Inclusive Language

WHAT are examples of gender-inclusive language?

This reference is meant to provide you with very basic pointers and replacement language to help avoid gender assumptions in your language. Although you might not mean harm, using language that assumes another person’s gender or pronouns (if that person has not shared the gender or pronouns to use) can cause harm, as can using language that erases some people’s genders by implying there are only two genders (or that only one gender is qualified to do a certain job).

Many people have already made the shift in their language to avoid “that’s so gay” as a derogatory phrase or to avoid assumptions about sexual orientation (e.g. asking a woman if she has a boyfriend). Many people have stopped using “he” as a universal language to refer to all people, or to exclusive “he” language or “she” language to refer to all fire fighters, all flight attendants, all doctors, all nurses, all administrative assistants, all college students, etc.

Similarly, we need to shift our language to avoid further assumptions that particularly harm transgender and gender nonconforming people. Small changes in language can make a big difference in peoples lives.

Instead of “yes, sir” or “thank you, ma’am” or other language that makes gender-based assumptions, you could simply communicate:

  • Good morning!

  • Thank you very much.

  • It’s a pleasure.

  • How can I be of assistance today?

  • Could I help the next guest?

  • Yes, please.

  • Yes, absolutely. Coming right up.

Instead of calling upon or remarking about a particular “man” or “woman” (who has not disclosed that identity), you could indicate:

  • The person in the red shirt

  • The person with their hand raised

  • The person who just spoke

  • The person over here (gesturing)

Instead of “ladies and gentlemen” or “boys and girls” or other language that assumes only two genders, you could use:

  • Friends

  • Colleagues

  • Friends and colleagues

  • Esteemed guests

  • Children

  • Students

Instead of “he or she” or “s/he” you could communicate:

  • They

  • That person

  • The patron

  • The guest

It is fine to use singular pronoun “they” as a way to refer to a specific person who goes by the pronoun “they” or to colloquially refer to a single person of unspecified gender. However, it may not be the best choice of language for a policy or technical writing in which a reference to a single person must be absolutely clear. In this case, instead of writing “he or she” or “s/he” or even “he/she/they” or “they,” it may be best to instead simply repeat the noun: the complainant, the representative, the member, the person, etc. That way, there is total policy clarity. There are also ways to edit sentences to avoid unnecessary repetition.

Instead of “men and women,” you could communicate (depending on what you mean to construe):

  • Everyone

  • All people

  • People of all genders

  • Women, men, and nonbinary people

This website provides much more explanation, examples, and information. See the appropriate section for more:

WHAT ARE PERSONAL PRONOUNS AND WHY DO THEY MATTER?

HOW DO I USE PERSONAL PRONOUNS?

WHAT IF SOMEONE MAKES A MISTAKE AND MISPRONOUNS SOMEONE ELSE?

HOW DO I SHARE MY PERSONAL PRONOUNS?

HOW DO I ASK SOMEONE THEIR PERSONAL PRONOUNS?

WHAT ADDITIONAL RESOURCES AND LINKS CAN HELP ME?