Gender-neutrality in languages with grammatical gender

Gender-neutrality in languages with grammatical gender

Gender neutrality in languages with grammatical gender implies promoting language usage which is balanced in its treatment of the genders. For example, advocates of gender-neutral language challenge the traditional use of masculine nouns and pronouns ("man", "businessman", "he", and so on) when referring to both genders or to a person or people of an unknown gender in most Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic languages.


The situation of gender neutral language modification in languages that have masculine and feminine grammatical genders, such as French, German, and Spanish, is very different from that of English, because it is often impossible to construct a gender-neutral sentence as can be done in English. For example, in French, the masculine gender supersedes the feminine; the phrase "la femme et l'homme" (the woman and the man) is replaced by the pronoun "ils" (they [masculine] ).

Accordingly, language modification advocates have focused much of their attention on issues such as job titles. Due to the presence of grammatical gender, their immediate goal in this case is often the exact opposite of that in English: "creating" feminine job titles rather than eliminating them. As such, "gender-inclusiveness" does not necessarily mean eliminating gender, but rather a use of language which they feel is balanced in its treatment of the two genders. For example, they feel that it is insulting to use the masculine gender for a female professional, for example calling a woman "le médecin" (the [male] doctor). They feel this would imply that women change gender or became somehow more manly when they went to work. The creation of new job titles for women is often less controversial than language modifications proposed by advocates of gender-neutral language for English, as it is often seen simply as a natural evolution as women have entered more professions.

At the same time, the newer feminine forms in most such languages are usually derived from the primary masculine term by adding or changing a suffix (such as the German "Ingenieurin" from "Ingenieur", engineer), so some feminists hold that these words are not equivalent to the masculine words because they are secondary forms. Others object to the perceived clumsiness of such neologisms. Citing German as an example, almost all the names for female professionals end in "-in", and because of the suffix none can consist of a single syllable as many masculine job titles do (such as "Arzt", doctor).

A further complication is that the creation of distinctly different job titles for men and women means that in writing about hypothetical people of undetermined sex, both words must be mentioned each time, which can become quite cumbersome. In languages where the gender of a noun also affects the formation of other words in a sentence, such as gender-marked adjectives, pronouns, or verbs, this can lead to repetitive or complicated sentences if both terms are used, as the sentence must essentially be repeated twice.

But in some languages, for example in Spanish, there have also been campaigns against the traditional use of the masculine gender to refer to mixed gender groups. Advocates of these changes feel that they are necessary in order for the language to not further the subordination of women. These modification efforts have been much more controversial. In addition to the sorts of conflict seen in the English-speaking world, some opponents of these changes see them as examples of cultural imperialism, or the exporting of Anglo-Saxon ideas and standards. English had already naturally lost most of its gender well before the beginning of the feminist movement, making a gender-neutral modification of the language much more feasible.


In Hebrew, which has a high degree of grammatical gender, virtually every noun (as well as most verbs and pronouns of the second and third person) is either grammatically masculine or feminine. As a result of campaigns by advocates for employment equality or gender neutral language modification, laws have been passed in Israel that require job ads to be written in a form which explicitly proclaims that the job is offered for both males and females. The separator "/" is often used, for example "dru'shim/ot", "maz'kir/a".

Note that certain feminine plural verb forms of earlier Hebrew have become archaic in modern Israeli Hebrew, so that the old masculine plural forms are now used for both masculine and feminine.

Germanic languages



German has four third-person nominative singular pronouns: "er" (male), "sie" (female), "es" (neuter) and "man" (impersonal). "Man" is frequently used in general statements such as "Man kann hier nicht parken" (One cannot park here). The pronoun "man" is distinguished from the noun "Mann" (capitalized and with double "n"), which means "male adult human". However, "man" cannot easily be used to refer to a specific person of indeterminate sex.

Gender-neutral language-modification advocates feel that the traditional phraseology of the language reflects a domination of the masculine over the feminine, as they feel it does in many other languages. They object to certain set phrases where the masculine form usually comes first, such as "man and woman" ("Mann und Frau"), and to the differential use of words like "Fräulein" (although this has dropped out of common use).

