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A Guide to Understanding and Using They/Them Pronouns

Using the correct pronouns is essential for respecting others and affirming people's identities. They/Them/Theirs pronouns are used by individuals who identify outside the traditional binary pronouns of She/Her and He/Him. This guide may help you understand and properly use They/Them pronouns for yourself, a friend, a loved one, or a new acquaintance.

Why Pronouns Matter

First off, we all use and have pronouns (even if that is just being addressed by your own name), as they are a fundamental part of how we identify ourselves and how we are seen by others. In recent decades, many individuals have started to hear more folks using a variety of pronouns, including They/Them, Xe/Xem, Ze/Hir, and so on. Using the correct pronouns for someone is crucial in respecting how someone identifies, as well as creating an inclusive environment and reducing feelings of dysphoria and hurt.

What Are They/Them Pronouns?

They/Them pronouns are a form of gender-neutral pronouns. While some folks may be used to using they/them as a set of plural pronouns, this set of pronouns is also totally grammatically correct for use as a singular pronoun when referring to someone whose gender is nonbinary, genderqueer, genderfluid, or may just prefer these pronouns in regard to their gender identity.

A Few Common Misconceptions and Concerns

Grammar Concerns: Some people argue that "they" cannot be singular. However, the singular "they" has been used in English for centuries and is recognized by most dictionaries and style guides. It may take some getting used to for some, but it is absolutely grammatically correct as a singular pronoun.

Confusion: Using They/Them pronouns can initially be confusing for oneself and loved ones, but practice and mindfulness can help you become more comfortable. Remember to use the correct pronouns for someone even when they are not in the room–for practice and, more importantly, respect.

Multiple Pronouns: Some people may only use They/Them pronouns, while others may use multiple pronouns. For example, some people's pronouns may be She/They. This means someone may prefer to be addressed using both She/Her or They/Them pronouns. When talking about this individual, try switching up the pronouns when referring to them. When in doubt, ask how they prefer to be addressed!

How to Use They/Them Pronouns

Introduction: When introducing yourself, try including your pronouns and asking for others' pronouns. For example: "Hi, I'm Maria, and I use they/them pronouns. What about you?"

Practice: Incorporate They/Them pronouns into your daily language. If you're unsure, practice with friends or in written forms.

Examples of They/Them Pronouns in Use:

"This is Maurice. They are new to the team."

"DJ said they would join us for dinner next week."

“Alexia left their keys at home.”

"Jada is bringing their lunch today."

“Is Eric bringing their partner to the event?”

**Correcting Mistakes: If you make a mistake, apologize briefly, correct yourself, and move on. For example, "She—sorry, they—are going to the store."

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What if I don’t know someone’s pronouns?

    1. Use their name or ask politely. Avoid assuming based on appearance or gender expression.

  2. I messed up someone’s pronouns; what do I do?

    1. Correct yourself: Briefly correct yourself and move on without making a big scene.

    2. Apologize If Appropriate: A simple and sincere apology can go a long way (Avoid over-apologizing!)

    3. Continue: After correcting yourself, continue the conversation naturally.

Example: “Jay said he—sorry, they—would join us later after the movie.”

Resources for Further Learning

Books: "They/Them/Their: A Guide to Nonbinary and Genderqueer Identities" by Eris Young AND “How to They/Them: A Visual Guide to Nonbinary Pronouns and the World of Gender Fluidity” by Stuart Getty & Brooke Thyng

Websites: GLAAD, The Trevor Project, Youtube


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