Inclusive Language Guide

The Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion promotes communication practices that support and contribute to belonging for all members of the Miami community. Inclusive language puts our humanity at the forefront and allows everyone to feel recognized and valued. Learning about and using respectful, identity-affirming language is key to creating a welcoming environment for all members of our community. 

In alignment with strategic efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion, this Inclusive Language Guide provides best practices and resources for language usage on 

  • Forms
  • Email templates
  • Newsletters and 
  • Other correspondence

This is a living document, and the Miami community is invited to contribute to our inclusive langauge approach. If you have any suggestions or recommendations, please email

Pronoun Use

Pronouns are used to refer to people by replacing proper nouns, like names. In English, personal pronouns are gendered. Historically, English offers only three personal pronouns: masculine (he), feminine (she), and the un-gendered “it” (which is widely seen as rude or disrespectful to use when referring to a person). These few personal pronouns do not adequately express the variety of gender expressions that have been present throughout history. 

Grammar is not static, but changes over time. It adapts to, reflects, and perpetuates biases and social constructs present in the culture as it shifts. Many people have been excluded by the rigid and artificial binary representation of gender codified in the English language and have had to find or create alternatives to identify themselves in speech and writing.

He/Him, She/Her, They/Them and More

Pronouns are words used in substitution for other nouns when readers or listeners already know which noun or nouns are being referenced. Additionally, pronouns are used to provide context, clarify meaning, and shape how people, places, and things are perceived. Personal pronouns are pronouns that refer to specific individuals or groups. Personal pronouns include, but are not limited to:

  • Elle/Elles 
  • He/him
  • She/her
  • They/them
  • Xe/Xem
  • Ze/Hir 

Traditional grammar teaching followed the notion that utilizing singular they, rather than his/her and/or he/she, was grammatically incorrect. This rule has changed in recent years and singular they has not only become more commonly used in written and spoken language, but is now recognized by citation styles (APA, MLA, and Chicago Style) and dictionaries as a grammatically correct, gender-neutral pronoun that can be utilized instead of the traditional usage of he/she or his/her.

Singular they can be used for the purpose of identity. When individuals whose gender is neither male nor female (e.g. nonbinary, agender, genderfluid, etc.) use the singular they to refer to themselves, they are using the language to express their identities. Adopting this language is one way writers can be inclusive of a range of people and identities. When the gender of an individual is not known, the singular they can be used (for example, “The student turned in their paper.”)

Singular they has been used for a long time and is used in most casual situations; you probably do it yourself without realizing it. We are simply witnessing a reorientation of the traditional grammar rule, mostly with the intention of including more people in language.

Instead of “she” or “he,” use “they” when:

  • Referring to a large group of people
  • When using nouns like “person,” “individual,” “students,” or “everyone”
  • When you are referring to someone and are unsure of their pronouns
  • On forms, emails, and other forms of communication to practice inclusive language use

Examples of the use of “they”:

  • New student permits are now available. Their parking permits can be accessed through the student portal.
  • Please contact their department for more information.
  • They can find the campus map on the website.
  • Since they are seeking to change their major, they should schedule an appointment with their advisor.
  • Students, faculty, and staff are able to attend the event. They should check their emails for more details.

Best Practices:

  • Do not assume an individual’s pronouns based on their appearance. Always use the pronouns someone uses to refer to themselves. If you’re unsure what name or pronouns someone uses, politely ask. It’s usually okay to ask: “What pronouns do you use?” Remember, it’s not what pronouns they “prefer,” as this implies a person’s name and/or pronouns are optional.
  • Do your best to use an individual’s name and pronouns consistently, even if you knew the person by another name.
  • When unsure or unable to confirm someone’s pronouns, the best option is to refer to the person using their name or default to the gender-neutral “they.”
  • It is common to reference binary genders (him and/or her; he and/or she) when speaking to large groups of people or providing examples. A more inclusive way to approach this is to use him, her, they, or simply use gender-inclusive terms such as people, folks, everyone, etc.
  • Do not automatically assume a person’s honorific based on their assumed gender. When using courtesy titles, which include Mx., Miss, Ms., Mrs., and Mr., allow the option to enter another prefix or select none (also seen as “First Name Only” on forms).

