Advanced Vocabulary: Gender

It’s very important to avoid gender-inequality (discrimination) when you speak English. So this means that you shouldn’t use words that imply that men are superior to women, or that only men can do certain jobs.

This is especially important if your first language uses gender (masculine / feminine forms) to refer to jobs or people.

Here are some ways to be gender-neutral and “inclusive” when you speak or write English.

Does English have gender?

In many languages, a noun is “masculine”, “feminine” or “neuter” – but in English, nouns don’t usually have a gender.

You can use pronouns (“he”, “she”) to show the gender of a person or animal, but be careful to avoid gender discrimination. You can do this in three ways:

1. Avoid “he” or “his” when you refer to people in general.
If you say “A pilot knows how to control his aeroplane” you’re saying that pilots can only be men!

Instead, use a plural noun, and plural pronouns “they” and “their”.
“Pilots know how to control their aeroplanes. They are especially trained for this.”

2. Avoid using gender-specific words to refer to jobs.
For example, don’t say “businessman” or “policeman”. Instead, use words like “business people”, or “police officer”.

3. Use “he and she” or “she and he” to refer to an individual person.
You can replace “he” with “he and she”, “she and he” or even “he/she” and “she/he”. Here’s an example:

“When a candidate has been shortlisted for interview, she or he will be notified.”

Gender-neutral language

Avoid words that include the word “man” – or which show gender discrimination. Here’s a list of words to avoid – as well as the words you can use.

barman / barmaid = bar staff
businessman / business woman = business person
chairman = the chair / chairperson
fireman = firefighter
foreman = supervisor
policeman / policewoman = police officer
salesman = sales rep(resentative)
waiter / waitress = server
actress = actor
authoress = author
maid = cleaner
stewardess / hostess = flight attendant / cabin crew

Words with man
mankind = humanity / people
to man = to operate
manmade = synthetic / artificial
manpower = staff
the man in the street = the average person

husband / wife = spouse / partner
boyfriend / girlfriend = partner / significant other
mother / father = parent
brother / sister = sibling
son / daughter = child (and children)

Terms of address in letters
Dear Sir / Madam = Dear + name / surname, OR Dear + initial + surname
Alternatively, you can use a collective noun such as “Dear colleagues”, “Dear partners”, etc

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