Pronouns - What Are They & Why Are They Important?

Resources for the TC Student Community

Below you will find information about pronouns are, how to use them, and why they matter. You’ll find a useful video, a Frequently Asked Questions section, and various resources for navigating pronoun usage and gender identity at Teachers College and Columbia University. 

Why do pronouns matter?

Watch this informative video for information about what pronouns are, how to use them, and how to create an inclusive environment here at Teachers College and beyond.

Image of various buttons correlating to students' pronouns (such as she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, ze/zir/zirs)

Looking for ways to share your pronouns? Stop by the Graduate Student Life & Development (GSLD) office for a button with your pronouns while supplies last! GSLD is in room 155 of the 528 Building.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a pronoun?

A pronoun is used in place of a person’s name. Examples: “They are going to the store.” “I wonder what ze is doing today?” “That item is hers.” 

Often, when speaking of an individual in the third person, pronouns have a gender implied, such as “he” to refer to a man/boy or “she” to refer to a woman/girl. These associations are not always accurate or helpful. Some commonly used pronouns include (but are not limited to):

  • co/cos/coself
  • en/ens/enself
  • ey/em/emself
  • he/him/himself
  • per/pers/perself
  • she/her/herself
  • they/them/themself
  • xie/hir/hirself
  • yo/yos/yoself
  • ze/zir/zirself
  • ve/ver/verself
  • A combination of the above (i.e. he/they/she, she/ze, any pronoun)
  • No pronouns (i.e. just using the person’s name and not using pronouns at all to describe them)

Why do pronouns matter?

Offering and asking for a person’s pronouns is a way to respect those around us and create an inclusive environment. Pronouns are especially important for LGBTQIA+ people. Similar to how it can be offensive or even harassing to make up a nickname for someone against their will, it can be offensive or harassing to guess someone’s pronouns and refer to them using those pronouns if that is not how the person wants to be addressed. People often make assumptions about the gender of another person based on the person’s appearance or name. These assumptions are not always correct, and the act of making an assumption may send a harmful message that people have to look or act a certain way to demonstrate the gender that they are or are not. Using the correct pronouns for others is a meaningful way of affirming another’s identity.

**LGBTQIA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and other sexual & gender identities.

What is gender identity?

Gender identity is each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is a person’s conception of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. A person’s gender identity may be different from their assigned sex at birth. We cannot know a person’s gender just by looking at them.

How do I find out what someone’s pronouns are?

It’s important to ask someone what their pronouns are and not assume what you think they are. You can kindly ask someone if they are comfortable sharing examples of ways to use their pronouns. 

Ways you can ask someone the pronouns they use:

  • What are your pronouns?
  • What pronouns do you use?
  • Which pronouns would you like me to use?

Ways you can share your pronouns

  •  My name is Lynn and I use she, her, hers.
  • I typically use they/them, but any pronoun works for me.
  • I just go by my name, Alex, please don’t use any pronouns when speaking about me.

Why are individuals sharing their pronouns on campus? Am I required to also share my pronouns?

Individuals are sharing their pronouns on campus because, for many, it is a large part of their identity. By sharing our pronouns when we introduce ourselves in new groups, whether virtual or in person, we help to create a more inclusive campus environment. All are welcome and encouraged to share their pronouns to continue creating an inclusive community.

That being said, you are not required to share your pronouns. Each person is on a different journey in regards to their gender identity and might not be comfortable sharing their pronouns.

How does sharing pronouns contribute to an inclusive culture?

Sharing pronouns normalizes a space for people to share this part of their identity, particularly for trans and non-binary people. It is important to recognize the privilege of appearing in a way that fits one’s gender, name, and pronouns that others would associate with a particular gender. Sharing pronouns gives the community opportunities to model inclusivity, however it is not to discredit anyone who does not feel comfortable sharing pronouns either.

What if I make a mistake and don’t use the correct pronouns to refer to a person?

Although mistakes happen and we should be forgiving of our actions, we need to be mindful. The best thing to do if you use the wrong pronoun for someone is to correct the action in the moment. If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize and move on with intention. 