Grammatical gender is a primary topic of contention among gender-neutral language advocates. "Der Mensch" is a grammatically masculine word which means "human being" or "person", and is the traditional Germanic word used to mean this. Alternatives are, however, fairly widespread. "Die Person" means the same thing, is not considered awkward or overly politically correct, and is grammatically feminine.

Feminine job titles are usually created by adding -"in" to the masculine word in question. For example, the general masculine term for computer scientist is "Informatiker" (singular or plural). This yields the feminine form "Informatikerin" (plural: "Informatikerinnen"). As in other languages, the use of a suffix to mark the feminine form implies that the unmarked masculine form is the main form of the word.

There is no universally accepted solution to the trade-off between inclusiveness and wordiness. As a result of campaigns by advocates of gender-neutral language modification, many job adverts are now formulated so as to explicitly address both sexes ("Informatiker oder Informatikerin"). The option of repeating all terms in both gender forms is considered clumsy, and in the singular requires adjectives, articles, and pronouns to be stated twice. The use of slashes or parenthesis is commonplace, too, as in "Informatiker/in", but this is considered visually ungainly and there is no consensus on how it is read.

A common tactic is to use a phrase such as "Kolleginnen und Kollegen" in an introductory paragraph, but use only the simpler masculine form in the rest of the document, often with a disclaimer.

Sometimes a form of contraction with capitalization inside the word is used ("InformatikerIn"; "InformatikerInnen"). In some circles this is especially used to formulate written openings, such as "Liebe KollegInnen" (Dear colleagues). One obstacle to this form is that you cannot audibly distinguish between terms ("InformatikerIn" sounds the same as "Informatikerin"). Opponents of such modification consider the capitalized "I" in the middle of a word to be a corruption of the language. It is also not clear which gender declension the "-In" form is to be used with; sometimes all adjectival endings are likewise capitalized, such as "jedeR" for "each person" instead of "jede" (each woman) or "jeder" (each man). This form also tends to be associated with the political left, as it is often used by left-leaning newspapers, notably "Die Tageszeitung" and the Swiss weekly "Die Wochenzeitung". [ [ WOZ "Die Wochenzeitung"] ]

"We need an experienced computer scientist" could thus be expressed several ways, among which:

:"Stated twice (hendiadys):":Wir brauchen eine erfahrene Informatikerin oder einen erfahrenen Informatiker.

:"Using slashes:":Wir brauchen eine/n erfahrene/n Informatiker/in.

:"By highlighting the suffix "-in":":Wir brauchen eine erfahrene InformatikerIn; :"sometimes" Wir brauchen eineN erfahreneN InformatikerIn. "This is considered bad style, although frequently used."

:"Masculine form, with indication that both genders are implied:":Wir brauchen einen erfahrenen Informatiker (m/w).

:"Frequently, too, job ads will use a pseudo-English term to avoid the issue:":Computer-Scientist (m/w) gesucht! "Computer scientist (m/f) sought!"

In some cases, neologisms may be formed: some university communities are replacing "Student" (male college student) and "Studentin" (female college student) with the participle "Studierende(r)", meaning "the studying/college-going person", which does not face quite as many problems with declension. Terms like "Lehrer" (teacher) are increasingly being replaced by collective nouns such as "Lehrkraft" (teaching force; faculty). "Kellner" (waiter) and "Kellnerin" (waitress) are often transformed into "Bedienung" (service), which can be interpreted as having the effect of dehumanising the referent: "Fragen Sie bitte die Bedienung, falls Sie einen Wunsch haben" ("If you need anything, ask the service/help").


Like other Germanic languages, Swedish used to have three genders, masculine, feminine, and neuter. Today, it only has two, "neutrum" (neuter), which uses the pronoun "det", and another formed from the merger of the masculine with the feminine, known as "utrum" (common gender), which uses the pronoun "den". A few fossilized uses of the original genders linger on. For instance, the clock as an object is a common gender word, but when used to ask or tell the time, it is treated as feminine: "Vad är klockan?" "Hon är sex" ("What time is it?" lit. "She" is six o'clock").

