What are pronouns?
Pronouns are words that we use to refer to people when we’re not using their name. You probably learned about them in school. But they’re more important than you would consider them to be. Using the right pronouns to refer to a person can be one of the easiest ways to show them respect and help them to affirm themselves. It is also one of the best ways to promote an inclusive atmosphere within your organisation. Pronouns ≠ Gender
Different types of pronouns:
Pronouns are generally grouped by whether they’re ‘gendered’ or ‘gender-neutral’.
Singular gender-neutral pronouns are not only grammatically correct, but they’ve been around for centuries. Gender-neutral pronouns are also a polite and easy way to refer to someone until you know what pronouns they use.
Read more about them here
Examples of gendered pronouns, gender-neutral pronouns and neo-pronouns:
Some people prefer using neo-pronouns as an alternative gender-neutral pronoun set. This can be because:
They want to avoid singular “they” being confused with plural “they
- Neo-pronouns express something about them or their gender
- They feel more comfortable using neo-pronouns over any of the standard pronoun options.
Neo-pronouns are any set of singular third person pronouns that are not officially recognized in the language they are used in, typically created with the intent of being a gender-neutral pronoun set.
The importance of pronouns:
There are lots of reasons as to why it’s important to use the correct pronouns for a person. Using the right pronouns to refer to a person can be one of the easiest ways to build rapport, show them respect, and help them to affirm themselves. On the flipside, using the wrong pronouns to refer to someone can actually be quite harmful even if it is accidental or unintentional.
“Misgendering” is a term used to describe accidentally or intentionally using incorrect pronouns about or towards a person. It can happen as an accident, and that's okay. The important thing to remember is that it’s okay to make mistakes but not to make a big deal out of it. Apologise and rectify your mistake and then move on. A good way to prevent this from occurring too often is to practice using someone’s pronouns mentally before using them out loud in conversation.
We spent time with community members and asked them about the importance of pronouns, here’s what they had to say.
What can I do as an ally?
Practice, practice, practice! Now that you've got the basics, start trying to use the correct pronouns where possible.
A tried and true method of displaying allyship is by remembering to always ask people how they identify and what pronouns they use to describe themselves. Some people still might not openly use their new pronouns around everyone, like certain family members or friends, so check in and make sure not to 'out' anyone. Ask privately whenever possible to reduce discomfort. If you’re unsure of a person’s pronouns and it doesn’t seem appropriate to ask at the time, then avoid using pronouns by referring to them by their name.
Another great way to show support for the LGBTQ community as an ally is to display your pronouns in some way at your workplace, or in a professional setting. This shows that you take correct pronoun usage seriously and also encourages your clients to be more confident in being themselves around you and your organisation. It also helps to normalise pronouns. Here are some great places that you can add your pronouns to:
- Name tags
- Email signature
- Social media profiles e.g Instagram bios
- Video calls
- Business cards
- Intake forms
Displaying posters like these can help show that you respect pronouns in your service.
You can also buy pronoun badges and use them to start a conversation about pronouns in the workplace or in your community.
ACON Pride Training has our own range of pronoun badges that you can find here
Using the wrong pronouns to refer to someone can actually be quite harmful even if it is accidental or unintentional.
Misgendering is a term used to describe accidentally or intentionally using incorrect pronouns about or towards a person. It can happen as an accident, and that's okay. It’s important to know that when mistakes occur, that you should apologise for the mistake but try not to make a big deal of it. Just keep trying your best and move on.
Remember! Practice makes perfect. So, try practicing pronoun usage in your head if you know someone who uses pronouns that you’re unused to using in conversation. This will make it easier when addressing them next time.
Remember to always ask people how they identify and what pronouns they use to describe themselves. Some people still might not openly use their new pronouns around everyone, like certain family members or friends, so check in and make sure not to 'out' anyone.
Some people may prefer to be described using only their first name instead of a gendered pronoun. We can ask people directly how they wish to be described, e.g. “what pronouns do you use?”
We can respect the dignity of each individual by respecting that person’s wishes regarding use or non-use of pronouns.
Ask privately whenever possible to reduce discomfort. If you’re unsure of a person’s pronouns and it doesn’t seem appropriate to ask at the time then refer to them by their name.
Yes! It is okay to ask someone’s pronouns but ask privately whenever possible to reduce discomfort. If you’re unsure of a person’s pronouns and it doesn’t seem appropriate to ask at the time, then refer to them by their name.
Some people may only want to be referred to by their name, may not wish to share their pronouns, or may go by multiple sets of pronouns or only certain pronouns in certain contexts. This is why we should ask people directly how they wish to be described.
Sharing your own pronouns can help as it lets people know how you like to be referred to, and it also creates a culture where it's okay to share pronouns, and by sharing you invite others to share their pronouns with you as well.
Yes! The pronouns someone uses can change at any time. That’s why it’s good to make a habit of checking what pronouns a person is using before beginning to use them. It is important to respect people's pronouns. You can't always know what someone's pronouns are by looking at them. Asking and correctly using someone's pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for someone’s gender identity.
Most people have personal pronouns. Whether they use she, he, or they, or anything else can depend that person’s gender identity. However, there are certain people who may not use any pronouns and want you to always use their name instead to refer to them. Remember to always ask to see what people are comfortable with
Some languages do not have gendered personal pronouns, and so this is not an issue or concern. Some languages have gendered terms that people use referring to themselves (not just in referring to others). Some languages gender more than just pronouns, including various nouns and adjectives describing people. Some languages, like Chinese and Persian, don’t assign nouns a gender or already have a gender-neutral form for people built in.
Arabic is another grammatically gendered language, with each verb, noun and adjective always assigned either a male or female case. The male is the default in plurals, even if it’s just one male in an otherwise female group.
Modern standard Arabic, based on Koranic classical Arabic, additionally has a dual option for nouns and verbs that doesn’t imply a specific gender. Some people therefore use the dual of they and you — “huma” (هما) and “intuma” (انتما) — as a gender-neutral alternative. Colloquial Arabic spoken today has largely done away with the dual, so this form can sound very formal to those not in the know.
Hebrew, like Arabic, assigns a gender to verbs, nouns, and adjectives based on the noun. LGBTQ and feminist activists in Hebrew have similarly championed inverting the gender divides, such as defaulting to a feminine plural or using a “mixed” gender, sometimes male and sometimes female for the same person. In Israel, a related approach is to put both the male and female cases on nouns and verbs, sometimes with a period in between, so that all are fluidly included. For example, “I write” — “kotev” (כותב) in the masculine and “kotevet” (כותבת) in the feminine — alternatively could be כותב.ת in this form.
Spanish pronouns can vary between different locations. Now that trans communities are organizing for change, there are even more gender-neutral options. Two popular adaptions are the use of “@” or “x” to indicate the inclusion of all genders. For example: Latin@ and Latinx. While there is the gender-neutral pronoun ello, it’s primarily used in the same way as it in English and similarly considered offensive. Consequently, the Chilean non-binary community combined the feminine ella and the masculine él to develop a new pronoun, elle. The ending -e indicates the gender, or lack thereof, for nouns.
In Portugese, while they do use the "@" and "x" those are mostly used for written texts. It would be hard to pronounce these characters at the end of the words. So, something that they have done is to use the letter "e" at the end of the words to make them gender-neutral.
Menina = girl
Menino = boy
Menine = gender-neutral child
Normally, words ending in "a" are feminine and words ending in "o" are masculine, although there are exceptions.