Examples of Pronoun Use:

Please note that the following is not a comprehensive list of all pronouns used. As language develops, new pronouns continue to emerge. Always ask someone for their pronouns. 










El is speaking.

I listened to ellos.

The backpack is suyo.





Ella is speaking.

I listened to ellas.

The backpack is suyo. 




Elle is speaking.

I listened to elles.

The backpack is se.





Ey is speaking.

I listened to em.

The backpack is eirs.





Fae is speaking.

I listened to faer.

The backpack is faers.





He is speaking. 

I listened to him.

The backpack is his.





She is speaking.

I listened to her,

The backpack is hers.





They are speaking. 

I listened to them. 

The backpack is theirs.





Xe is speaking.

I listened to xem.

The backpack is xyrs.





Ze is speaking. 

I listened to hir. 

The backpack is zirs.



For more information about pronoun use, please visit any of the following resources:

Avoiding Ableist Language

How we communicate about and to people with disabilities can have a large impact on the creation of a more inclusive campus experience for many members of our community. This can include, but is not limited to, avoiding ableist language, utilizing accessibility practices, and intentionally designing materials and spaces that are accessible.

The terms used for people with disabilities all too frequently perpetuate stereotypes and false ideas. While some words and phrases are commonly used by many, including those with disabilities, usage is likely due to habit rather than intentional meaning. However, conscious thought about what we say, and when we say it, may help to more positively reshape how we communicate about disability in society and on campus. 

Best Practices:

  • Do not try to diagnose or label a person in casual conversation. Examples of this can include statements such as “That person is bipolar,” or “That person has OCD.”
  • Maintain the confidentiality of a person’s disability. Disclosure of an individual's disability should only be done as necessary and with their consent.
  • Use person-first or identity-first language instead of “differently abled,” “physically/mentally challenged.” Examples of person-first and identity-first language can be found below, as well as in our resources section.
  • Avoid using terms or language that have negative connotations surrounding abilities and disabilities and be inclusive of the perspective of individuals with a disability. One example of this is using the word “wild,” or “ridiculous,” rather than “crazy.” More examples of this can be found in our resources section below.
  • Avoid referring to individuals with disabilities as nouns. For example, avoid using the term “the disabled.”

Person-first vs. Identity-first Language:

  • Person-first language: Person-first language is language that distances the person from their disability in an effort to separate the individual from the stigma and negative connotations that have been associated with and that are surrounding disabilities. Some disabled individuals choose to utilize person-first language when describing themselves.
    • Examples: I am a woman with a disability. They are an individual with a disability. I am a man with a disability.
  • Identity-first language: Identity-first language is language that challenges negative connotations and stigma associated with disabilities by claiming disability directly. Identity-first language addresses the variety that exists in how our bodies and brains work, along with the myriad of conditions that exist. 
    • Examples: I am disabled, queer, and Latinx. I have an impairment. 


Ahead: Association on Higher Education and Disability. AHEAD Statement on Language, 2023, Accessed 6 Feb. 2023.

George Mason University: Disability Studies. Inclusive Language, 2023, Accessed 6 Feb. 2023.


For more information about avoiding ableist language, please visit any of the following resources:

Avoiding Ageist Language

Ageism is discrimination against people due to negative and inaccurate stereotypes based on their actual age or perceived age. Do not use the term ageism without definition.

Discrimination based on age (young or old) is ageism. Because terms like seniors, elderly, aging dependents, and similar "other-ing" terms connote a stereotype, avoid using them. Terms such as older adults, older patients, or the older population are preferred. In the same way, using pejorative terms for younger people is also a part of age discrimination.

Miami University’s Scripps Gerontology Center and University Communications have collaborated on a guide to avoiding ageist language. For more information on referencing age, avoiding ageist language, and related resources, please visit the Age Guide.