Whether we realize it or not, we’ve always used pronouns to refer to people.
Words like “he,” “she,” or “they” are just a few popular pronouns - often used to talk about people without using their names. For such small words, pronouns have a big impact.
Why pronouns matter
They reflect who we are and how we see ourselves. Often, people assume what pronouns someone uses based on their appearance, which can be hurtful. We all have pronouns, but how long it takes someone to feel comfortable sharing and expressing their pronouns depends on the people around them.
Practicing asking for and using pronouns and teaching your child to do so is a great way to create an inclusive environment and show you care. If you struggle with pronouns and how to use them, check out this short video:
Below is a list of some most popular pronouns, and how they are used in a sentence. This list is not exhaustive. Remember, the only way to truly know someone’s pronouns is to ask.
She/Her - “She is a writer and wrote the book herself. Those ideas are hers. I like her and her ideas.”
He/Him - “He is a writer and wrote the book himself. Those ideas are his. I like him and his ideas.”
They/Them - “They are a writer and wrote the book themselves. Those ideas are theirs. I like both them and their ideas.”
Getting used to using “they/them” as a singular pronoun can feel uncomfortable and grammatically not what we are used to.
It can surprise people to learn that the Oxford English Dictionary has actually been using “they” to refer as a single person since 1375! And the Merriam-Webster Dictionary recognized “they” as a singular pronoun in 2019.
Sometimes new things are uncomfortable, and that’s okay. What matters is that we respect people around us and what they want to be called.
Talking About Pronouns
The best way to understand and start using pronouns is to talk about them.
Asking for someone’s pronouns can be as simple as saying hello.
Here are three things you can do!
A great way to start is by offering your pronouns so your child knows what they sound like.
Try this when introducing yourself in front of your child:
"Hi, my name is so-and-so and my pronouns are they/them. What are yours?"
Model how to ask for pronouns. Here are some simple questions to figure out someone's pronouns if you don't already know them.
Try this if you’re not sure what someone’s pronouns are.
"Hey, what are your pronouns?"
"What pronouns do you use?"
I was just wondering how you'd like me to address you."
"I just want to make sure I'm using the correct pronouns to refer to you."
Discuss Other Pronouns
Check out our resources for a list of books you can read with your child to help explain pronouns.
Use examples of pronouns, like we did earlier on this page. Talk to your child about pronouns they might encounter at school and allow them time to ask questions.
Sometimes, you might have to search for answers together - and that’s okay!
Mistakes happen, especially when you’re new to practicing pronouns.
Even people who are experienced using and asking for pronouns make mistakes. When you use the wrong pronoun, it can feel embarrassing and uncomfortable.
Just like anything in life, perfection is not the goal. Use mistakes as learning opportunities, to talk about how to apologize and react in a kind and respectful way.
Here are a few things to remember when you forget or use the wrong pronoun:
Apologize and move on
While you may be coming from a good place, it’s important not to make a big deal out of your mistake or draw attention to it.
Making a big deal out of it in the moment can be hurtful to the person who you misgendered. A simple apology or correction is all you need.
Here’s an example of one way to handle a mistake:
“Grace told me she would like… I mean they… would like tea. My bad.”
If you feel like you would like to talk more about what happened, the best way to have the conversation is one on one with the person who was misgendered.
Let them know you didn’t mean to disrespect them by your mistake, that you respect their pronouns and, most importantly, tell them you will be better in the future.
Here is an example of how you could phrase this:
“Hey. I just wanted to say I’m sorry for using the wrong pronouns with you. I want you to know I respect that you go by ‘they/them.’ It’s just new for me. But I am going to be better about remembering. Is there anything else I can do to show that I support you?”
Commit to doing better
Mistakes happen all the time, and that’s okay. But it’s incredibly important that we don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again without trying to get better.
If you make a mistake, know that apologies are only the first step. Take time on your own to practice and try to remember the pronouns of the person you made a mistake with.
Try a name game or using their pronouns in a sentence when you’re alone, whatever works for you!