Why pronouns matter

We explain the importance of referring to people using the correct pronouns.

Pronouns are words we frequently use to refer to people in third person. In English, third-person pronouns are gendered. For example, “She set up this meeting,” or “They brought a projector.”  

To refer to someone correctly, you need to know what pronouns they use, or whether they use their name instead of pronouns. 

Why should you share your pronouns? 

Sharing our pronouns is part of creating a culture where we don’t make assumptions. You cannot tell what gender someone is – if they identify with a gender at all – from hearing a name or meeting a person briefly. After all, there is no way someone must look, sound or act to be a certain gender, use a certain set of pronouns, or not use pronouns at all. This is why – even if you identify with the sex you were assigned at birth (also referred to as cisgender) it is important to share your pronouns. 

Sharing our pronouns also creates a culture where people can control where and how they are “out” to each other. Someone may want to use one set of pronouns at work, but another at home – maybe it isn’t safe for everyone to know they are transgender.  

Why do pronouns matter? 

Using someone's chosen pronouns is a sign of respect – the same as remembering and using someone's name. Using the wrong pronouns for someone can be invalidating to them as a person. It can cause others to feel uncomfortable or even humiliated. However, different people have different relationships to their gender, and experience different levels of discomfort when someone refers to them wrong – just like the same insult might make more of an impact on you than on a friend. 

Using someone's correct pronouns is especially important for transgender or gender nonconforming individuals. Often, they have already experienced repeated instances of others using the wrong pronouns and/or invalidating their identity in other ways. Though someone may not mean any harm, using or assuming the wrong pronouns for someone with this history can be especially painful. Misgendering someone by using the wrong pronouns sends the message that people have to look, sound, or act a certain way to be a specific gender.  

What should I do?

  • Share your pronouns in introductions and on written materials, like your email signature, and ask other people what theirs are.
  • Unless they explicitly tell you not to, use the correct pronouns for someone whether they are in the room or not, and help other people around you to do the same. You can say, “You may not have known this, but Lan actually uses they/them pronouns” or “AJ uses AJ’s name instead of pronouns.”  
    • If you know someone well, you can ask them how they prefer for you to correct others. 
  • Inform others only about someone's pronouns, not someone's identity.  
    • For example, if your new coworker asks about the pronouns of someone they haven’t met yet, you can just say “Jamie uses she/her pronouns” – you don’t need to say, “Jamie is a trans woman.” 
    • You don’t need to bring up someone’s trans identity – not everyone wants that shared. 

What do I do if I use the wrong pronouns for someone? 

If you use an incorrect pronoun for someone, correct yourself, apologize briefly and move on. Don't dwell on it; just say, “She – sorry, I mean he – wrote up the agenda.”  

If you used an incorrect pronoun for someone earlier and didn’t realize it in the moment, you can reach out to them and apologize briefly. Don’t dwell on it, just say “Sorry, I know you use your name instead of pronouns, and I messed that up earlier. I will get it right next time.” The most valuable thing you can do is learn more and practice getting it right in the future, rather than making them listen to an extended apology in the moment. 

What are some examples of pronouns?

Subject 

Object 

Possessive 

Pronunciation 

Example 

She 

Her 

Hers 

As it looks 

She brought her notes 

He 

Him 

His 

As it looks 

He brought his notes 

They 

Them 

Theirs 

As it looks 

They brought their notes 

Ze 

Hir 

Hirs 

Zee/Here/Heres 

Ze brought hir notes 

People may use: 

  • One of the sets of pronouns in the table above 
  • A name instead of pronouns (i.e., “Jen left Jen’s computer at work”). 
  • Multiple sets of pronouns (i.e. they/them theirs and she/her/hers). Many people use multiple sets of pronouns, which means either is fine to refer to them. You’re welcome to ask them if they have a preference or if they want you to actively switch between both. 
  • There are many more options. If you don’t know how to pronounce or use a set of pronouns, you can look them up. 

How can I get better at this? 

If someone in your life recently changed their pronouns, or you met someone who uses pronouns you haven’t seen before, it will take practice to get it right. That’s okay! If you’re getting used to using a new set of pronouns or to using a name instead of pronouns, you can pretend your pet, a stranger on the street, or anyone/anything else uses those/no pronouns. Spend some time making up practice sentences about them. If you’re talking about someone who uses no pronouns, you’re going to feel like you’re using a name a lot – that's okay. 

If someone you know recently changed their pronouns, talk about them! Ask a friend to help you practice out loud, or make up sentences about them while doing the dishes or commuting to work. 

If you have never thought much about your own pronouns, you probably aren’t used to noticing how often we use pronouns in a sentence. You may think that you’re doing a great job using someone’s pronouns, or name in place of pronouns – and then they’ll tell you five places you messed up! Practicing with a friend or writing down sentences can be a good way to double-check if you’re actually getting it right. 

Where can I go for more resources?

City of Minneapolis staff can request the Gender Inclusivity 101 Training for your department from HR. Find your HR Business Partner on CityTalk. 

If you want to learn more, we recommend the following resources: 

 

 

 

 

 

Contact us

Division of Race and Equity

City Coordinator's Office

Phone

 

Address

City Hall
350 S. 5th St, Room 302
Minneapolis, MN 55415