It is helpful to avoid over-apologizing as it can bring attention to the person whose pronouns weren’t used correctly and on the situation as a whole. Someone whose pronouns weren’t used correctly might feel pressured to respond to the over-apologizing by saying “That’s okay” even though it wasn’t okay for the incorrect pronouns to be used. If you accidentally use the wrong pronouns, apologize, use the correct pronouns, and move on. 

Here’s an example of what you could do: “He… I’m sorry I meant she is going to be at the study session today.”

What if I observe someone make a mistake by referring to someone using the wrong pronoun?

The best thing to do in this kind of situation is to politely correct the person who used the wrong pronoun to address someone else. For example, if you know that Person A uses they/them pronouns, but Person B refers to them as he, it is fair to correct Person B by saying “Person A uses they/them pronouns”. If there is repeated behavior from the same person using incorrect pronouns to address someone or others, continue to politely correct the person. 

There are trans/non-binary individuals who get misgendered or addressed with the wrong pronouns and it can be taxing to have to correct others for themselves often. We must do our part through continuing to be respectful allies and offering support by challenging others to value inclusivity.

*Something important to note before correcting someone who has used the wrong pronoun: Some people may only use particular pronouns during certain times (i.e. use ze/zir at school, but he/him at home). Folks may make this choice for safety reasons or because they aren’t “out” to everyone. If you are not sure if the person who was misgendered has shared their pronouns with the person you are speaking to, ask them first before using the above correction method.

What do I do if TC community members are not using my pronouns correctly?

The best way to respond to someone who does not use your pronouns correctly depends on your comfort level and the situation. Here are some tips you can use depending on works best for you:

  1. You can politely correct the person who used the wrong pronoun to address you. You do not have to explain your pronouns and can move on after making the correction. “I use they/them pronouns.”
  2. If someone has repeatedly used the wrong pronoun you can ask them why they continue to use the same mistake with your pronouns. This could help them reflect on their gender biases and potentially stop them misgendering you and others. 
  3. If someone is intentionally using the wrong pronoun you can certainly stand up for yourself and explain that they are being disrespectful by not using your pronouns. Depending on how the situation goes, you can always remove yourself from it as you always have the right to get away from a situation that is making you uncomfortable or unsafe. 
  4. Seek allies in fellow TC community members, including students, staff, and faculty as having a support system in place can be incredibly helpful. If you are unsure who to go to, Graduate Student Life & Development (GSLD) is a great first stop. You are always welcome to stop by the GSLD office in room 155 of the 528 Building or email at
  5. You can report pronoun misuse and other gender-based misconduct to the following TC administrators:
    • Janice Robinson, Title IX Coordinator & VP for Diversity & Community Affairs,, 212-678-3391
    • Tom Rock, Associate Vice President & Chief Student Affairs Officer,, 212-678-3083
    • More information about what reporting looks like can be found at the following link in section IV. Procedures for Responding to Student Misconduct Under the Gender-Based Misconduct and the Interim Title IX Policies (Procedures):  

Other resources include the Student Support & Advocacy office which helps TC students navigate personal & academic difficulties or the Office of the Ombuds which is a confidential resource TC community members can use to resolve problems and conflicts.

Why is the language of “pronouns” being used instead of “preferred pronouns” or “preferred gender pronouns?”

Previously pronouns were referred to as “preferred pronouns” or “preferred gender pronouns,” but there has been a shift in utilizing this language because the word “preferred” implies that it is a recommendation instead of a fact. This could lead someone to believe they can use pronouns other than the ones a person uses, which is untrue. 

Similarly, instead of asking for someone’s “preferred name,” you can simply ask for their name. Someone’s name and pronouns are not recommendations and are not preferences.

How do I update my pronouns in the TC system?

Log in to your myTC account and click on the “Student Resources” tab at the top of the home screen. Next, under the “Student Self-Service (SSB9)” section, click the link that says “Personal Information”. Click the “Edit” link on the top right corner of the page under the “Personal Details” section. You should be able to edit your pronoun information there. 

If you do not see your pronouns listed, select “Other Pronouns” and a TC staff member will reach out to you to get your pronouns added to your profile.

How do I update my pronouns on my TC Zoom account?

You can follow these instructions provided by Zoom to update your pronouns on your TC account: 

Who do I contact if I have more questions or want to talk further about pronouns?

You can reach out to Graduate Student Life & Development (GSLD) at or stop by the office in room 155 of the 528 Building. 

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