Customarily, feminine pronouns are used when referring to both genders or to a person or people of an unknown gender. For example, a correct phrase is: "Den tidiga människan och hennes verktyg" (Early Man and "her" tools). The anglicization of Swedish in the late 20th century has made the usage of masculine pronouns to refer to unspecified genders more habitual, but it is still not the rule.

Swedish adjectives are always inflected according to number, and they used to be inflected for gender as well. Gender inflection of adjectives — "den sure chefen" (m), "den sura mamman" (f) — , has not yet fallen completely into disuse. Some still use it for occupational and kinship words, but the fact remains that it no longer serves any purpose for any other nouns. This has caused some debate as to which gender inflection should be the standard one for all nouns. The feminine inflection has become the one most widely used over the country, more likely because it is more distinct before nouns that begin with a vowel than due to any wide sense of gender equality.

Until the 1970s, it was rare that women would have professions other than secretary, teacher or nurse. A "majorska" was the wife of a major, a "biskopinna" the wife of a bishop. As nearly all Swedish women are in the work force today, this usage is deprecated. The word "sekreterare" (secretary) now mirrors its English counterpart in usage. A woman in a profession is now usually referred to by the same title as a man, save for "lärarinna", which is often still used for a female teacher, and "sjuksköterska" which means male or female nurse (although it is now supplemented by the neologism "sjukskötare"). The typical Swedish way of making occupational titles more neutral is by coining euphemisms. What for instance used to be a "städare" (male janitor) or "städerska" (female janitor) is now uniformly, at least in formal language, a "lokalvårdare" (custodian).

None of this changes the fact that many Swedish women still occupy traditional women's jobs - a caretaker at kindergarten, while formally referred to in the collective as "daghemspersonal" (day care staff), is still in common language a "dagisfröken" (kindergarten maid/female teacher), regardless of gender, because nearly all of them are women.

Romance Languages

Historical note

Ancient Greek and Classical Latin had generic words for "human"/"humanity in general" or "human being", "anthropos" and "homo" respectively, which are the etyma of such modern words as "anthropology" or "Homo sapiens". For "male human as opposed to female human", there existed the separate words "aner" ("andros"-) and "vir" (the etyma of English "androgen" and "virile", respectively).

Most modern derivatives of the Latin noun "homo", however, such as French "homme", Italian "uomo", Portuguese "homem", and Spanish "hombre", have acquired a predominantly male denotation, although they are sometimes still used generically in high registers. For example, French "Musée de l'homme" for an anthropology museum exhibiting human culture, not specifically "male culture". This semantic shift was parallel to the evolution of the word "man" in English. These languages therefore lack a third, neutral option aside from the gender-specific words for "man" and "woman". In Romanian, however, the cognate "om" retains its original meaning of "any human person", as opposed to the gender-specific words for "man" and "woman" ("bărbat" and "femeie", respectively). In Romansh the word "um" only refers to a male, whereas "human being" is expressed in different ways in the different dialects: "carstgaun" or "uman".


The use of non-sexist job titles in French is common and generally standard practice among the francophones in Belgium and in Canada. By law in Quebec, the use of gender-inclusive job titles is obligatory if the writer has not opted for gender-free terms. In France, however, the practice of using exclusively masculine job titles is still widespread in educated use and has been upheld by the Académie Française.

The most common way of feminizing job titles in French is by adding a feminine suffix to the masculine version of the noun, most commonly -"e" ("l'avocat", "l'avocate"), -"eure" ("le docteur", "la docteure"), -"euse" ("le travailleur", "la travailleuse"), -"esse" ("le maire", "la mairesse"), -"trice" ("le directeur", "la directrice"). For job titles ending in epicene suffixes such as -"iste" ("le/la dentiste") or -"logue" ("le/la psychologue"), the only change is in the article ("le"/"la") and any associate adjectives. Abbreviated professions only change the article as well (le/la prof).

