indirectly (like she, he, them, and this). Pronouns are used as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases, and the people or things to which they refer are generally understood within a conversation’s context. Gender identity and preference, as opposed to sex, determine a person’s pronouns.

What’s the difference between gender identity and sex?

While sex is assigned at birth and largely based on physical anatomy, gender identity is based on a person’s experience with their own identity. It’s important to note that a person may identify with a gender that does not align with their physical characteristics. Further, a person may not align with a concrete gender at all.

What is a gender pronoun?

A gender pronoun is a person’s chosen or preferred pronoun. For example, if Ella’s preferred pronouns are he, him, and his, you might say, “Ella is tired because he rode his bike to work today.”

Why should I care about pronouns?

My name is Veronica. I’ve spent my life answering to “Victoria” or “Vanessa” in both professional and personal settings. In fact, I’ve become so accustomed to my name being mixed up that I’ll respond to just about any name that begins with a V.

But in the moments immediately after an acquaintance or colleague calls me by the wrong name, something happens. I get quiet, I feel small, and I can sense the insidious heat of embarrassment creeping down my spine. I wonder if I should correct the mistake or simply nod along amicably. It’s awkward.

Think about your preferred pronoun. Is it he or she? Imagine that someone has used the wrong pronoun to refer to you. Imagine that they do it again, even after you’ve corrected them. Are you feeling frustrated yet? Using the wrong pronouns in the place of someone’s name is known as misgendering.

Using a person’s preferred pronouns can help to eliminate embarrassment, make them feel valued, and promote meaningful social connection. By referring to people in a way that aligns with their identity, you’re demonstrating that you truly see and hear them. 

What are some examples of pronouns?

There are many options to consider when choosing your preferred pronouns, but we’ve listed some of the most popular traditional and gender-neutral pronouns below.






Name: Some people prefer not to use pronouns at all and choose to be called by their name.

How do I know which pronouns to use when speaking to someone new?

Ask! You can use any pronouns that suit you. Start a conversation with someone new by offering your own pronouns first. “Hi, my name is Tom. I prefer to use he/him pronouns.”

This might feel uncomfortable at first, but you’ll quickly get used to the habit. Soon enough, it’ll feel like you’re chatting about your hometown or your favorite band.

But what if I use the wrong pronouns?

Everyone makes mistakes. Maybe you’ve caught yourself using the wrong pronouns, or perhaps you’ve been corrected by someone else.  Acknowledge your error and move on. More importantly, try not to make the same mistake again.

Need help remembering? Try to mentally practice a person’s name and pronouns. By repeating these words over and over again, you’re strengthening the mental muscles responsible for retrieving information about others.

Using a mnemonic or memory device can also be helpful. Think of a picture, a phrase, or a rhyme that reminds you of a person’s name and pronouns. For example, “Ella’s house is near the sea. His pronouns are him and he.”

This guide is a good place to start in understanding gender identity and pronoun usage, but nothing beats in-person interaction! Open a dialogue with friends both inside and outside of your circle about gender and inclusivity. Be sure to ask people who they are and how they prefer to be addressed. You are the key to a kinder and more respectful future!