People use pronouns to address someone when not using the individual’s proper name. Today, more people are sharing their pronouns; you may see them identified on a name tag, email signature, or through an introduction. Some common pronouns include she/her, he/him, they/them, and ze/xe. It is best not to assume one’s pronouns. Once you know someone’s pronouns, please utilize their identified pronouns. However, slip-ups can happen, and it’s essential to understand how to respond if you accidentally use the wrong pronouns for someone. This post will discuss the best ways to handle such situations with empathy and understanding. 

Here are steps to follow if you get someone’s pronouns wrong:

Apologize

First and foremost, remain calm and composed if you realize you’ve used the wrong pronouns for someone. Accidents and mistakes happen. Take a deep breath, acknowledge the error, and sincerely apologize. Be genuine and show that you genuinely want to correct your mistake.

Correct Yourself and Move On

After apologizing, immediately correct yourself by using the correct pronouns for the person. Don’t make a big deal out of the mistake or draw unnecessary attention to it. Instead, simply continue the conversation, ensuring you consistently use the correct pronouns going forward. Doing this shows your commitment to respecting their identity and actively trying to rectify your mistake.

Practice Active Listening

Lastly, practice active listening when interacting with individuals whose pronouns you may have initially mistaken. If they choose to address the issue further, listen attentively and respectfully to their concerns or experiences. Show empathy and compassion. Be open to learning from their perspective and avoid becoming defensive. Remember, this is an opportunity for growth and building more meaningful connections with others.

Reflect on the Mistake Privately

Take some time to reflect privately on why the mistake occurred. This self-reflection allows you to understand better the underlying biases or assumptions that may have influenced your language. Challenging and unlearning these biases is essential to foster a more inclusive and accepting mindset. In addition, engaging in personal growth can help prevent similar errors in the future and contribute to a more respectful and inclusive society.

After the incident

  • Take the initiative to educate yourself about gender identity, pronouns, and gender expression.
  • Familiarize yourself with common pronouns and their usage.
  • Read books, explore online resources, or attend available workshops that provide insights into diverse gender identities.

This self-education helps you avoid future mistakes and demonstrates your commitment to understanding and supporting the LGBTQ+ community.

Some individuals may feel uncomfortable sharing their pronouns, so please respect their decision. In this case, it is best to utilize neutral pronouns such as they/them or Ze/Xe. According to GLSEN, some individuals may identify with a few specific pronouns, any pronouns, or no pronouns. Below is a list of some common pronouns. 

SheHeTheyZe
HerHimThemHir
HersHisTheirsXe

*Please note this is not an exhaustive list of pronouns* 

Mistakes happen, but it’s how we respond and learn from them that truly matters. If you accidentally get someone’s pronouns wrong, remember to apologize sincerely, correct yourself, and continue the conversation. By practicing active listening, reflecting on the mistake, and educating yourself, you can nurture a more inclusive and respectful environment for everyone. Let’s work to create a world where everyone’s identity is acknowledged and respected. 

GLSEN (n.d.). Pronou Guide. Retrieved May 15, 2023 from Glsen.org

Article written by Lisa Himelstieb, M.A., LCPC (she/her)