To make words or phrases gender-inclusive, French-speakers use two methods:
#hyphens, brackets or capital letters to insert feminine endings: "étudiant-e-s", "étudiant(e)s" or "étudiantEs"; most writers avoid this practice in official titles such as Governor General and favor the next process;
#hendiadys containing a feminine word and a masculine word: "toutes et tous", "citoyennes et citoyens".

Words that formerly referred solely to a dignitary's wife ("l'ambassadrice") are now used to refer to a woman holding the same dignitary position. Although marriage titles have mainly dropped out of use, many cite the possible confusion as a reason for continuing to use those such as "Madame le Président" or "Madame l'ambassadeur". For this reason, the traditional use remains the most frequent in France. Nonetheless, in France, the husband of a female ambassador would never be known as "Monsieur l'ambassadrice". Instead, he would be called literally "the ambassador's husband", "le mari de l'ambassadeur".

Although some long-established positions of high prestige, such Governor General of Canada exist in both masculine and feminine variants, honorary titles remain masculine throughout the Francophonie even when the award or honor is bestowed unto a woman. Examples are titles such as "Grand Officier", "Commandeur", "Officier", "Chevalier", "Compagnon", "Immortel" used in the Order of Canada, the National Order of Quebec, France's Legion of Honor and the Académie Française, or Belgium's and Monaco's Order of the Crown. [See also the [ French version of this article] .]


In Italian, female job titles are easily formed with -"a", -"essa" and other feminine suffixes, but they are often perceived as ridiculous neologisms. A female doctor is a "dottoressa", while a female lawyer can be called both "avvocato" (masculine) or "avvocatessa" (a feminine neologism, sometimes perceived as ridiculous or even offensive, as it seems to overemphasize the gender). Italian job announcements often use a specific expected gender ("segretaria", "meccanico") or they address both genders with a slash ("candidato/a"). Many adjectives have identical feminine and masculine forms, so they are effectively gender-neutral when used without articles as job titles ("dirigente", "responsabile di"...) and in many other contexts; slashes are often applied to articles ("il/la cliente", the customer).There are full sets of masculine and feminine pronouns and articles (with some coincidences) and some traces of neuter; adjectives are declined, even if many remain the same, and adjective declension is also used in the many verbal tenses involving the past participle.The masculine gender is the default, and most correct form, for isolated adjectives and pronouns, for mixed-gender groups and for generic usage.


In Spanish, similarly, the feminine is usually marked with the suffix "-a", and it is generally easy to make a feminine noun from a masculine one by changing the ending -"o" to -"a": "cirujano, cirujana" (surgeon; m./f.); "escribano", "escribana" (writer; m./f.); "maestro, maestra" (teacher; m./f.) If the masculine version ends with a consonant, the feminine is typically formed by adding an "-a" to it as well: "el doctor", "la doctora". However, not all nouns ending in "-o" are masculine, and not all nouns ending in "-a" are feminine:

* Singular nouns ending in "-o" or "-a" are invariable in some cases: "testigo" (witness; either male or female). "La persona" (the person), "las personas" (the people), "la población" (the population) and "la víctima" (the victim).

* Nouns with the epicene ending -"ista", such as "dentista, ciclista, turista, especialista" (dentist, cyclist, tourist, specialist; either male or female) are almost always invariable. One exception is "modisto" (male fashion designer), which was created as a counterpart to "modista" (fashion designer, or clothes maker).

* Some nouns ending in "-a" refer only to men: "cura", that is "priest", a word which ends in "-a" but is grammatically masculine, for a profession so far held only by men.

Invariable words in Spanish are often derived from the Latin agent participles "-antis" and "-entis" (accusative case): "representante, comerciante, estudiante". But a female "cliente" is a "clienta", and a female "jefe" is a "jefa".

A few problematic cases remain:

* "Presidenta" used to be "the president's wife", but there have been several women presidents in Latin American republics, and in modern usage the word means mainly a female president. Some feel that "presidente" can be treated as invariable, given that it ends in "-ente", but others prefer to use a different feminine form.

* "El policía" (the policeman). Since "la policía" means "the police force", the only useful feminine counterpart is "la mujer policía" (the police woman).

