Pronouns are not “Preferred”

Let’s unpack the myth of preferred pronouns

Meghan Olson


Creator: nadia_bormotova | Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

When I was filling out paperwork for an appointment, there was a section asking for “preferred” pronouns. My initial reaction was a positive one. I was pleased with this effort by the clinic to be more inclusive but something about the paperwork struck me as a bit odd with the word “preferred.” After thinking about this, I had a realization that nothing about pronouns is preferred.

Pronouns are self-ascribed and therefore a matter of choice rather than assignment. This is because of the way that gender is an internal concept based on how a person identifies. Assuming that the pronouns a person uses are a matter of preference negates the importance of identity self-determination. The pronouns a person uses are chosen — not preferred.

Background: what are pronouns?

According to Grammarly, a pronoun is a type of noun that can be substituted for other nouns. For example, my mom is a nurse because she went to nursing school. Rather than including “mom” in the second part of the sentence, the pronoun “she” was used in its place.

Gender pronouns are used to refer to someone in conversation. Pronouns are an essential component in conversation when referring to someone based on their gender. Oftentimes, the pronouns we use to describe a person are based on how we “perceive” them by their appearance or name. The problem with this is that the way you perceive a person may not correctly align with their pronouns.

The most commonly used pronouns in the English language include:

  • She/Her/Hers
  • He/Him/His
  • They/Them/Theirs

While there are more pronouns, these three are the most commonly used. It is worth noting that some people do not use pronouns. In that case, you can use that person’s name in place of pronouns when referring to that person.

In a helpful explanation, the Human Rights Campaign notes that gender is internal. This notion is the basis for why you cannot necessarily know a person’s gender from their name and/or appearance. The only way to know what gender a person identifies as and what pronouns (if any) they use is to ask!



Meghan Olson

I’m a passionate writer, LGBTQ+ and mental health advocate, and bookworm.