What Are Pronouns and Why Do They Matter?

Pronouns are used in everyday speech and writing to take the place of people’s names. We frequently use them without thinking about it. Often, when speaking of someone in the third person, these pronouns have a gender implied. These associations are not always accurate or helpful.

Mistaking or assuming a person’s pronouns based on their appearance or name, mistakes their gender and sends a hurtful message. Using someone’s correct gender pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their identity. So as Pride Month comes to an end, let’s discuss what personal pronouns are, why they matter and what to do if you make a mistake.

What Are Pronouns?

Pronouns are words that refer to either the people talking (like you or I) or someone or something that is being talked about (like she, they and this). Gender pronouns (like he or them) specifically refer to people that you are talking about.

Why Do They Matter?

In English, our most commonly used pronouns (he/she) specifically refer to a person’s gender, which are not always accurate. For queer, gender non-conforming, non-binary and transgender people, these pronouns may not fit, can create discomfort, and can cause stress and anxiety.

Having trouble understanding why this would upset someone? Think about your pronoun (it’s probably “he” or “she”). Now imagine someone calling you the one you don’t identify yourself as. Imagine them doing it over and over and over, even after you’ve corrected them. 

People in the LGBTQ+ community face this issue often, and actively ignoring what pronouns someone has stated they use implies the oppressive notion that intersex, transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming people do not or should not exist.

Using someone’s correct personal pronouns is a way to respect them and create an inclusive environment, just as using a person’s name can be a way to respect them.

What to Do if You Make a Mistake

It happens, we all make mistakes. Apologize, do better and move on quickly. If you make a mistake in front of a group of people, you may want to apologize to the person in private later on – no need to make a scene or draw a lot of attention. The best thing to do is to use the correct pronoun the next time.

Be An Ally

Being an ally is not a thing you are, it is a thing you do. Practice makes perfect and you are always evolving as a person. Mistakes happen, but what matters most is that you are dedicated to making this world a better place for everyone.