* "Juez" (judge). Many new judges in Spain are women. Since the ending of "juez" is uncommon in Spanish, some prefer being called "la juez" while others have created the neologism "jueza". Common nouns ending in "-z" are usually feminine, as in the cases of "vez" and "paz".

Activists against perceived sexism in language are also concerned about words where the feminine form has a different (usually less prestigious) meaning:

* An ambiguous case is "secretary": a "secretaria" is an attendant for her boss or a typist, usually female, while a "secretario" is a high-rank position (as in "secretario general del partido comunista"), usually held by males. With the access of women to positions labelled as "secretary general" or similar, some have chosen to use the masculine gendered "la secretario" and others have to clarify that "secretaria" is a decision position, not a subordinate one.

* An offensive example is "hombre público" ("public man", a politician) and "mujer pública" ("public woman", a prostitute).

As in other Romance languages, it is traditional to use the masculine form of nouns and pronouns when referring to both males and females. Advocates of gender neutral languages modification consider this to be sexist and favor new ways of writing and speaking. Two methods have begun to come into use. One of them, seen most often in Spain and Mexico, is to use the at-sign (@) or the anarchist circled A (Ⓐ) to replace -"o" or -"a", especially in radical political writing ("¡Ciudadan@s!"), but use of the slash (/) as in ("el/la candidato/a") is more common. Opponents of such language modification feel that they are degrading to the language. Many also raise the question of how these new words are to be pronounced. See also .

Some politicians have begun to avoid perceived sexism in their speeches; the Mexican president Vicente Fox Quesada, for example, was famous for repeating gendered nouns in their masculine and feminine versions ("ciudadanos y ciudadanas"). This way of speaking is subject to parodies where new words with the opposite ending are created for the sole purpose of contrasting with the gendered word traditionally used for the common case (like *"felizas" and *"especialistos" in "*felices y felizas" or "*las y los especialistas y especialistos").

Slavic languages


Like most other Slavic languages, Serbian has more obstacles to gender-neutral language modification than English. The Serbian language has different forms for masculine and feminine past tense: он је радио "on je radio" (he was working), она је радила "ona je radila" (she was working). Only the rare aorist (in Serbian the aorist is a tense, not an aspect) makes no distinction between genders. Also, all nouns in Serbian have grammatical gender: masculine, feminine or neuter. Almost all nouns which end with a consonant are masculine, almost all which end with "a" are feminine and almost all that end with "o" or "e" are neuter. Adjectives and verb aspects (but not in all tenses) inflect for gender, too.

Gender-neutral language advocates are also unhappy with Serbian's use of noun gender. Some masculine nouns signify an occupation, while the corresponding feminine nouns refer to objects: the masculine noun говорник "govornik" means "male speaker", while the cognate feminine noun говорница "govornica" means "female speaker", but also "podium", or a "speaker's platform"; masculine тренер "trener" means "male coach", while the feminine word тренерка "trenerka" means "female coach", but also "warm-up suit".

Many feminists argue that in the Serbian language it is natural to differentiate the gender of job titles, as opposed to just using the masculine grammatical gender. They feel that the current convention to do otherwise stems from a patriarchal culture which dominated Serbia from the Middle Ages up to the first part of 20th century. Some of the language which they consider sexist includes: министар "ministar" for (male) minister and министарка "ministarka" for the wife of a minister, and професорка "profesorka" for the wife of professor instead of a female professor, etc. For example, they favor using учитељица "učiteljica" for "female teacher" (учитељ "učitelj" is "male teacher") and професорка "profesorka" for "female professor" (професор "profesor" is "male professor").

But many more traditional linguists, including women, argue that feminine names for occupations are not natural for the Serbian language.Fact|date=February 2007 They feel that the masculine gender variants should be used, even when the professional in question is female.

Advocates of gender-neutral language find it difficult to avoid specifying gender in Serbian, since it is so built into the language. But one area where they have a bit more flexibility is the word "person," in its various forms: a person can be referred to as човек "čovek" ("human"; masculine gender), особа "osoba" ("person"; feminine gender) or људско биће "ljudsko biće" ("human being"; neuter gender).

