The Comprehensive Guide to He, She, and They: Mastering Pronouns for English Learners

He, she, and they are the fundamental pronouns in the English language, but their usage has become more nuanced and complex with the increasing awareness of non-binary gender identities. This comprehensive guide delves deep into the grammatical specifications and practical applications of these pronouns, equipping English learners with the knowledge and skills to navigate the evolving landscape of gender-inclusive communication.

Understanding the Traditional Binary Pronouns: He and She


  • Used to refer to a male person or entity
  • Example: “He went to the store to buy groceries.”


  • Used to refer to a female person or entity
  • Example: “She is an accomplished writer.”

These traditional binary pronouns are typically used based on a person’s gender, which is often assumed from their appearance or name. However, this approach can be limiting and incorrect, as human gender diversity extends beyond the male-female binary.

Embracing the Non-Binary Pronoun: They

he she they


  • Used to refer to a person whose gender identity does not fit into the traditional male/female binary
  • Often used by non-binary individuals who do not identify as exclusively male or female
  • Example: “They are going to the park for a picnic.”

The use of “they” as a singular pronoun is grammatically correct, especially in informal contexts. This pronoun allows for more inclusive and respectful communication when referring to individuals whose gender identity is not binary.

Navigating Multiple Pronouns and Preferences

Some individuals may use multiple sets of pronouns, such as “they/she” or “he/they.” This can indicate that they are comfortable with either set of pronouns being used, or that they have a preference for one over the other.

It is essential to respect an individual’s preferred pronouns to ensure respectful communication. Asking about and using an individual’s preferred pronouns demonstrates your commitment to inclusivity and understanding.

Best Practices for Using He, She, and They

  1. Ask and Respect: When meeting someone, politely ask about their preferred pronouns and respect their choice.
  2. Use Inclusive Language: Avoid using gendered language like “ladies and gentlemen” and instead opt for more inclusive terms like “everyone,” “y’all,” or “folks.”
  3. Be Mindful of Assumptions: Do not assume someone’s gender based on their appearance or name; instead, ask about their preferred pronouns.
  4. Apologize and Learn: If you misgender someone, apologize promptly and make an effort to learn and improve your communication.

Practical Examples and Scenarios

Example 1

“Anne uses the pronouns she/her and they/them is also fine. She identifies as a ciswoman or cisgender (a person whose gender identity matches the sex assigned at birth).”

Example 2

“Palau uses the pronouns they/them, and I identify as transgender, non-binary.”

Example 3

“Using gender identity terminology appropriately, including pronouns, serves as a vital means to demonstrate politeness and acknowledgment.”

Grammatical Specifications

Singular “They”

The use of “they” as a singular pronoun has been a subject of debate, but it is considered grammatically correct, especially in informal contexts. This usage can be traced back to the 14th century and has gained widespread acceptance in modern English.

Here are some examples of the singular “they” in use:
– “The student forgot their textbook in the classroom.”
– “Each employee should submit their timesheet by the end of the week.”
– “If a person is unsure of their gender identity, they should explore it at their own pace.”

Pronoun Agreement

When using pronouns, it is essential to ensure that the pronoun agrees with the antecedent (the noun or noun phrase the pronoun refers to) in number and gender. This agreement is crucial for clear and unambiguous communication.

– Incorrect: “The team finished their game and they were victorious.” (The pronoun “they” does not agree with the singular antecedent “team.”)
– Correct: “The team finished its game and it was victorious.” (The pronoun “it” agrees with the singular antecedent “team.”)

Pronoun Case

Pronouns can take different forms depending on their grammatical case, which includes subjective (I, he, she, they), objective (me, him, her, them), and possessive (my, his, her, their) cases.

– Subjective case: “They went to the park.”
– Objective case: “I saw them at the park.”
– Possessive case: “The park is their favorite place to visit.”

Understanding the grammatical specifications of pronouns, including singular “they,” pronoun agreement, and pronoun case, is essential for English learners to communicate effectively and respectfully.


  1. SDSU NewsCenter. (2019, November). He/She/They: Why Gender Pronouns Matter and What it Means to be Non-Binary. Retrieved from
  2. Reddit. (2021, July). What do She/they/he pronouns mean? Retrieved from
  3. NPR. (2021, June). A Guide to Understanding Gender Identity and Pronouns. Retrieved from