What is a pronoun?

  • A pronoun is any word that can replace a noun or noun phrase (I, you, them).
  • Gender pronouns refer specifically to people who are being talked about (he, she, him,his, her).

Give me some examples!

  • She, her, hers
  • He, him, his
  • They, them, theirs (in the plural or singular)
  • Ze or zie (pronounced like “Zee”), replaces she, he, they
  • Hir/hirs (pronounced like “here”), replaces her/hers, him/his, or them/theirs
  • Some people don’t use pronouns, and would like their names to be used instead (i.e. “Mel just left to go visit Mel’s parents.”)

Singular They
It may seem tricky at first, but in fact, English-speakers often use “they” to refer to a single person when gender is unknown or unspecified.

The Economist had a great piece about the singular they, Johnson: Singular they February 19, 2014

Them, Themself, and They by Ben Yagoda January 26, 2016

How should I ask what pronouns someone uses?

  • You can simply ask “What pronouns do you use?” to the individual in private.

This may feel uncomfortable at first, but you do not want to say the wrong pronouns based on assumptions, and the student will most likely appreciate your effort.

  • You can also ask about pronoun use as part of a group exercise, which would allow you to explain to the group what you are talking about. You could say something like: “Everyone tell your name, a fun fact about you, and what pronoun you use. For some of you not use to stating what pronoun you use, this is the pronoun you like to be referred to with. For example, I use he, him, and his to refer to myself.”
  • You could send an introduction e-mail out to your class before you meet. Include text asking students for their gender pronouns (students may use anything from him, her, they, zie, or just their names), and if they would like to use a name that may not be represented on the roster. If a student does reach out to you, use that name. If you have a smaller class, you could use placards that include a student’s name and pronouns.
  • Avoid calling the roll or otherwise reading the roster aloud until you have given students a chance to state what they prefer to be called, in case the roster represents a prior/different name.
  • Pass around a sign-in sheet and ask them to indicate these two items (name and pronouns) in writing, and then use them when you call on students or refer to them in class.
  • If you make a mistake: That’s okay! If you use the wrong pronoun, apologize and correct it, and then move on. Avoid continually talking about how bad you feel for making the mistake, because it makes the person feel like they need to console you. If you forget someone’s pronouns, follow the same protocol: apologize, correct it, and move on.
  • If other students or faculty are using the wrong pronoun for a person, try to correct it by saying something like “Actually, Alex uses the pronoun she.” If students or faculty continue to use the wrong pronoun, do not ignore it. It might help to ask the individual who has been misidentified if they would like you to take the person aside and remind them of the proper pronoun. Steps like this let the person know you are an ally.

Why is it important to respect pronouns as faculty staff members, or allies?

  • You can’t always tell what pronoun someone uses by looking at a person.
  • Faculty and Staff are often in positions of power, so by respecting one’s pronouns consistently, you set an example for peers and other students.
  • When someone is referred to by the wrong pronoun, it can make the person feel disrespected and alienated.
  • Inquiring about pronouns is a simple way to show you want to cultivate an environment that respects all gender identities.
  • Include your gender pronouns in print anywhere you think it is appropriate. This can include e-mail signatures, on your website, or syllabus.

Misgendering is a term used to describe accidentally or intentionally using incorrect pronouns about or towards a person, essentially using any pronouns than the ones a person asks people to use.

It’s not always easy to come out and tell people you’re trans* or that you use a new set of pronouns, so using the right ones really is a big deal and a pretty awesome thing.


Nominative (subject) Objective (object) Possessive determiner Possessive Pronoun Reflexive
Some pronouns
He He laughed I called him His eyes gleam That is his He likes himself
She She laughed I called her Her eyes gleam That is hers She likes herself
It It laughed I called it Its eyes gleam That is its It likes
They They laughed I calledthem Their eyes gleam That is theirs They like themself
Some more pronouns
Ne Ne laughed I called nem Nir eyes gleam That is nirs Ne likes nemself
Ve Ve laughed I called ver Vis eyes gleam That is vis Ve likes verself
Spivak Ey laughed I called em Eir eyes gleam That is eirs Ey likes
Ze (or zie) and hir Ze laughed I called hir Hir eyes gleam That is hirs Ze likes hirself
Ze (or zie) and zir Ze laughed I called zir Zir eyes gleam That is zirs Ze likes zirself
Xe Xe laughed I called xem Xyr eyes gleam That is xyrs Xe likes xemself

I’ve heard the phrase, Preferred Gender Pronouns, or PGP’s. Why don’t you use that language at Williams?

To say “preferred” gives room for people to ignore your preference. Pronoun choice is often a much deeper part of ones identity than a preference. I might prefer blue over yellow m&m’s but it is not a core part of my identity. The name someone chooses to go by and their pronouns are a very personal and thought through part of their identity. It is important to respect that.

(some information borrowed from:  LBGT Resource Center at Michigan State UniversityGender Neutral Pronoun Blog,, and this Wikipedia page.)