They / Them Pronouns
An Online Factsheet
Pronouns are the way in which an individual refers to themself and the way that others refer to them. There are many different pronouns in English but you are probably most familiar with the pronouns she/her and he/him.
They/them is a set of gender neutral pronouns. They are often used by non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer, two-spirit and agender people as they are neither a man nor a woman (at all or exclusively) and want their pronouns to reflect that.
It’s important to remember that anyone can use any set or sets of pronouns regardless of their gender, their name, the way they dress or what they were assigned at birth.
If you are unsure about someone’s pronouns you can start by sharing your own pronouns and then simply ask “what pronouns do you use?” Alternatively, you can use gender neutral pronouns if you are unable to ask them or if you feel that asking them would put them into an uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situation.
You can help to normalise the sharing of pronouns by including your own pronouns in your social media bio, on your website and in your email signature.
People who use they/them pronouns often prefer that you also use gender neutral terms when referring to them. This is a very individual thing and each person may have different terms that they are or are not comfortable with. Just ask them if you need to clarify!
Some gendered terms to avoid are:
- mister, gentleman, guy, bro, dude, lad, bloke, father, brother, son, boyfriend, husband, fireman
- miss, madam, ma’am, lady, girl, chick, mother, sister, daughter, girlfriend, wife, firewoman
Try swapping these for words like:
- folk, friend, y'all, pal, team, guest, parent, sibling, kid, child, lover, significant other, partner, firefighter
This is a small thing that helps you to be more inclusive and respectful.
- Gender-Neutral Equivalent Words
- Gender-Neutral in Different Languages
- Uplifting Diverse Genders: Beyond “Women and Non-Binary”
- The Trans Language Primer
Using the wrong pronouns for someone is a simple mistake to make and is called misgendering.
Everybody makes mistakes! The best thing to do if you make a mistake is to simply say “sorry, I mean [pronoun]” and continue talking. While it is tempting to make a big show of how bad you feel, it often just makes it more uncomfortable for the person you misgendered.
If you misgender someone and they don’t correct you that does not mean that they are ok with it. Correcting someone can be very intimidating and even potentially dangerous, so many people do not feel comfortable doing it.
If your friend is using the wrong pronouns for someone else just gently correct them with “[name] uses they/them pronouns”.
Using the singular they is grammatically correct. You probably already use it for strangers: “Someone must have left their hat here. I hope they come back for it.”
Here are some example sentences:
- They went down to the shops.
- I went to the shops with them.
- They brought their hat.
- I think that hat was theirs.
- They were practicing the speech to themself.
It can feel a little awkward, or even rude, using the singular they if you have never used it before. Using they/them gets easy over time and with practice and - most importantly - is respectful and affirming for the people you use it for.