I saw an interview with Russel Brand on Youtube where he notes that you should not refer to someone, who is present, using their pronoun but their actual name as that is good manners:


What is the guidance here?

2 Answers 2


There is a long tradition, at least in the UK, of reproaching a child who refers to an adult as she with the question "Who's 'she'? The cat's mother?" (Discussed here).

I've never heard a corresponding expression for he, but the same issue of politeness applies.

  • I was taught as a child never to refer to an adult by his or her first name--we were to say Mister ___ or Missus ____ (and the surname). In fact, I often did not know the adult's first name, as it was not included in the introductions.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 17:03
  • I think it's primarily a British usage, but I sometimes hear Does he take sugar? (originating in the context of handicapped people) used with a similar sense in more general contexts today. @Biblasia - no-one is suggesting that just because politeness sometimes dictates that we shouldn't refer to someone who's physically present using a 3rd person singular pronoun, that doesn't license disrespectfully using their first name (if you're not actually on "first name terms" with them, whatever the respective ages). Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 17:14
  • As I've grown up, I've tried to learn people's names and remember them as a very simple way to show respect. In conversation where three or more poeple are present, it ensures a much more accurate dialogue.
    – Hans
    Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 17:15
  • @FumbleFingers Being a child, it would have been less respectful to use an adult's first name than to use a pronoun. I was never instructed as a child not to use a pronoun for someone. Is this because I did not grow up in England?
    – Biblasia
    Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 17:18
  • 2
    @Biblasia - Yes, when I was young (many years ago!) it was considered bad manners for a child to use an adult's given name, but that is a different issue. It's about making a statement about someone, especially in their presence, without using their name. (The Does he take sugar? thing is about treating a disabled person as though they can't speak for themselves.) Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 18:09

In the US, it is not disrespectful to refer to someone as “he” or “she” in their presence, unless you are misgendering them (which is why some people announce their pronouns upfront).

The bigger concern for me would be ambiguity. If you motion to a group of five guys and say “He has a question,” it might not be clear which one you are talking about. If there is a risk of ambiguity, you should use their name.

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