Pronouns, familiar words we’ve used for centuries, have somehow become controversial in the past few years. But as language continues to develop, so should our knowledge of it.

When Elliot Page came out on social media, they shared that they are trans and that their pronouns are “he/they.” It was an announcement that left plenty of cisgender reporters, and even a few binary trans people, confused. GLAAD put together this guide for writing and speaking about Page specifically, but it seems like there’s a lot to learn.

So, let’s start with the basics. (If you remember grammar school, just hang in there.)

What is a pronoun?

He, she, they, you, we, but also anybody, something, whichever. There are more than 100 pronouns in English. Japanese has more than 700, though they are frequently omitted. 

Pronouns act as stand-ins for nouns. It’s the word you use when you don’t want to say or don’t know the name of the thing you’re talking about. For example, in the previous sentence, it and you are used to