What are pronouns?
According to Stonewall, pronouns are the words we use to refer to people’s gender in conversation - for example, ‘he’ or ‘she’. But not everyone identifies with the binary definitions of gender (male and female) so they may prefer gender-neutral pronouns such as 'they/them' or 'ze/zir'. Everyone within our University Community deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and so understanding their pronouns is a simple gesture which has a big impact.
Someone's pronouns are not always obvious so we encourage staff and students to introduce themselves with theirs. By introducing yourself with your pronouns or including them on email signatures we help to create a more inclusive campus by not making assumptions of someone's gender identity based on their appearance or name.
But isn't 'they' a plural?
Not always. It can be used as a plural but it applies to the singular as well and you have probably been using it that way all of your life without realising. Mermaids UK explains that “We use they/them pronouns in every day conversations, and many people don’t even realise. If you’ve just come across a wallet on the floor, most people would say ‘someone dropped their wallet’. Non-binary people use all kinds of pronouns. Many use they/them, she/her, he/him or a combination".
In fact, using they/them as a singular is nothing new at all. You will find it used in texts such as The Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare's Hamlet and even the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.
Why do pronouns matter?
It's okay to be confused if this is new to you but a person's gender and their right to be respected is no less valid just because you don't understand it. This video from Buzzfeed helps to explain why pronouns are important and how they should be used.
Further down this page are some helpful tips on how to start using pronouns respectfully whilst working or studying at the University of Plymouth.
In line with Stonewall advice, we are using the word 'trans' as an umbrella term on this page to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth including non-binary, gender-queer and gender-variant people.
How to use pronouns
Frequently asked questions
- quickly apologise
- correct yourself
- move on!