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Why Pronouns Are Important



  • Kevin Narine (he/him/his), BA, William James College
  • Melina Wald, PhD (she/they), Columbia University Medical Center/Gender Identity Program

Why are pronouns important?

Pronouns are important for conveying vital parts of our colorful identities. We actively use pronouns daily but may not think about their meaning in each instance. However, pronouns are essential for promoting safety, respect, and care for others.1 Thus, understanding the impact of pronouns can be an important part of how we understand ourselves and interact with others in our personal and professional lives.

Everyone has unique pronouns. Some people may use one set of pronouns (e.g., she/her/hers) whereas others may use several pronouns (e.g., she/they). It is incredibly important to avoid assumptions about someone’s pronouns based on their appearance, voice, and/or name. Additionally, pronouns can express gender identity but does not always do so. Taking a moment to check in with others about their pronouns or provide opportunities for people to share their pronouns is an effortless and important way to express respect for others and avoid making inaccurate assumptions.

There are a few considerations when using pronouns:

  1. Pronouns are not simply “preferred”, but necessary. The phrase “preferred pronouns” suggests that it is optional to use someone’s pronouns.
  2. Pronouns should not be assumed. It is acceptable to ask someone for their pronouns especially during introductions.
  3. Pronouns can change based on context, name changes, or a person’s gender journey.
  4. It can be inclusive to encourage others to share their pronouns in a group context, but it is important to not make sharing pronouns mandatory as it may be uncomfortable for some people to disclose their pronouns.
  5. It is appropriate to use gender inclusive terms including “everyone/all/y’all” (instead of ladies/gentlemen) “partner” (instead of boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband), “they” (instead of he/she), “folks” (instead of you guys/ladies) and “person” (instead of man/woman) in order to avoiding assuming other’s pronouns or gender identity.
  6. Adding your pronouns to email signatures or name tags can show respect, allyship, and increase awareness about pronouns.
  7. It is crucial to advocate for gender pronoun items to be added to forms, electronic medical records, and other useful documents.

How do I ask someone for their pronouns?

While it may seem uncomfortable to ask someone for their pronouns, it is crucial to not assume their pronouns. If you do not know someone’s pronouns, it is recommended to use their name instead. When you are speaking with the person, you can simply ask “what pronouns do you use?” to learn about their pronouns. You can also share your pronouns in your own introduction to model openness around gender diversity and to normalize sharing of pronouns. In clinical settings, many patients desire to have their pronouns accurately documented in electronic medical records and should have this option available.3

What are the benefits of correctly using pronouns?

There are positive impacts to appropriately gendering or using pronouns for someone. The use of gender affirming language, such as appropriate names and pronouns, is associated with better mental health outcomes including reduced depression and suicide risk.4 Moreover, gender affirmative behaviors, such as asking for pronouns and consistently using those pronouns significantly increases engagement in medical care among Black transgender and gender diverse youth in the United States.5 Thus, creating a safe and affirming culture within mental health care and medical centers is an important step in ensuring that gender diverse individuals seek and remain in care.

How do I recover from Mistakes?

Misgendering occurs when someone accidentally or intentionally uses incorrect pronouns to address someone else. Misgendering is invalidating, dismissive, and alienating for someone. Moreover, misgendering leads to psychological distress.6 We all make mistakes and it is considerate to learn from them. If you accidentally misgender someone else, it is important to quickly apologize, correct yourself, and move on. It is also recommended to not profusely apologize for the mistake because it could make the person feel at fault or obligated to comfort you. The intent of the apology (as with all apologies!) should be to acknowledge the pain you have caused them, not to provide you with relief.

It is crucial to not deliberatively misgender someone. It is harmful, offensive, and harassment to misgender another person. In clinical settings, misgendering a person can lead to distress and embarrassment in the waiting area, as well as reduce the likelihood of seeking health services again.2 Misgendering may also lead someone to feel unsafe or afraid. As an ally, it can be important to correct someone if you notice they are misgendering someone else. Always ensure that you have spoken with the person who was misgendered first to ensure you are aware of how they prefer to handle misgendering.