Only plural forms have clear general meaning: професори "profesori" means both "male professors" and "female and male professors", but професорке "profesorke" means only "female professors". Many feminists prefer to say професори и професорке "profesori i profesorke" (male professors and female professors) and to write професори/ке "profesori/ke".


Though Russian intrinsically shares many of the same non-gender-neutral characteristics with other European languages — for instance, usage of predominantly masculine words for most high-status occupations — this has not been viewed as a problem by Russian feminists, even in recent years. Almost all Russian women do not object to what some would perceive as gender-specific language. Constructs like "he or she", though grammatically correct, are unheard of.

Certain words are understood to refer to either men or women regardless of their grammatical gender. For example, человек ("human"; grammatically masculine), as opposed to мужчина ("man"; masculine with respect to agreement, but morphologically feminine) and женщина ("woman"; feminine), and are in fact traditionally used in cases where gender-specific terms would be used in English. Several terms that roughly mean "person" are grammatically neuter or feminine, and can similarly be used to refer to either men or women: лицо (neuter, lit. "face"), персона (feminine), личность (feminine). All such terms have a bureaucratic connotation and are seldom used colloquially. Note also that as a general rule Russian does not use neuter terms for people, just as English does not use "it" as gender-neutral pronoun.

Job titles have a masculine and a feminine version in Russian, though in most cases the feminine version is only used in colloquial speech. The masculine form is typically treated as "unmarked", i.e. it does not necessarily imply that the person is male, while the feminine form is "marked" and can only be used when referring to a woman. In some cases, the feminine title is derogatory or connotes a suboptimal performance and is only used as slang, e.g. врачиха (female doctor), директорша or sometimes директриса (female director). In other cases, this is not the case: актриса (actress), поэтесса (poetess). Even in cases where the feminine term is not seen as derogatory, however, there is a growing tendencyFact|date=February 2007 to use masculine term in more formal contexts that stress the individual's membership in a profession: "В 15 лет она стала учителем фортепиано" ("At age 15 she became a piano teacher", formal register). The feminine form may be used in less formal context to stress a personal description the individual: "Настя стала учительницей" ("Nastia became a teacher", informal register).cite journal
author = Olga Gurevich, Julia McAnallen, Elena Morabito, Renee Perelmutter, Jonathan Platt, Johanna Nichols and Alan Timberlake
year = 2006 | month = August | title = "Lexicon and Context in Feminization in Russian"
journal = Russian Linguistics | volume = 30 | issue = 2 | pages = 175–211
id = | url = | doi = 10.1007/s11185-006-0702-x

For this reason, use of the "masculine" occupation terms when referring to women, is in fact seen as more politically correct and constitutes a growing trend. The actual gender of the person can still be indicated through the verb: for example, in the phrase врач посоветовала (the doctor/m advised/f), the gender of the verb shows that the doctor was female, even as the masculine (more respectful) occupation term is used. Note, however, that there are also some grammatically feminine terms with positive connotations that are routinely used for both men and women, for example, знаменитость (celebrity).

Russian adjectives are inflected for grammatical gender and so are verbs in the past tense. When a masculine term is used to refer to a woman, the verb usually remains in the feminine, while adjectives and possessive pronouns may take either masculine or feminine form: наш новый врач посоветовала (our/m new/m doctor/m recommended/f) or наша новая врач посоветовала (our/f new/f doctor/m recommended/f). The former usage is more formal, while the latter is more colloquial.

The third-person pronoun typically reflects the actual gender of the person when this is known, врач сказала, что она... (the doctor/m said/f that "she"...), but typically agrees with the grammatical gender of its antecedent when an abstract person is discussed: Каждый врач должен помнить, что он... (Every/m doctor/m must/m remember that "he"...)

International auxiliary languages

: "See also: International auxiliary language, Constructed language"Some of the auxiliary languages of the twentieth century tried to move beyond grammatical genders in a way which would not favour any gender. In vocabulary, grammar, and orthography, Esperanto, Ido and Interlingua are based almost entirely on Indo-European. Unlike other Indo-European languages, however, they can be used in a gender-free way.


