Gender Pronouns or Pronouns of Reference
Pronouns are often used to refer to a person’s gender identity. Several systems of pronouns have been created to refer to others without assigning them into the gender binary system. Pronouns of reference are the set of pronouns that an individual would like others to use when talking to or about that individual. Examples include, but are not limited to:
He, him, his – pronouns typically used to refer to another person who identifies as masculine.
She, her, hers – pronouns typically used to refer to another person who identifies as feminine.
They, them, theirs – gender neutral or gender inclusive pronouns which do not associate a gender with the individual who is being discussed.
Ze, hir, hirs - gender neutral or gender inclusive pronouns created by transgender and non-binary communities which do not associate a gender with the individual who is being discussed.
Ze, zir, zirs - gender neutral or gender inclusive pronouns created by transgender and non-binary communities which do not associate a gender with the individual who is being discussed.
Source: The University of Iowa. Identity Terminology
For a comprehensive list of terminology related to gender identity and sexual orientation visit Trans Educational Student Resources' LGBTQ+ Definitions
Why Are Gender Pronouns Important?
Understanding pronouns beyond the two options of she, her, hers and he, him, his creates space for experiences and identities outside of the gender binary. We have been taught to make assumptions about people’s pronouns based on the way they look and the way we perceive them. While using pronouns on autopilot may not have bad intent, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful, but also oppressive. When someone is mispronouned, it can make the person feel disrespected, alienated, dismissed, invalidated, or dysphoric.
Source: Washington State University. Gender Pronouns
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What if I make a mistake with someone's pronouns?
That's okay, we all make mistakes. The best thing to do if you use the wrong pronoun for someone is to say something right away, like “Sorry, I meant (insert pronoun).” Don't over apologize, simply say you're sorry and move on.
2. How do I ask someone what pronouns they use?
Simply asking, “what pronouns do you use?” can provide an opportunity for someone to offer their gender pronouns for you to use. Other options include: “how would you like me to refer to you?” or “how would you like to be addressed?”
Another option is to begin by offering the pronouns you use. Try: “I use they, them, their pronouns. Do you mind if I ask what pronouns you’d like me to use when referring to you? I want to make sure I respect your identity.”
3. Why are people asking me about my pronouns even though I’m not transgender? How should I answer?
To be increasingly gender inclusive on campus many faculty, staff, and students will ask you for your pronouns of reference. You could very well be asked to share your pronouns while introducing yourself in class, in a meeting, and/or when meeting new people.
When someone asks you what your pronouns are, or what pronouns you use, they’re asking how you like to be referred to — as she, he, they, a less common option like ze, xe, or ey, or by name rather than pronoun. The person asking you this question wants to make sure they refer to you respectfully rather than making assumptions. Chances are they ask lots of people this question, so it isn’t intended as a personal judgement or insult, nor does it necessarily mean they think you’re trans.
Source: FAQ about Pronouns & Trans People
For a detailed list of frequently asked questions related to gender identity visit