An introduction to pronouns

Understand how and why to use pronouns

What are pronouns?

In grammar, pronouns are the words we use to refer to ourselves or other people: I, you, we, etc. In some cases, these pronouns can refer to a person’s gender: he, her, them, etc. Just like someone’s name, these pronouns are personal and important to us because they are part of our identity. They are also the words we use to connect with and call on each other:

  • Do they need help?
  • I love you!
  • She is his legal guardian.

At GSA, we often share our pronouns to include and respect the diverse identities of our colleagues.

You might have seen someone sign an email with a set of pronouns in parentheses, for example:

  • Nadine Jung (she/her)
  • Mack Smith (they/him)
  • Jesse Nez (they/them)
  • Maria Ruiz (she/her/ella)

When someone shares their pronouns to sign their name, in their email signature block, or to introduce themselves, they are letting you know the pronouns that you should use when referring to them, whether you are in their presence, referring to them in a document, or speaking about them with someone else. Some people who speak multiple languages may indicate this by providing their pronouns in both English and another language—for example, él and ella are the Spanish pronouns for he and her, respectively.

Why is it important to use someone’s pronouns?

From a federal perspective, it is a Biden Administration priority to advance equity and inclusion in the federal workforce for individuals who belong to communities that face discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, gender non-conforming, and non-binary (LGBTQI+) persons. The White House plans to:

Advance equity for LGBTQI+ employees by striving to ensure that the federal health benefits system equitably serves all LGBTQI+ employees and their families, expanding the usage of gender markers and pronouns that respect transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary employees, and working to create a more inclusive workplace.  —via Government-wide strategic plan to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the federal workforce (PDF, 452 KB, 23 pages)

Using someone’s pronouns is simply a respectful choice that contributes to a healthy and inclusive work environment. It’s also a priority of the federal government.

How to incorporate pronouns in your digital environment

Now that more people are working from home, there are more opportunities for people in the federal workforce to display their names.

When participating in the community, community members must follow the ground rules for discussions.
What you should do What you shouldn't do
Share your pronouns. Even if you are not in the LGBTQI+ community, you can choose to share your pronouns when introducing yourself to a new person, when speaking on a group call, etc. This helps normalize the act of sharing pronouns in all settings and prevent “outing” transgender or gender nonconforming people. (Outing someone is when their identity is exposed without their consent.) Don’t take offense if someone shares their pronouns or asks about your pronouns.
Add your own pronouns, if you’re comfortable sharing them, in your email signature or other places your name is displayed. Don’t share your pronouns if you are not comfortable or ready.
If you’re unsure of someone’s pronouns, use their name or just ask. Don’t assume someone’s pronouns based on their name or physical appearance.
Make a real effort to use someone’s pronouns, and encourage others to do the same. Don’t ask someone invasive, personal questions about their identity or pronouns.
If you make a mistake, simply apologize, correct your mistake, and move on. Don’t intentionally or repeatedly misuse someone’s pronouns or name.
Educate yourself if you have questions. There are many resources available to help you learn about pronouns. Don’t ask your coworkers to justify or explain their own or someone else’s identity.
Use the USWDS patterns for gender identity and sex when building websites and digital services. Don’t rely on outdated form fields that may inaccurately record someone’s gender identity or sex.

You can also share this resource in your email signature. After your name and pronouns, include a (what’s this?) with a link to this resource page. See the template below.

Evan Montero, he/him/his (what’s this?)
P: 202-555-3456