Inclusive Language with Respect to Grammatical Gender

Page Summary

  • Avoid the use of the “gender-neutral” he.
  • Avoid generic male-language terms when gender-neutral terms are available.
  • Avoid mentioning someone’s gender when describing professions, unless its require for context.

Although the modern English language does not have grammatical gender, it is still undeniably a gendered language. Some examples of this can be seen in the following points:

  • English personal pronouns (he/she/it) are generally chosen to correspond to the biological sex of a person.
  • Some inanimate objects in English are considered to be a specific gender e.g. ships or national identities are often referred to by “she”.
  • Many occupations are termed differently depending on whether they refer to a woman or man.
  • The pronoun “he” is traditionally used to generically refer to people of all genders.
  • The words that use the prefix man-, are considered to refer to all people.
  • The honorific for men (Mr.) refers to married and unmarried men equally, whereas honorifics for women (Miss/Mrs.) are tied to marital status.

The use of the “generic he”, in particular, creates assumptions and unnecessary conflict when it’s used to encompass the human condition, but is grammatically based on only 50% of the population. The goal of inclusive language is to remove assumptions and conflict like this from a language.

Inclusive language is not about creating ambiguity. If it is important to specify the gender of someone to improve context then it is absolutely acceptable. However, defaulting to a single grammatical gender has repercussions on how your message will be understood by your audience.

English can be a gender-inclusive language and it doesn’t take much effort. Open the toggle below to see some examples.

Avoid This   Instead Try

Generic male language terms.

  • Mankind
  • Manmade
  • To man
  • Maiden name

Gender-neutral terms.

  • Humanity
  • Artificial/Synthetic
  • To staff/run/operate
  • Last name

Mentioning gender when describing professions.

  • Salesman
  • Chairman
  • Actress
  • Woman doctor

Gender-neutral professional titles. Unless gender improves context.

  • Salesperson
  • Chair
  • Actor
  • Doctor

Less inclusive terms regarding marital statuses and families.

  • Husbands/wives
  • Sons/daughters
  • Sisters/brothers

Concise and inclusive terms regarding statuses and families. 

  • Spouses
  • Children
  • Siblings