What are personal pronouns and why do they matter?

Tea Wheat, Entertainment Writer

I’m sure everyone remembers being in elementary school and learning about pronouns. When we were taught pronouns in elementary school, it probably was not in much detail, just the definition and then some practice with how to use them.

By definition from the Oxford dictionary, a pronoun is “a word that can function by itself as a noun phrase and that refers either to the participants in the discourse (i.e. you) or to someone mentioned elsewhere in the discourse (i.e. she, it, this).”

When we speak, especially about someone else, it is extremely common to use pronouns to talk about them. This is something that, as mentioned previously, we were taught to do from a very young age. Though, when we make these assumptions regarding what pronouns to use to refer to someone, they may not always be helpful. For example, if one spoke with someone over the telephone and they had a very high voice, one may refer to that individual as “she,” while the individual’s pronouns were never shared, nor does one know the individual’s pronouns. Other factors that often lead people to assume the gender of someone are their name and what they look like. Additionally, if someone shares their pronouns with you, make an effort to use those pronouns, as it shows your respect for that individual.

Now, pronouns are a bigger part of how people identify and have more to do with gender identification. When you refer to someone else as “he” or “she,” you are automatically assuming and assigning a gender to them. With this, it is best to either ask the person what pronouns they use, or to use gender neutral pronouns such as “they.” There are many different pronouns people may use to identify, but the most common are “she, her, hers,” “he, him, his” and “they, them, theirs.” Though, there are other pronouns such as “ze, zir/hir, zirs/hirs.”

Personal pronouns are extremely important when speaking to others. If you make time to find out someone’s pronouns, that shows your respect and desire to interact with that individual. It is always important to create inclusive environments where all are welcome and everyone feels safe and respected. According to mypronouns.org, “Just as it can be offensive or even harassing to make up a nickname for someone and call them that nickname against their will, it can be offensive or harassing to guess at someone’s pronouns and refer to them using those pronouns if that is not how that person wants to be known.” This is something to keep in mind when interacting with others, as well.

So, with that said, keep pronouns in mind. Do not be afraid to ask others for their pronouns if you are unsure, and most definitely do not be afraid to share your own pronouns. If this concept of pronouns is new to you, while this article highlighted some of the key aspects, I highly encourage you to go ahead and research more about pronouns!