How To Respectfully Ask Someone What Their Pronouns Are

We live in a time when we should no longer assume someone's pronouns. Not to say that we should have ever assumed them in the first place, but the tides have turned and finally identifying people by their proper pronouns has entered the discussion. And this is an important topic that needs to be brought to light for those people who have yet to understand that incorrectly gendering someone can bring them emotional harm, as well as create an atmosphere that doesn't feel like one of respect and acceptance (via Swarthmore).


"Pronouns are the first place where we show respect for another person's gender by affirming it," educator and founder of Speaking of Transgender Scott Turner Schofield tells HuffPost. "For trans and nonbinary folks, it's usually the first place we experience unintentional invalidation or outright disrespect." 

But for those who are cisgender and have traditional pronouns, asking someone for their pronouns might feel a bit daunting. However, it needs to be done. So whatever fears you have, know that asking someone their pronouns doesn't just show respect, but it also lets that person know they're seen. Here's how to do that.

Start by saying your pronouns first

It doesn't matter what type of environment you're in — a professional setting, a first date, meeting a new friend — it's important that you know the pronouns of the person you're talking to. A good way to start a new conversation is by sharing your pronouns first (via Chicago Tribune). For example, you can say, "Hi, I'm Amanda, and I go by she/her pronouns. What are your pronouns?" This offers respect and creates a safe space for recognizing that not everyone has the pronouns that one might assume by their appearance. You're not just opening the door to the conversation, but you're making it clear that you're aware of pronouns and how important they are to a person's identity. Validation comes with being accepted for who we are and being asked our pronouns does this.


Something to keep in the forefront of your mind when asking this question, however, is to make sure you never use the word "prefer" (via Forbes). The problem with asking someone their "preferred" pronouns is that preference is what someone likes best. Pronouns aren't what people like best; it's what they are. Also, don't act surprised or confused if someone answers with "ze/zir/zirs" or similar neutral pronouns (via NYC Department of Social Services). If any pronouns are foreign to you, a quick Google search will give you the answers you need, as opposed to putting the person who uses these pronouns on the spot.

It's okay if you make a mistake

People make mistakes — it's called being human. But it's how you handle the mistake that matters. Once you realize you've accidentally misgendered someone, correct yourself, apologize, then move on with whatever you were discussing (via Harvard Health Publishing). It's important to keep that apology brief because dragging it out and over-apologizing is just going to make everyone feel awkward and no one wants that. Along the same lines, if you witness someone else misgendering someone, it's okay to speak up and kindly remind them of the pronouns that the person they're talking to or about uses (via Healthline).


We need to change the narrative regarding pronouns and make sure everyone around us is aware that misgendering someone can be really hurtful. If you know someone who doesn't understand the concept of pronouns and why they're so important, then sit down with them and explain why correct pronouns matter. If it's you who doesn't understand why they're so important, then do some research on the topic and educate yourself.

At the end of the day, using pronouns is not a difficult concept to comprehend. The only difficulty may come with remembering the pronouns of someone, especially if they've recently changed them. But with enough effort, it can — and should — be done. Everyone deserves to be seen for who they really are and not by society's idea of what they should be.