Skip to main content Skip to main content

Why pronouns matter

In honor of LGBTQIA History Month, here are some tips on using inclusive and respectful language.

By Steve Willich

October 20, 2020

International Pronouns Day Oct. 21, 2020 graphicAs part of the LGBTQ Student Resource Center’s programming for LGBTQIA History Month, the center is partnering with the University of Colorado Denver’s Women and Gender Center to recognize and promote International Pronouns Day on Wednesday. Here is some helpful information about what pronouns are and why they are so important.

What are pronouns?

Pronouns are used to refer to a person in place of using that person’s name. In many languages, pronouns are used to signal formality and respect for people of higher family, professional or social status, and informality and intimacy with people with whom we share closer, more intimate connections.

Pronouns are also used to signal a person’s gender. In English, the most common pronouns used to refer to someone in the third person are he/him/his, she/her/hers and they/them/theirs. Many other sets of pronouns have been created or drawn from other languages. Some of those sets of pronouns include e/em/eir, xe/xem/xyr, ze/zie, hir/hir/hirs, and shkle/shkler/shklers. There are other pronoun options not listed here.

Why do pronouns matter?

The words we use to talk to and about a person can show that we respect, honor and value that person. By using the correct pronouns to talk about someone, you show not only that you respect and value that person but also that you respect the right of all people to be seen, valued and respected.

As a general rule, it’s important to ask people what pronouns they use instead of assuming based on how a person looks, acts or sounds.

What is the difference between pronouns and “preferred” pronouns? 

Most often, individuals do not have a preference with their pronouns; they simply have pronounsUsing “preferred” as a qualifier can indicate that respecting someone’s pronouns is optional.

To avoid the misconception that respecting someone’s pronouns is optional, do not use “preferred” to describe pronouns. 

What if I mess up someone’s pronouns and/or hear someone else mess up someone’s pronouns?

If you accidentally use the wrong pronouns for someone, correct yourself, apologize and move on. If you hear someone else use the wrong pronouns for someone, it may be appropriate to correct that person immediately or to follow up privately with that person to make sure they know what pronouns to use.

Recognize that it is exhausting for trans and gender nonconforming folks to constantly correct those they are interacting with to ensure that they are not misgendered. It is your responsibility to ensure that is not their reality.

Help spread the word about the importance and proper usage of pronouns.

  • Introductions: Whether in person, in a meeting or on a call, normalize the use of introducing pronouns. It’s as simple as saying “Hi, my name is Steve, and I use he/him/his pronouns.”
  • Put your pronouns in your email signature.
  • When you get new business cards printed, have your pronouns printed below your name.
  • Download these backgrounds for Zoom and Teams, created by the LGBTQ Student Resource Center’s brilliant student-team member Corbett.

Topics: Events, Inclusion, LGBTQ Student Resource Center

Edit this page