English Usage Topics > Male and Female
Male and Female
Pronouns and determiners
The fact that you are referring to a male person or a female person makes a difference grammatically only when you are using personal pronouns, reflexive pronouns, possessive pronouns, or possessive determiners.
She sat twisting her hands together.
She managed to free herself.
If you are referring to more than one person, there is only one pronoun or determiner of each type to use. For example, the subject pronoun you use to refer to a group of men, a group of women, a group of men and women, or one man and one woman together is they.
Boys are taught that they mustn't show their feelings.
People were looking to me as though they thought I might know the
They had been married for forty-seven years.
'she' and 'her' for things
Although it and its are generally used when referring to a thing, she and her are sometimes used when referring to countries, ships, and cars.
Mr Putin has a high regard for Britain and her role in Europe.
When the repairs had been done she was a fine and beautiful ship.
If you need to indicate someone's sex when using a noun to refer to them, you can use female or male in front of the noun.
A female employee was dismissed.
He asked some other male relatives for help.
Nouns referring to males or females
English nouns are not generally masculine, feminine, or neuter. Some nouns, however, are used to refer only to males and others only to females.
He announced that he was a policeman.
The bride was very young.
Words that refer only to women often end in '-ess', for example actress,
waitress, and hostess. Another ending is '-woman', as in policewoman.
She wants to be an actress.
...Margaret Downes, who is this year's chairwoman of the examination committee.
Fewer words ending in '-ess' are used in modern English than were used in the past. For example, people nowadays refer to a woman who writes books as an author, not an 'authoress', and actor is used for both men and women appearing in plays and films. Words ending in '-man', such as chairman, which were previously used to refer to both men and women, are now often replaced by words ending in '-person', or by gender-neutral alternatives.
An association was formed, with Ron as chairperson.
...Ross McGinn, chair of the local community council.
The following words are used to refer to male relatives:
The following words are used to refer to female relatives:
Note that cousin is used to refer to both males and females.
Other male people
These words are also used to refer only to men or boys:
You don't usually refer to a man or boy as a 'male'.
Other female people
These words are also used to refer only to women or girls:
You don't usually refer to a woman as a 'female'.
'-man' and '-person'
Words ending in '-man' are used either to refer only to men or to refer to both men and women. For example, a workman is a man, but a spokesman can be a man or a woman. The words ending in '-man' in the lists of male words above are generally used to refer only to men. When women begin to do a job that used to be done only by men, the word ending in '-man' is sometimes still used. Sometimes a new word is invented to refer to women doing the job, for example policewoman. However, it is becoming more common to use terms which do not indicate the sex of the person who has a particular job. For example, police officer is used instead of 'policeman' or 'policewoman', and head teacher is used instead of 'headmaster' or 'headmistress'. Words ending in '-person' are also sometimes used.
A few nouns that refer to a person of a particular nationality are used only for a man or only for a woman, for example Englishman and Englishwoman.
Nouns referring to animals
Most names of animals are used to refer to both male and female animals, such as cat, elephant, and sheep.
In some cases there are different words that refer specifically to male animals or female animals. For example, a ram is a male sheep and a ewe is a female sheep. However, most of these words are rarely used, or are used mainly by people who have a special interest in animals, such as farmers or vets. The ones most commonly used are bull (for a male cow) and hen (for a female chicken).
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