Unlike many other languages, most English nouns are not gender specific. For example, “doctor” can refer to a male or female physician, just as “professor” can refer to a male or female instructor at a university. However, some nouns are gender specific. In the past, a person who worked for the police department was called a policeman and the person who delivered mail was called a postman.
I. Gender Neutral Nouns
Today, most gender specific nouns are considered outdated, as they ignore women who do the same job. Now, we use the term police officer
and mail carrier
as they refer to both men and women. Consider the following gender neutral nouns:
stewardess = flight attendant|
chairman = chair, chairperson
fireman = firefighter
businessman = business person
foreman = supervisor
spokesman = spokesperson
cleaning lady = cleaner
fisherman = fisher
Some gender specific nouns are still used, as they have always had a counterpart for the opposite sex. Some of these nouns do have a third version that can refer to either.
actor, actress (actor)|
congressman, congresswoman (members of congress)
husband, wife (spouse)
waiter, waitress (server)
II. Gender Neutral Pronouns
When writing about a hypothetical situation or something in general, it’s important to be gender inclusive. This is done by using pronouns to include both men and women.
I’m not sure who will be the next president, but he must be thoughtful and considerate.|
The pronoun assumes that the next president will be a man.
I’m not sure who will be the next president, but he or she must be thoughtful and considerate.
I’m not sure who will be the next president, but they must be thoughtful and considerate.
The pronoun considers that the next president could be a man or woman.
It is acceptable to use either both he/she
or the third person they
in this situation.