How do cultures and pronouns relate?

It is important to acknowledge cultural differences in uses of pronouns. Some languages make space for gender neutral pronouns including Bengali and Farsi. Additionally, some Indigenous North Americans celebrate Two-Spirit folks and honor multiple pronouns. In contrast, American Sign Language does not use gender pronouns. Some cultures have pronouns that are not easily expressed in English. In the clinical context, it can be important to discuss how someone’s pronouns or gender are impacted by their cultural background and language.

Resources to learn more about pronouns:


1. Brown, C., Frohard-Dourlent, H., Wood, B. A., Saewyc, E., Eisenberg, M. E., & Porta, C. M. (2020). “It makes such a difference”: An examination of how LGBTQ youth talk about personal gender pronouns. Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, 32(1), 70-80.

2. Deutsch, M. B., & Buchholz, D. (2015). Electronic health records and transgender patients—practical recommendations for the collection of gender identity data. Journal of general internal medicine, 30(6), 843-847.

3. Sequeira, G. M., Kidd, K., Coulter, R. W., Miller, E., Garofalo, R., & Ray, K. N. (2020). Affirming Transgender Youths’ Names and Pronouns in the Electronic Medical Record. JAMA pediatrics, 174(5), 501-503.

4. Russell, S. T., Pollitt, A. M., Li, G., & Grossman, A. H. (2018). Chosen name use is linked to reduced depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior among transgender youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 63(4), 503-505.

5. McLemore, K. A. (2018). A minority stress perspective on transgender individuals’ experiences with misgendering. Stigma and Health, 3(1), 53.

6. Goldenberg, T., Jadwin-Cakmak, L., Popoff, E., Reisner, S. L., Campbell, B. A., & Harper, G. W. (2019). Stigma, gender affirmation, and primary healthcare use among Black transgender youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 65(4), 483-490.

Related Information

What Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a type of treatment that is based firmly on research findings.  It places emphasis on changing your cognitions (thoughts) or behaviors (actions) in order to effect change in how you feel. These approaches help people in achieving specific changes or goals.

Changes or goals might involve:

A way of acting: like smoking less or being more outgoing;
A way of feeling: like helping a person to be less scared, less depressed, or less anxious;
A way of thinking: like learning to problem-solve or get rid of self-defeating thoughts;
A way of dealing with physical or medical problems: like reducing back pain or helping a person stick to a doctor’s suggestions.

Cognitive behavioral therapists usually focus more on the current situation and its solution, rather than the past. They concentrate on a person’s views and beliefs about their life. CBT is an effective treatment for individuals, parents, children, couples, and families. The goal of CBT is to help people improve and gain more control over their lives by changing behaviors that don’t work well to ones that do.

How to Get Help

If you are looking for help, either for yourself or someone else, you may be tempted to call someone who advertises in a local publication or who comes up from a search of the Internet. You may, or may not, find a competent therapist in this manner. It is wise to check on the credentials of a psychotherapist. It is expected that competent therapists hold advanced academic degrees. They should be listed as members of professional organizations, such as the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies or the American Psychological Association. Of course, they should be licensed to practice in your state. You can find competent specialists who are affiliated with local universities or mental health facilities or who are listed on the websites of professional organizations. You may, of course, visit our website ( and click on “Find a CBT Therapist”

The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) is an interdisciplinary organization committed to the advancement of a scientific approach to the understanding and amelioration of problems of the human condition. These aims are achieved through the investigation and application of behavioral, cognitive, and other evidence-based principles to assessment, prevention, and treatment.

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Manage your Membership information, email preferences, and more.


Membership in ABCT grants you access to three journals.


We are now accepting Abstract submissions for Continuing Education Ticketed Sessions at the 2024 ABCT Convention in Philadelphia, PA.