Written by Emma Symonds

What are personal pronouns and why do they matter?

We often, without realising it, refer to people by their pronouns when speaking about them, such as “he” when speaking about a boy or man and “she” when speaking about a girl or woman. These associations may not always be helpful though.

Often a person will make an assumption about someone else based upon what they look like, how they dress or by their name. Again, these assumptions may not always be helpful and in some cases can actually be harmful and/or discriminatory. We may end up sending a message that we assume a person should look a certain way to demonstrate the gender they may or may not be.

Using someone’s preferred pronouns is a simple way to show that you respect them and helps to create an inclusive environment. It is just as respectful to use a person name, or chosen name rather than choosing a nickname or dead naming them. (Deadnaming occurs when someone, intentionally or not, refers to a person who’s transgender by the name they used before they transitioned. You may also hear it described as referring to someone by their “birth name” or their “given name.”)

It is also disrespectful to actively ignore someone’s preferred pronouns and instead to start using the pronouns that you deem more appropriate or because you don’t understand. Below is a guide to help you understand some of the pronouns used by some people in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender plus community (LGBT+)


You may like to watch a video to help understand why using the correct and preferred pronouns are important. You can do that by clicking on this link from The LGBT Equity Centre

Pronouns are important because they’re the smallest way to acknowledge someone’s identity

So how can you help engender an inclusive environment?

Taking small steps to working towards an inclusive environment, as these small steps actually lead to big leaps. You can do one, two or even all of these suggestions below. And do remember that if you do slip up and use the wrong pronoun, the world won’t come crashing down, simply apologies and move on.

The fact that you acknowledged the slip up and you are actively engaging with a colleague, peer, patients and visitor in a way they have asked you too, is the goal.

  • You can put your pronouns on your email signature and include them on company or professional platform biographies and business cards
  • When introducing yourself you can share your preferred pronouns
  • You can add your pronouns to your Yellow badges (patient facing staff). This is a project that EDI is currently working on so please keep your eyes open for more information about this addition to Inclusion at YDH.
  • When handing over patient’s information to your colleagues, you can ensure you use your patients preferred pronouns, ensuring they are written in the notes.
  • Be aware that a person may change their pronouns, so you may have to ask every time you see them. Don’t judge or question their reasons. This will devalue them as an individual.
  • Try using more inclusive language when addressing group of people. Instead of ladies and gentleman, try saying things like “folks”, “pals” or “everyone”
  • Ensure your documentation uses inclusive language i.e., using “they” instead of he/she and avoiding sentences that imply only two genders.
  • When highlighting LGBT people in your events or as role models, make sure you include some non-binary role models too

As I said earlier, it will take some time to get used too, and you may slip up, but many of us do. This doesn’t excuse us from trying and correcting ourselves. It does give us a wonderful opportunity to, kindly, speak to our colleagues about their pronouns and what is important to them.

We should also be aware that sharing your pronouns is not about declaring that you are a member of the LGBT+ community but to say that you offer support and a safe space should someone want or need it.

It shows that you respect and welcome a conversation if one is needed and it shows that you believe in inclusion for all human beings regardless of how they identify.