Understanding Pronouns

What are Pronouns?

Pronouns are linguistic tools that we use to refer to people, such as they/them/theirs, she/her/hers, and he/him/his. Some people call these “female/feminine” and “male/masculine” pronouns; however, it is best to avoid these labels because not everyone who uses “he” is male or feels masculine. A person’s pronouns inform us how to best refer to and honor them. Pronouns do not indicate someone’s gender identity, as gender is personal, complex, and specific to the individual. 

Why We Share Our Pronouns

From our newest Ducks to our graduating flock, we are always working to include and engage everyone. One way you can do this is to, if you are comfortable, share your pronouns or the words you want to be called when people aren’t using your name. Like names, pronouns are an important part of how we identify, which deserves to be respected. Much like we should not assume someone’s gender, it is best not to assume someone’s pronouns, but rather, to use the pronouns someone shares with you.

As a community, we are all learning together about the importance of and practicing using people’s pronouns. We hope that you’ll join us in striving for inclusion, justice, and respect, especially toward and for trans and/or non-binary folks.

Using the Correct Pronouns

Using someone’s correct, defined as self-disclosed, pronouns shows that you respect the person you’re speaking to or about and their identity. It is important to practice in order to minimize mistakes. You should practice referring to people by their stated pronouns even when they are not present.

  • Asking for pronouns: You are welcome to ask what pronouns people use to ensure you know how to refer to them. However, it is important not to put anyone on the spot or unintentionally “out” people, so consider asking privately or normalize the option of sharing pronouns. For example: “What pronouns do you use?”
  • Providing opportunities to share pronouns: Provide frequent opportunities, such as at the beginning of the term, meetings, or events, in groups, or among friends and peers, to share pronouns without requiring sharing.
  • Modeling sharing pronouns: Model sharing pronouns by introducing yourself with your pronouns regularly. For example: “My name is Taylor and I use she/her pronouns. I invite you to share your own pronouns during introductions, though sharing is not required.”
  • When pronouns are unknown: If you are unsure about a person’s pronouns, consider using that person’s name in lieu of a pronoun. Alternatively, consider using they/them, as it is more gender inclusive. For example: “The student said they completed the assigned homework.”

Practice Thoughtful Apologies 

Practice supportive apologies to prepare when mistakes are made. As we connect across differences, it is not a question of if we make a mistake, but rather when we make a mistake. It is therefore important to acknowledge and take responsibility for our mistakes and to actively commit to do better in the future.

  • Misgendering or misnaming: It can be hurtful and harmful to be referred to by the wrong name, pronoun, or other gendered words such as ladies or guys. In conversation, if you make a mistake, apologize, correct yourself, and move on. Refrain from explaining intent or over-apologizing for making a mistake, as this places the person you harmed in the position of needing to comfort you and/or excuse your behavior. An effective way to respond in such a situation is: “Jamie said he discussed… sorry, they discussed… the class reading yesterday.” Make sure you practice to help prevent future mistakes!
  • Thoughtful apologies: If this is a growth area for you, practice. If you find yourself repeatedly misgendering someone, it is important to apologize sincerely and thoughtfully. Then, and on your own, take the time and initiative to reflect on your behavior to try to understand why you are continuing to make such mistakes. Recognizing that repeated pronoun errors may begin to feel intentional or thoughtless, continue to practice on your own time and with others and/or resources, such as Minus18

Types of Pronouns

He, him, his: These gendered pronouns are often used to refer to men, but not always. 

  • Tyler said he is going to Carson for brunch.
  • Robin told me that his favorite class was history.
  • That pen belongs to him.

She, her, hers: These gendered pronouns are often used to refer to women, but not always. 

  • Terry called me to say that she is signing up for the LGBTQ Cohort.
  • That bag is hers. 
  • We shouldn't go to the meeting without her. 

They, them, theirs: A non-gendered or all-gender pronoun. They/them may also be used when pronouns are unknown. This functions as both a singular and plural pronoun.

“They” was Meriam Webster’s dictionary 2019 word of the year, with a 313 percent increase in searches. The singular use of “they” dates from 1375!

  • Taylor doesn’t want to go to the movie because they think it’ll be scary.
  • Carl is studying abroad soon. I'm so excited for them!
  • I wonder who left their jacket.

Ze, hir, hirs: A non-gendered pronoun. Pronounced "zee," "here," and "heres."

  • Ze is meeting us before we walk to Autzen Stadium.
  • I heard hir singing at the Open Mic in Common Grounds.
  • I think that burrito is hirs.

Co, co, cos: A non-gendered pronoun. Pronounced "coh," "coh," and "cohs."

  • Jesse is going to be my roommate in Gender Inclusive Housing. Co is bringing a mini-fridge.
  • Did you wish co a "happy birthday" yet?
  • I just got back from cos room in Global Scholars Hall.

Per, per, pers: A non-gendered pronoun. Pronounced as it looks.

  • Per is going to Portland for the weekend.
  • We asked per to be the officiant at our wedding after the recent SCOTUS decision.
  • I left my phone in pers room.

Name only: Someone may also want to be referred to by their name only and not use pronouns. 

  • Ubo went back to Ubo’s house after the party.

Types of Honorifics

An honorific is a form of address indicating respect. These can be titles prefixing a person's name, such as Mr. Nagisa, Ms. Weinberg, or Mx. Rosales. The only way to know the honorific to best refer to someone is to ask, similar to using pronouns.

Mx: Pronounced “mix,” this is an alternative to common gendered honorifics such as Mr. and Ms. It is often used by trans and non-binary people, or those who do not wish to be referred to by gendered honorifics.

  • Dear Mx Ann...
  • I would like to welcome Mx Propp to the podium.
  • Ms. and Mx Parrish are a wonderful couple.

Mr: A gendered honorific often used to refer to men, but not always. 

Ms: A gendered honorific to refer to women, but not always. 

In the 20th century, “Ms.” was revived as a result of the inherent sexism in women's honorifics that indicate a woman's marital status. Previously “Miss” was used to indicate an unmarried woman and “Mrs.” meant a woman was married. There is no such distinction in the men’s honorific, which has been limited to “Mr.” For this reason, among gendered honorifics, the use of Ms. is preferred as it sheds a sexist gender distinction.

Having Conversations

Starting a dialogue about the importance of pronouns can be informative and powerful. Here are a few quick, one-sentence explanations you can use to explain why it's important to share pronouns!

  • I share mine because I don’t want anyone to feel unsafe or unwelcome and I think this helps.
  • I think that sharing my pronouns helps everyone feel included and respected.
  • If we just asked trans people to share them, it would put them on the spot or make them carry the burden. 
  • Sharing my pronouns helps make my workspace more welcoming to UO Ducks of all genders.
  • I want to make sure that everyone gets my name and pronouns right every time. I want to make sure I get everyone else’s name and pronouns right, too!
  • I think it’s more respectful not to assume someone’s gender based on how I think they look. I’m sharing mine so that you won’t have to assume either!
  • I share mine because I am an active ally to the LGBTQIA+ community. 
  • I share mine because I am so proud to be trans, and having the chance to share my pronouns at work is phenomenal!
  • I share my pronouns so that people have the chance to remember that assumptions about gender hurt us all.
  • Because I always want to fight prejudice against transgender, genderqueer, and non-binary people whenever and wherever I can.
  • I believe in radical acceptance and unconditional love.

Pronoun Ribbons

If you are a student, staff, or faculty member wishing to receive a pronoun ribbon for your nametag, please use our online form.

Request Pronoun Ribbons

Learning More

Want to learn more about being an ally to the trans community? Sign up for a training with the Queer Ally Coalition!