Gender-inclusive writing: Gender-inclusive nouns

Section: Inclusive writing

Go to the main page of this section: Inclusive writing – Guidelines and resources.

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Introduction: Gendered nouns and inclusive solutions

Many nouns in English are unnecessarily gendered. You might recognize some of these nouns as outdated today, but others may still find their way into your everyday writing. In general, these terms are best avoided because they often contain sexist assumptions and are not inclusive of other genders. Wherever possible, it’s best to replace them with gender-inclusive nouns.

Sentence with gendered noun Sentence with inclusive alternative
Being a stewardess is a demanding job. Being a flight attendant is a demanding job.
Humour is mankind’s greatest blessing. Humour is humanity’s greatest blessing.
Guys, we’re running out of time. Everyone, we’re running out of time.
An unruly boy or girl should be removed from the activity. An unruly child should be removed from the activity.

Occupational titles

Over time, many occupational roles and titles have taken on or carried forward an unnecessary gendered component. In most cases, you can use alternative gender-inclusive titles to convey the same meaning.

Gendered occupational title Inclusive alternative
flight attendant

Many of these gendered occupational titles contain the word “man” or “woman.” Titles using these terms are not inclusive of diverse gender identities. Moreover, it’s rarely necessary to focus on an individual’s gender when describing their occupation; in general, a person’s gender is irrelevant to the job they do and the way they do it.

Gendered occupational title Inclusive alternative
chair or chairperson
police officer

For this reason, too, you should avoid compound expressions such as “male nurse” or “female lawyer” unless the gender distinction is relevant and essential to the context. For example, such a distinction would be relevant and acceptable in the description of an agenda item for a conference addressing the status of women in science and bringing together a panel of top “women scientists.”

Finally, it’s good practice to thoroughly review all your documents before they’re published so you can identify and replace any gender-specific occupational titles that are still in common usage. You should almost always use a gender-inclusive title.

For further examples, please refer to the Inclusionary.

Expressions containing “man” or “woman”

In addition to occupational titles, there are many other expressions that contain the word “man” or “woman.” These expressions should also be avoided whenever possible. They often reflect older sexist thinking that takes “man” as the neutral or default (as in “mankind”) or emphasizes an individual’s gender in a context where it’s not relevant (as in “career woman”). They are also not inclusive of non-binary genders.

Gendered expression Inclusive alternative
the common man the average person
mankind humankind
career woman Use the person’s specific occupation: doctor, engineer, professor, etc.

A more detailed list of gendered expressions containing the word “man” or “woman,” along with their gender-inclusive alternatives, is available in the Inclusionary.

Terms denoting relationships

There are many gendered terms in English to describe relationships between individuals. Unlike gendered occupational titles, these terms don’t have to be avoided at all times. However, it’s important to use gender-inclusive terms in cases where you don’t know an individual’s gender or where you’re writing to or about a group of people of mixed genders. Of course, gender-inclusive terms are also preferred by many individuals who don’t identify with binary genders.

Gendered term Inclusive alternative
partner or spouse

For a more detailed list of examples and practical alternatives, consult the list of gendered terms denoting relationships and their inclusive alternatives in the Inclusionary.

Use of the singular “they” with gender-inclusive nouns

When you use a gender-inclusive noun generically, always pair it with a gender-inclusive pronoun in order to preserve inclusiveness. A good practice is to use the singular “they” to refer to generic gender-inclusive nouns. (Of course, if you’re using the gender-inclusive noun in reference to a specific person, you should pair it with that person’s specified pronoun.)

Gendered sentence Inclusive solution
The Chairman is responsible for the administration of the board meeting. He brings the meeting to order, manages the proceedings and oversees the votes. The Chair is responsible for the administration of the board meeting. They bring the meeting to order, manage the proceedings and oversee the votes.

For more information, read the full article on using the singular “they” in gender-inclusive writing.

Additional information

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© His Majesty the King in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Public Services and Procurement
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