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Proper Pronoun Usage

Some people don’t feel like traditional gender pronouns (she/her, he/him) fit their gender identities. Transgender, genderqueer, and other gender-variant people may choose different pronouns for themselves. The following information is a starting point for using pronouns respectfully. 

Reference: University of Wisconsin-Madison

How do I know which pronouns to use?

If the person you’re referring to is a stranger or brief acquaintance (like a server, cashier, fellow bus patron, etc), you may not need to know. If the person is a classmate, student, or coworker, for example, it is best to ask.

  • “What pronouns do you use?” 
  • "How would you like me to refer to you?” 
  • “How would you like to be addressed?” 
  • “My name is Tou and my pronouns are he and him. What about you?” 

How often do pronouns change?

Remember that people may change their pronouns without changing their name, appearance, or gender identity.

Try making pronouns an optional part of introductions or check-ins at meetings or in class.

What if I make a mistake?

Most people appreciate a quick apology and correction at the time of the mistake.

  • “Her books are—I’m sorry, he r books are over there.” By correcting yourself, you’re modeling respectful pronoun use for others in the conversation. If you only realize the mistake later, a brief apology can help.
  • “I’m sorry I used th e wrong pronoun earlier. I’ll be more careful next time.”

When should I correct others?

Some people may not want a lot of public attention to their pronouns, while others will appreciate you standing up for them. If someone uses the wrong pronoun for a person who isn’t present, try a brief correction: “I think Sam uses she and her pronouns. And yes, I’m going to her house later too!”

It can be tough to remember pronouns at first. The best solution is to practice! Correct pronoun use is an easy step toward showing respect for people of every gender.

Pronouns - A How To Guide

Pronouns - A how to guide. Subject: (1) laughed at the notion of a gender binary. Object: They tried to convince (2) that asexuality does not exist. Possessive: (3) favorite color is unknown. Possessive Pronoun: The pronoun card is (4). Reflexive: (1) think(s) highly of (5). The pronoun list below is not an exhaustive list. It is good practice to ask which pronouns a person uses. Resource: UW-Milwaukee LGBT Resource Center (2011-2016) 

Pronoun list: (1) - (f)ae; e/ey; he; per; she; they; ve; xe; ze/zie (2) - (f)aer; em; him; per; her; them; ver; zem; hir (3) - (f)aer; eir; his; pers; her; their; vis;xyr; hir (4) - (f)aers; eirs; his; pers; hers; theirs; vis; xyrs; hirs; (5) - (f)aerself; eirself; himself; perself; herself; themself; verself; xemself; hirself;

Gender Neutral Pronouns

Chart adapted from “The Need for a Gender-Neutral Pronoun,” Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog. January 24 2001. See many more pronouns in the chart at

Gender Neutral / Gender Inclusive Pronouns

A gender neutral or gender inclusive pronoun is a pronoun which does not associate a gender with the inpidual 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 inpidual 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.

People who are limited by languages which do not include gender neutral pronouns have attempted to create them, in the interest of greater equality.

He/She Him/Her His/Her His/Hers Himself/Herself
zie zim zir zis zieself
sie sie hir hirs hirself
ey em eir eirs eirself
ve ver vis vers verself
tey ter tem ters terself
e em eir eirs emself

History of Gender Inclusive Pronouns

Native English Pronouns

“Ou, a”: Native English Gender-Neutral Pronouns. According to Dennis Baron’s Grammar and Gender:

In 1789, William H. Marshall records the existence of a dialectal English epicene pronoun, singular ou : "'Ou will' expresses either he will, she will, or it will." Marshall traces ou to Middle English epicene a, used by the fourteenth-century English writer John of Trevisa, and both the OED and Wright's English Dialect Dictionary confirm the use of a for he, she, it, they, and even I.

The dialectal epicene pronoun a is a reduced form of the Old and Middle English masculine and feminine pronouns he and heo. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the masculine and feminine pronouns had developed to a point where, according to the OED, they were "almost or wholly indistinguishable in pronunciation." The modern feminine pronoun she, which first appears in the mid twelfth century, seems to have been drafted at least partly to reduce the increasing ambiguity of the pronoun system.... He goes on to describe how relics of these sex-neutral terms survive in some British dialects of Modern English, and sometimes a pronoun of one gender might be applied to a person or animal of the opposite gender.

Language Authorities


In 1770, Robert Baker suggested use of “one, ones” instead of “one, his”, since there was no equivalent “one, hers”. Others shared this sentiment in 1868, 1884, 1979, and even now. Others throughout this period disagreed, finding it too pedantic.

“His or Her” vs. Singular “They”

Around 1795, the language authorities Lindley Murray, Joseph Priestly, and Hugh Blair, amongst others, campaigned against pronoun irregularities in pronoun use, such as lack of agreement in gender and number. Without coining words, this can only be done in the third person singular by use of compound terms like “his or her”. Grammarians in 1879, 1922, 1931, 1957, and the 1970s have accepted “they” as a singular term that could be used in place of “he” or “he or she”, though sometimes limiting it to informal constructions. Others in 1795, 1825, 1863, 1898, 1926, and 1982 argued against it for various reasons. And whatever the grammarians might argue, people have been using the singular “they” for about the last 600 years, though (as mentioned earlier) it can only be applied in certain cases. If new gender-neutral pronouns are not adopted, i’m sure that singular “they” will still be a point of contention for centuries to come. For further information on the use of singular “their” throughout the centuries, see the large body of information that Henry Churchyard has compiled on the subject.

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