Pronouns

What are Pronouns? Why Do They Matter?

A pronoun is a word that refers to either the people talking (I or you) or someone or something that is being talked about (like she, it, them, and this). Gender pronouns (he/she/they/ze etc.) specifically refer to people that you are talking about.

Words are powerful language tools that help us convey meaning and connect. We use words to communicate, characterize, and describe everything around us. Nothing may be more personal than the words people use to refer to us through our names and pronouns. 

A gender neutral or gender inclusive pronoun is a pronoun which does not associate a gender with the individual who is being discussed.


Some languages, such as English, do not have a gender neutral or third gender pronoun available, and this has been criticized, since in many instances, writers, speakers, etc. use "he/his" when referring to a generic individual in the third person. Also, the dichotomy of "he and she" in English does not leave room for other gender identities, which is a source of frustration to the transgender and gender queer communities.

What are some commonly used pronouns?

She/her/hers and he/him/his are a few commonly used pronouns. Some people call these "female/feminine" and "male/masculine" pronouns, but many avoid these labels because not everyone who uses he feels like a "male" or "masculine."

There are also lots of gender-neutral pronouns in use.

Here are a few you might hear:

  • They/them/theirs (Shea ate their food because they were hungry.) This is a pretty common gender-neutral pronoun and it can be used in the singular. In fact, "they" was voted as the Word of the Year in 2015.
  • Ze/hir/hir (Tyler ate hir food because ze was hungry.) Ze is pronounced like "zee" can also be spelled zie or xe, and replaces she/he/they. Hir is pronounced like "here" and replaces her/hers/him/his/they/theirs.
  • Just my name please! (Ash ate Ash's food because Ash was hungry) Some people prefer not to use pronouns at all, using their name as a pronoun instead.

We've included a few of our favorite resources for you to explore:

Gender-Specific and Gender-Neutral Pronouns Infographic

Gender and Pronoun Guide (University of Connecticut)

Pronouns Guide

Tips for Talking About Prounouns

HRC Pronouns

Pronouns Resource Center

HRC Glossary of Terms

Trans Student Educational Resources, Pronouns 101

All information was adapted from the above sources.