The Importance of Personal Pronouns in...

The Importance of Personal Pronouns in Inclusive Language

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By Avreet Jagdev

Everyone has pronouns, and we use them all the time. But unfortunately, they have become a source of tension, arguments, and even discrimination towards certain groups of people. Before being able to appreciate why pronouns are so important and how they play a large factor in being inclusive, we need to first understand what exactly they are.

Put simply, a pronoun is a word that stands in for a noun, usually to avoid over-repetition of that noun. For example, if you are describing a tree, you can refer to the tree as “it” to avoid saying the word “tree” over and over again. Replacing “tree” with a pronoun helps make your sentence flow easier and sound more natural. Other examples of pronouns are “he”, “she”, “they”, “you”, “us,” “this”, and “that”. If you stop and think about it, you’ll realize that pronouns are a huge part of the English language — we use them in almost every single sentence!

When people speak about pronouns and their importance in inclusivity, they are usually referring to personal pronouns. These are pronouns used in substitute of a person’s name or title. “He”, “she”, and “they” are all examples of personal pronouns. While many women might use the pronouns “she” and “her”, and many men might use the pronouns “he” and “him”, there are varying sets of pronouns that people use, such as “they/them”, or even a combination of pronouns, such as “she/they” or “he/she”. Some people use any and all pronouns!

It is important to always respect the pronouns that someone has. If you are unsure of what pronouns someone uses, it is always okay to ask and clarify! If you accidentally use the incorrect pronouns for a person, it is important to apologize and make a mental note of what pronouns they use so that you refer to them correctly in the future.

A lot of times, people assume someone’s gender and what pronouns they use based on their outward appearance, but these assumptions are not always correct and can be harmful. We cannot tell someone’s gender by what they look like, or what clothes, jewelry, makeup, or hairstyles they choose to wear or not wear. This is because a certain type of clothing, makeup, jewelry or hair does not exclusively exist for a specific gender. For example, characteristics or clothing choices that are traditionally associated with women (such as the colour pink, long hair, or painted nails) can be displayed by anyone, regardless of their gender! This might include men, non-binary, or other gender-queer people as well.

Everyone has personal pronouns, but transgender, non-binary, and gender-queer people often have to share their pronouns clearly so that they are not assumed to be a gender they are not (we call this misgendering). An easy but important step we can take to be more inclusive of trans, non-binary, and gender-queer people is to normalize the sharing of personal pronouns. Sharing your pronouns even if you are not trans, non-binary, or gender-queer helps destigmatize the use of personal pronouns, and reduces confusion, misunderstanding, and discrimination related to pronouns.

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