How to Use Personal Pronouns and Limit Gendered Language on the University of Maine System Website

Gender-inclusive language in writing can be used to improve content by removing or limiting gendered language. In order to effectively reach the widest audience, gender-inclusive language is recommended when writing for the web. Words such as “mankind” may be intended to refer to all genders, but it is better practice to utilize non-gendered words such as “humanity.” Doing this shows that consideration has been made to reach everyone in your audience.

Definition of personal pronouns

A pronoun is a word that is used instead of a noun phrase to refer to individuals. Pronouns can be in the first person singular (“I” or “me”) or plural (“we” or “us”); second person singular or plural (“you”); and the third person singular (“she/her”, “he/him”, “they/them”, “ze/hir”) or plural (“they/them”).

Personal pronouns are used by all individuals to communicate gender identity and expression.

Definition of gender identity

Gender identity refers to an individual’s internal sense of gender, regardless of the sex assigned to them at birth or the sex designation on their legal documents.

Personal pronouns and gender identity guidelines

It is important to note that you should never assume another person’s personal pronouns when writing about them. When referring to another person in writing, please verify their personal pronouns or default to the singular pronoun “they/them”. These pronouns — they, their, them — are inclusive when writing about groups, and usage is evolving to become a standard for a third-person, gender-neutral pronoun.

When in doubt, ask — but ask consistently. Many students, faculty and staff will share their preferred pronouns in their email signature, business card or during introductions. When writing about a specific person, it is important to refer to them using their preferred pronouns. If you are unsure what those may be, you can always ask the person. At the same time, it is important not to assume that someone may or may not have preferred pronouns; if you do reach out to learn this information, be sure you are doing so consistently with everyone you are writing about.

Gendered language guidelines

Always write nouns, especially occupations, as gender neutral.

Examples include: “Firefighter” instead of “fireman,” “flight attendant” instead of “stewardess,” and “police officer” instead of “policeman.”