Writing style tip: how to avoid sexist language

It’s no longer politically correct to use man as a prefix or suffix for nouns encompassing both genders. Instead of words such as mankind and fishermen, use human race or humanity and fishers or anglers instead.

Nor do we usually now refer to females with the suffix -ess. Replace actress, manageress and waitress with actor, manager and waiter.

policeman         police officer
fireman             firefighter

Avoid using he to refer to everyone. However, because constructions such as he or she, he/she or s/he are clumsy, it’s usually better to:

  • Turn the sentence into the plural

The claimants read their policies.

  • Use a ‘you’ construction

You must read your policy.

  • Use the singular ‘their’

The claimant read their policy.

 Often you can rephrase the sentence to avoid a clumsy usage.

The claimant read the policy.

 Chair, chairman, chairwoman, chairperson

The last bastion of sexist language! There is quite a bit of resistance to using chair or chairperson, so if you have to pragmatic, use your organisation’s preferred title.

To learn more about grammar, register for one of Mary’s online grammar programs.


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