Pronoun Guide


This guide is intended to help the campus community learn to use each of its member's pronouns correctly. The practice of sharing and inviting others to share which pronouns they use helps respect the diversity of gender identities while fostering a safe and inclusive environment.

What are pronouns and why are they important?

Personal pronouns are words you may like others to use in place of your proper name. Pronouns can be feminine, masculine, non-binary or gender-inclusive. Some individuals use no pronouns and instead prefer their name in all references.

It is important to use a person's correct pronouns and to avoid assumptions based on name or gender expression (clothing, hairstyle, voice, etc.). Assumptions about pronouns can lead to misgendering — being labeled or addressed by others in a way that does not reflect one's gender. This can cause an individual to feel disrespected, alienated and unsafe.

Other FAQs

Why are pronouns included in email signatures, name tags, business cards, introductions and syllabi?

This practice can be a first step toward respecting identity and creating a more welcoming, inclusive space. SUNY Cortland encourages faculty, staff and students to use signatures, introductions or other tools as a convenient opportunity to self-identify and to show support. Including pronouns is always optional.

Example email signature:

Ash Toklas (they, them, their)
SUNY Cortland
English Department
Old Main, Room 1234

Example verbal introduction:

"My name is Petra and my pronouns are she, her, hers."

Who should include pronouns with their name?

Pronouns are for everyone, regardless of gender identity or expression. All members of the campus community are encouraged to share their pronouns. Cisgender individuals (those whose personal identity and gender correspond with their sex assigned at birth) may do so as a way of helping to normalize this practice and to make their support visible.

What if I don't know what pronouns someone uses?

Try to avoid referring to someone by a pronoun until you know which ones they use, keeping in mind some people don't use pronouns at all. Instead, refer to a person by their name until you are sure how they want to be addressed.

How do I ask someone which pronouns they use?

Some individuals may not feel comfortable using their pronouns in all spaces. One-on-one, or in a safe place, you can ask, “how would you like me to refer to you?” or “how would you like to be addressed?” Another option is, “I use these pronouns. How about you?”

What should I do if I accidentally refer to someone by an incorrect pronoun?

Apologize, move on and use that person's correct pronouns in the future. A quick but genuine apology and correction is usually all that is needed.

Writing tips

SUNY Cortland is committed to creating a campus environment that is inclusive of transgender and non-binary members of our community. This includes being respectful and thoughtful about how we use language.

Using inclusive pronouns

Pronouns change as they represent different parts of speech:

  • Subjective: _____ laughed.
  • Objective: I like _____.
  • Possessive adjective: _____ eyes shine.
  • Possessive pronoun: That is _____.
  • Reflexive: _____ like(s) _____.

The table below shows which forms of a pronoun can be used in the sentences above. Please note: This is not an exhaustive list of pronouns.

Pronoun examples
SubjectiveObjectivePossessive adjectivePossessive pronounReflexive
she her her hers herself
he him his his himself
they them their theirs themself
ze zir zir zirs zirself
ae aer aer aers aerself

If these pronouns are new to you, the best way to become familiar with them is to practice.

Sample sentences:

  • She laughed.
  • I like him.
  • Their eyes shine.
  • That is zirs.
  • Ae likes aerself.

Avoiding gendered language

When referring to a specific individual, always use the pronouns that person provides. If you do not know someone's pronouns, do not use any.

When writing about an unspecified person, it is usually possible — and always preferable — to structure a sentence in a way that avoids gender. Here are some strategies for using inclusive language and sample sentences that have been reworded.

Use a plural rather than singular subject.

  • Original: Each student will develop his or her own lesson plan.
  • Revised: All students will develop their own lesson plans.

Change point-of-view or use an indefinite pronoun.

  • Original: A person's decision should be based on his or her career goals.
  • Revised: Your decision should be based on your career goals.
  • Revised: A decision should be based on one's career goals.

Remove the need for a pronoun.

  • Original: An employee's current title is used while he or she is going through phased retirement.
  • Revised: An employee's current title is used during the course of phased retirement. 

Use "they" or "them" as singular gender-inclusive pronouns.

  • Original: The person parked in the fire lane needs to move his or her car.
  • Revised: The person parked in the fire lane needs to move their car.

Replace gendered labels.

  • Original: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. 
  • Revised: Welcome, friends and supporters.
  • Original: Firemen arrived quickly on the scene.
  • Revised: Firefighters arrived quickly on the scene.