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Guidelines for gender-neutral language

  1. Replace generic masculine pronouns (he, his) by rewriting your sentence in one of the following ways:
    • Recast your sentence in the plural.

      Example: Each participant must present his ID badge at the door.
      Revised: All participants must present their ID badges at the door.

    • Use both pronouns without parentheses (e.g. she or he, her/him, his/hers, herself or himself).

      Example: The client should receive his invoice in two weeks.
      Revised: The client should receive his or her invoice in two weeks.

      Note: Most sources agree that the construction s/he should be avoided.

    • Use neutral words like individual or one.

      Example: The stage manager must delegate all the tasks; he is therefore responsible for the show's success.
      Revised: The stage manager must delegate all the tasks; this individual is therefore responsible for the show's success.

    • Eliminate the pronoun altogether.

      Example: The incumbent is expected to edit a variety of documents. He must also prepare weekly updates.
      Revised: The incumbent is required to edit a variety of documents and prepare weekly updates.

    • Repeat the noun.

      Example: The student must submit the course registration papers by July 1. His guidance counsellor will send confirmation by mail.
      Revised: The student must submit the course registration papers by July 1. The student's guidance counsellor will send confirmation by mail.

    • Use sentence fragments where appropriate (e.g. work descriptions, c.v.'s).

      Example: drafts policies, edits materials and develops programs

    • Address your reader directly, using you and your.

      Example: The tenant must keep his apartment clean and tidy.
      Revised: You must keep your apartment clean and tidy.

      Note: Although plural pronouns (they, them, themselves) are sometimes used as gender-neutral singular pronouns in informal writing, they are not fully accepted. Use this practice with caution.

      Example: If your child is expecting you after school, please don't make them wait.
      Better: If your children are expecting you after school, please don't make them wait.

  2. Avoid patronizing expressions, and use woman instead of girl or lady unless you are referring to a minor.

    Example: One of the lovely ladies in the office will answer your call.
    Revised: One of the administrative assistants will answer your call.

    Example: If you need anything, just let the girl at the desk know.
    Revised: If you need anything, just let my assistant know.

  3. Avoid unnecessary feminine forms, such as ess, ette, ienne and trix.

    Don't use Use
    comedienne comedian
    executrix executor
    poetess poet
    stewardess flight attendant
    usherette usher
    waitress waiter (or server)

    This table provides a list of gender-neutral titles to use instead of feminine titles that end in ess, ette, ienne, and trix.

    Example: Joni, a stewardess with Travel Bug, moonlights as a comedienne. Revised: Joni, a flight attendant with Travel Bug, moonlights as a comedian.

  4. Use gender-neutral occupational titles.

    Don't use Use
    businessman, businesswoman businessperson, people in business
    chairman, chairwoman chair, chairperson, convenor
    cleaning lady office cleaner
    foreman supervisor
    headmaster, headmistress director, principal
    mailman mail carrier, letter carrier
    policeman, policewoman police officer
    salesman clerk, salesclerk, sales associate, salesperson

    This table provides a list of gender-neutral occupational titles to use instead of titles that end in man, woman, lady or mistress.

    • Example: Our foreman, Suellen, often acts as chairman of the health and safety committee.
      Revised: Our supervisor, Suellen, often acts as chair of the health and safety committee.
    • Note: Generic occupational titles like administrator, doctor, lawyer, nurse and secretary apply to both men and women. Don't use compound expressions like female administrator, male nurse or woman lawyer unless the distinction is relevant. If this distinction must be made, most sources agree that the terms male and female are preferred.
    • Example: At the conference, speakers will address such issues as the status of female lawyers in North America.
  5. Avoid the generic term man, generic words and expressions that contain man and the use of man as an adjective or verb.

    Don't use Use
    average man average person, ordinary person
    best man for the job best person for the job
    layman layperson, non-specialist
    man (when referring to humanity) human beings, humanity, humans, individuals, people
    man and wife husband and wife, partners
    mankind humankind
    man-made artificial, handmade, manufactured, synthetic
    manpower personnel, staff, workers, workforce
    to man to operate, to staff
    workmanlike skilful

    This table provides a list of gender-neutral generic terms to use instead of the generic term man, generic words and expressions that contain the word man and the use of man as an adjective or verb.

    • Example: Please get a clerk to man the front desk.
      Revised: Please get a clerk to staff the front desk.

      Note: You should also avoid expressions like career woman. Instead, be specific: artist, director, doctor, professor, etc.

  6. Avoid irrelevant references to details such as a woman's marital status, role or physical appearance.
    • Example: Widow, 58, rescues kitten from tree
      Revised: Woman, 58, rescues kitten from tree
    • Example: The always elegant Vice President, Rachel Wills, accepted the award on behalf of the organization.
      Revised: The Vice President, Rachel Wills, accepted the award on behalf of the organization.
  7. Avoid generalizations about men's and women's personality traits and social roles.
    • Example: Hysterical women and angry men
      Revised: Angry women and men
    • Example: The nurse should bring her stethoscope to the training session. Revised: Nurses should bring their stethoscopes to the training session.
  8. Alternate the order of reference.
    • Examples:
      Jane Morton and Vince Rubens
      Mr. Rubens and Ms. Morton
      Jane and Vince
  9. In correspondence, use parallel constructions.
    • When using Mr., use Ms. unless you know the preferred title (Miss, Mrs.) of the person you are addressing or referring to.

      Example: Dear Ms. Turpin:

      Note: If you don't know the sex of the addressee, use Dear followed by the person's initials and surname. Similarly, if you do not know the name of the addressee, use the form Dear Madam or Sir or Dear Sir/Madam.

    • When you mention the names of a woman and man together, portray them as equals.

      Examples:
      Giselle Ward and James Whyte
      G. Ward and J. Whyte
      Giselle Ward, the psychologist, and James Whyte, the teacher

      Note: This guideline also applies to couples and work associates. Be sure to check whether married couples share the same last name.

      Examples:
      Mr. and Mrs. Clayton Parker
      Clayton Parker and his wife Maude

      Revised:
      Mr. and Mrs. Clayton and Maude Parker
      Maude and Clayton Parker
      Mr. and Mrs. Parker

      Examples:
      Denise Angus and her assistant Walter
      Roy Bonneville, President, and his interpreter Jenn

      Revised:
      Denise Angus and her assistant Walter Banks
      Roy Bonneville, President, and his interpreter Jenn Wilford

  10. List names in alphabetical order or according to rank.

    Marielle Abbots Peter Martineau, President
    Dave Barton Francie Morris, Vice-President
    Priscilla Conroy Marcus Grabka, Treasurer
    Kim Nittleton Darlene Tempesta, Secretary

    This table provides a list of names in alphabetical order and a list of names according to rank.

  11. Alternate your word order.

    Examples:
    Each student must submit her or his paper by noon tomorrow.
    Dear Madam or Sir:
    In Canada, women and men are equally susceptible to heart disease.

For more on non-sexist language, consult The Canadian Style; Editing Canadian English; The Little, Brown Handbook; or The Gregg Reference Manual.

Test your knowledge and take the quiz on gender-neutral language.