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Pronouns: An Introductory Resource

What are pronouns?

Pronouns are words that you use in place of a noun, like someone’s name.

Instead of always having to use people’s names, we often use pronouns in their place.

“James is over there. Let’s go say hi to James him!”

Gendered pronouns associate a gender with the person you’re referring to, whilst gender-neutral pronouns do not.

Gendered pronouns

Gender-neutral pronouns

"He was ecstatic with his feedback!"

"When it was her turn she aced it!"

"I think they found their calling in life!"

Want to know more about the history of singular 'they'?
Read this article from the Oxford English Dictionary.

Want to know more about the evolution of singular 'they' as a gender-neutral pronoun?
Read this Merriam-Webster article.

 How do you know what pronouns to use?

You can’t tell someone’s gender, or their pronouns, from the way they look.

It’s important that we learn not to assume gender and gendered pronouns.

“I use he/him pronouns”

“I use she/her pronouns”

“I use they/them pronouns”

It’s OK to ask what pronouns someone uses.

“Hi Morgan! What pronouns would you like me to use for you?’

If you’re not able to ask, you can use ‘they/them’ pronouns as a gender-neutral default.

 How do you share your pronouns?

Sharing your pronouns opens the door for others to share theirs…

“Hi, I’m Amoya and I use she/her pronouns!”

“Hi, I’m Nayan and I use they/them pronouns!”

...and helps to break down the belief that you can assume people’s gender/pronouns.

You can:

“Hi everyone, shall we introduce ourselves? I’m Artur and I use he/him pronouns”

"I’ve added my pronouns to my email signature a while ago now, around the same time as I started to invite participants of meetings I chair, to introduce themselves with the addition of their pronouns if they so wish. I tend to do it myself too. It’s been well received, as it is just a bit of etiquette to make sure everyone is addressed as they would like to."

Professor Gwen van der Velden
Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor (Education)

You can find out how to update your email signature in line with the University's brand guidance here.

Three University branded pronoun badges
University branded pronoun badges in 'she/her', 'he/him', and 'they/them'.

You can request a free pronoun badge via internal mail (staff) or from SU HQ Reception.

Why are pronouns important?

Gender can be very important to someone’s sense of self.

Using the incorrect gender for someone can make them feel upset, misunderstood, and/or dysphoric.

Dysphoria is the profound sense of unease people may feel at their gender being perceived wrongly.

If you make a mistake with someone’s pronouns, you should briefly correct yourself and move on.

“Kay said that he… sorry, she…
would like to be involved with the new project”

If someone else uses the wrong pronouns, you can correct them too.

“I think Jay uses ‘they’ pronouns rather than ‘he’...”

“Actually, Sarah uses ‘she’ pronouns.”

What pronouns are there?

You will be familiar with at least three sets of pronouns:

She/her

She believes me

I spoke to her

Her hand reached out

The gift is hers

She thinks to herself

He/him

He believes me

I spoke to him

His hand reached out

The gift is his

He thinks to himself

They/them

They believe me

I spoke to them

Their hand reached out

The gift is theirs

They think to themself

‘They’ is grammatically correct for both a single person, and a group of people.

If you find it confusing, imagine you’ve arrived at a cafe to find someone has left a wallet on the table. You would take it to the staff counter and say...

“Someone left their wallet on the table.”

They might need it soon.”

“Could you try to contact them?”

It’s as simple as that to use singular ‘they’ pronouns for someone.

Other less commonly used gender-neutral pronouns include:

Ey/em*

Ey believe me

I spoke to em

Eir hand reached out

The gift is eirs

Ey think to emself

Ze/zir**

Ze believes me

I spoke to zir

Zir hand reached out

The gift is zirs

Ze thinks to zirself

Ze/hir**

Ze believes me

I spoke to hir

Hir hand reached out

The gift is hirs

Ze thinks to hirself

*This is the same as ‘they/them’ pronouns if you remove the ‘th’!

**These pronouns are similar to a combination of ‘he’ and ‘her’ pronouns, which can help you to remember them.

Practice using different sets of pronouns online with 'Practice with Pronouns'.

This resource was created as part of the Queering University programme.