How to ask someone about their pronouns
We all have the right to be treated in a way that upholds our human dignity. This means respecting the pronouns that someone goes by and making sure to use the right grammar when referring to one another.
When a person shares their pronouns, they are naming the pronouns that they want to be referred to by in the singular third person (e.g. when you are referring to that person while talking to someone else).
Here are four top tips (with examples) for asking someone about their pronouns.
Be respectful and don’t make assumptions.
The pronouns that someone uses may be very significant to them, which is why we need to take care when asking about their choice of words.
For many of us, the pronouns we choose are an important way of communicating our gender identity. For others, their choice of pronouns may not be linked to their experience of gender but may still play a role in their sense of self. This means that someone’s pronouns may be linked to gender, but they are not necessarily indicative of their gender.
Never try to guess someone’s pronouns based on how they look, how they dress or what they sound like.
If you are unsure about someone’s pronouns, you can refer to them by their name until you can seek clarity. For example:
“I haven’t met Jon yet, but I’m looking forward to speaking to Jon.”
You could also use the “they/them” pronouns set when you don’t yet know if a person goes by another set or sets of pronouns.
“I haven’t met Jon yet, but I’m looking forward to speaking to them.”
Be curious, but don’t pry
Try to have an open mind when talking to someone about their pronouns. Many of us grew up with societal and cultural messages about what it means to be a particular gender, but everybody has a unique experience and talking to people is the best way to learn.
One way to ask someone about their pronouns is to tell them what your pronouns are first. This can help to create a safe space of mutual trust. For example, you could say:
“Hi, my name is Ashley and I go by the pronoun ‘she’. How should I refer to you?”
“I’m Jack and I’m referred to by ‘he/him’ pronouns. Which pronouns do you go by?”
Don’t ask someone which pronouns they “prefer” – let them be definitive about their choice of language.
If you are meeting someone for the first time, it is best to let that person decide how much they want to tell you about their choice of pronouns. Don’t ask more than you need to know to get the grammar right.
Some people use more than one set of pronouns (for example, she/her/hers and they/them/theirs). It can help to ask someone for examples of how you should use their pronouns so you can be sure that you’re supporting and affirming this choice in the way that they intend.
Remember to be sensitive: for some people, choosing their pronouns is a really hard process and it may be linked to challenging personal experiences.
Be kind and don’t question an answer
When someone tells you their pronouns, thank them for sharing and make sure to use those pronouns from then on.
Their choice of pronouns might challenge your knowledge of grammar or your experience of gender but remember that treating someone with respect should take priority over either of these concerns.
Be sensitive and apologise if you think you got it wrong
We all make mistakes sometimes. If you have made an assumption about someone’s pronouns or used the wrong word to refer to someone else, it’s best to apologise quickly and move on. If you have forgotten someone’s pronouns or are unsure about which words to use, ask for clarity or a reminder so you can get it right next time.
Keep these points in mind when asking someone about their pronouns:
- Never try to guess someone’s pronouns based on how they look, how they dress or what they sound like.
- If you are unsure about someone’s pronouns, you can refer to them by their name, for example: “I haven’t met Jon yet, but I’m looking forward to speaking to Jon.”
- You can tell them what your pronouns are first. For example: “Hi, my name is Ashley and I go by the pronouns ‘she/her’. How should I refer to you?”
- When someone tells you their pronouns, thank them for sharing and make sure to use those pronouns from then on.
- If you get it wrong, it’s best to apologise quickly and ask for clarity, or a reminder, if you need one to get it right next time.