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University of Basel

Using Gender-Sensitive Language

English speakers and writers have traditionally been taught to use masculine nouns and pronouns in situations where the gender of their subject is unclear or variable, or when a group to which they were referring contains members of both sexes.

However, in recent decades the way we express gender identities and relationships have been reconsidered and we have to think more carefully about the ways we express gender in order to convey ideas clearly and accurately. If we believe that women and men deserve social equality, we should also reflect that belief in our language use.

Thankfully there are a number of different ways to express gender relationships with accuracy. Below, we have listed five rather easy strategies to help you improve your gender-sensitive writing:

  • Use the plural form for both nouns and pronouns
  • Omit the pronoun altogether
  • Use «his or her», «he/she» or «s/he» when you occasionally need to stress the action of an individual. Do not use this too frequently.
  • Switch from the third person (he/she) to the second person (you) when this is appropriate
  • Use gender neutral nouns
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