How to Use Gender Inclusive Language

Three Methods:Using Gender-Inclusive Language in WritingBeing Gender-Inclusive in SpeechCreating Gender-Inclusive Forms

Gendered language tends to perpetuate gender stereotypes. In addition, it subtly reinforces the idea that men are superior to women, as well as leaving out people who don't fall in the gender binary. The more gender-inclusive your language is in speech and writing, the less likely you are to alienate people or to perpetuate gender stereotypes. You can improve your use of gender-inclusive language by using some simple strategies when you write and when you speak. You can also ensure that your organization or business uses gender-inclusive language in its forms by making some special considerations when you create the forms.

Method 1
Using Gender-Inclusive Language in Writing

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    Use either/or pronouns. One option to make your writing more inclusive is to write "he or she" or "she or he" in place of just using "he." That way, you're including at least two genders in each instance. The downside to this approach is that it can make your sentences more cumbersome.[1]
    • You can also use a backslash to divide the two pronouns, such as he/she, her/him, or s/he.[2]
    • Additionally, another downside to this approach is it also reinforces the idea that only two genders exist.
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    Alternate pronouns. Another option is to switch back and forth between pronouns when giving examples. If you're writing a paper and giving examples throughout, use "he/him" in some examples and "she/her" in other examples. That way, you're not only using "he" or "him."[3]
    • This approach is more gender-inclusive than only using masculine pronouns or only using feminine pronouns.
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    Change the sentence. Another option to be inclusive is to simply rewrite sentences to be more inclusive. In other words, take out the pronoun if at all possible. For example, you be tempted to write, "If child is hungry, he should eat." Instead, change it to "A child who is hungry should eat."[4]
    • Changing the noun to a plural one can also make it easier to avoid gender pronouns, as you can use the non-gendered plural pronoun "they": "If children are hungry, they should eat."
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    Use "they" as the singular pronoun. While not acceptable in all circles, using "they" as a singular pronoun is becoming more widespread. If you'd like to try this tactic, simply replace "he" or "she" with "they" in any sentence that calls for a singular pronoun.[5]
    • For example, if you wanted to write, "A teacher should always be kind to his students," you can write "A teacher should always be kind to their students."
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    Write in second person. Another option is to switch to second person. Second person is when you address the reader directly with "you." While this approach won't work for every type of writing, it can work in some instances, particularly if you're writing an informal blog post or giving directions.[6]
    • For instance, if you’re addressing teachers and you want to tell them to be kind, instead of saying "A teacher should always be kind to their students," you could say, "As a teacher, you should always be kind to your students." Because "you" isn't gendered, it eliminates the problem.
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    Avoid falling into gender stereotypes. Often, examples used in writing fall into gender stereotypes, such as calling all firefighters men or using a woman as an example of someone who can be overly emotional. It's best to turn those stereotypes on their head if possible or to not include gender at all.[7]
    • For example, if you're writing something like "The firefighter rushed into the fire, as he was worried about the survivors," you might write one of the following instead: "The firefighter rushed into the fire, as she was worried about the survivors," or "The firefighter rushed into the fire to rescue the remaining survivors."
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    Use gender-inclusive titles. Many titles in the world are gendered, such as "fireman," "anchormen," "mailman," or "businessman." When using these terms, especially in a general sense, stick to more neutral terms to be more inclusive.[8]
    • For example, use "firefighter," "anchor," "mail carrier," or "business person" in place of the more gendered words.
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    Skip gendered phrases or group terms. Many phrases use "he" or "him" as a part of the phrase, such as "the best man for the job" or "man the booth." In addition, many words that people tend to use for a group of people or the world as a whole also tend to be gendered, such as "mankind." Try to substitute non-gendered words and phrases for these more gendered ones.[9]
    • For instance, use "the best person for the job" or "staff the booth." Instead of mankind, try "humanity" or "humankind."
    • In addition, always refer to an adult woman as "woman" or by her title, not as "girl" or "lady."[10]
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    Don't assume a person's gender. In some cases, such as when talking about an anonymous writer or an internet persona with a handle, you may not know the gender of the person. In that case, you should either use a phrase to refer to the person (such as "the anonymous writer") or repeat the handle. Of course, it's always preferable to find the gender of the person if possible.[11]

Method 2
Being Gender-Inclusive in Speech

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    Ask people for their preferred pronouns. If you're not sure what pronoun a person would prefer, it's fine to ask. Most people appreciate being asked because it shows you care enough to find out their personal preferences. Just be polite when you do it.[12]
    • For example, you could say, "I hope you don't mind me asking, but do you have a preferred pronoun you'd like me to use?"
    • Once they tell you what they prefer, be sure to use it.
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    Skip dividing by gender. When you're in a classroom or giving a speech, it's not necessary to address the group with gendered words. For example, you may be tempted to say "boys and girls" or "ladies and gentlemen." Instead, pick a plural noun that works for everyone, such as "students," "peers," or "colleagues."[13]
    • In addition, try not to break into groups based on gender. Use other tactics, such as dividing by location in the room or numbering off.
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    Don't make assumptions about a person's biology. Not every woman you see has a period. Not every man you see is incapable of getting pregnant. This is dependent on how strongly a man identifies with being a woman or a woman being a man. In addition, many transgender people, who are living as the opposite sex, still experience the biological functions of the sex they were born with.[14]
    • For example, any discussion of abortion rights should not just be limited to women, as many transgender men are affected by the legislation, as well.

Method 3
Creating Gender-Inclusive Forms

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    Ask for the person's gender. Instead of creating check boxes for a person's gender, leave a blank space for their gender so that they can fill in the blank. That way, they aren't limited by a binary system. Many people identify somewhere in between genders, as a completely different gender, or as no gender at all, and leaving the option open is much more inclusive.[15]
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    Separate sex from gender. If you're a medical office, you'll likely need a person's sex rather than gender. Gender is how a person identifies in society, while sex refers to biological sex. Having a question about sex is acceptable, but you should make sure to be inclusive.[16]
    • You could include options such as "male," "female," "intersex," "MtF female," and "FtM male."
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    Skip gender and sex altogether. Think about the application or form you're creating. Is it necessary to know the gender of the person? Unless you're a medical office or something similar, it's often not necessary, so consider skipping the questions altogether.[17]
    • If you're asking to know what pronoun to use, just move on to asking what pronoun they prefer.
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    Leave a place for their preferred pronoun. It's appropriate to ask the person what pronoun they prefer. If they're filling out a form for you, having a space to ask for a preferred pronoun will help put them more at ease. Just make sure you and other people on the staff make use of that pronoun.[18]
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    Ask for a preferred name. In addition, ask the person if they have a name that they prefer that's different from their license. If someone is transitioning to another gender or simply living as another gender, they may or may not have been able to change their license to a new name. However, it's respectful to ask what name they prefer to be used. In addition, this practice allows you to learn everyone's preferred name, even those who just use a nickname because they like it.[19]


  • Some groups of people have tried to create gender-neutral singular pronouns, but none of these pronouns have caught on in the mainstream, with the exception of using the plural "they" as a singular pronoun.

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Categories: Language Nuances | Feminism and Sexism