Esperanto follows the pattern of more natural languages, in assigning the male genders to specific roles (family member, aristocracy, etc.), and further deriving the female term from that. The generic form of nouns is the same as the male form and different from the female form — for example, "doktoro(j)" means "doctor(s)" (male or unspecified sex), while "doktorino(j)" means "female doctor". Some words, like "patro" (father), are intrinsically masculine, but there is no root word to express "a parent".

The prefix "ge-" may be used for groups of mixed sex, for example, "gedoktoroj" (male and female doctors). Reformers have used "ge-" to create explicitly sex-neutral singulars such as "gepatro", "a parent". Though not generally adopted, this usage has appeared in some authoritative reference works.

Explicitly marked feminine forms such as "doktorino" may be used to emphasize the noun's female character, but unmarked forms are also commonly used for females. Reformers have proposed morphologically well-formed but rarely used forms like "virdoktoro" (literally "man-doctor") and neologisms like "-iĉ-" ("doktoriĉo") to emphasize maleness. The first form is somewhat insufficient because "viro" tradittionally means "man, male", but does not really show any male lexeme or morpheme, "virino" meaning "woman". This is discussed about, some people prefer "viriĉo" for "man, male" as opposed to "virino".

Concerning pronouns there is much discussion: "ŝi" is clearly female, like English "she". For male persons "li" is used and for (not personified) animals as well as for inanimate objects "ĝi". It is not clear however what form to use when a person of unknown sex is spoken of. It is officially accepted, though very rarely practiced, to use "ĝi" in this case. Also "li" is officially accepted to refer to both sexes, what of course causes some opposition. There are some suggestions for neologisms like "ŝli" or "ri". On the other hand some people consider "li" to be clearly sex-neutral, what requires a new only-male pronoun, e. g. "hi".

Arguments about the character and implications of "gendered" or "sexist" features in Esperanto closely parallel those raised for other, particularly European languages.


Ido, a constructed language that is heavily based on Esperanto but seeks to avoid what some see as Esperanto's shortcomings, does not have this asymmetric sex-marking system. For example, "frato" means "brother" in Esperanto, but "sibling" in Ido. Ido nouns for kinds of people are sex-neutral in their ordinary form, but may be made either female- or male-specific by use of the suffixes "-ino" ("female", used as in Esperanto) and "-ulo" ("male", not to be confused with the same Esperanto suffix which means "person"). Examples: "sekretario", secretary — "sekretariulo", man secretary — "sekretariino", woman secretary; "doktoro", doctor — "doktorulo", man doctor — "doktorino", woman doctor. Thus, "sister" is "fratino" (the same as Esperanto), but brother is "fratulo". Some communities use three separate words: "patro" ("father"), "matro" (mother) and "genitoro" (parent). Compare this with Esperanto "patro", "patrino" and "gepatroj" respectively.

It also has an epicene pronoun "lu", which, somewhat ambiguously, can refer to beings of any (or no) gender as well as inanimate objects. (The words "man", "woman", "baby", "goat", and "table" are all referred to by "lu".)


Interlingua is an auxiliary language that was developed to have a widely international vocabulary and a very simple grammar. In Interlingua, nouns have no gender except to reflect natural sex. For example, the words "homine" (man) and "femina" (woman) are masculine and feminine, respectively, but "persona" (person) has no gender. Adjectives never have to agree in gender with the nouns they modify. The masculine pronoun "ille", (he) also serves as the nongender pronoun, but the possessive pronoun "su" ("his" or "her") is gender-neutral.

Initially, masculine-looking nouns such as "professor" and "conductor" denoted both men and women, but forms such as "professora" "conductora" have become commonplace over time. Interlingua has largely escaped charges of sexism, perhaps because the language changes easily as social values change. Women have obtained the presidency and other high-ranking positions in the Union Mundial pro Interlingua and in other Interlingua organizations.

ee also

*Gender-neutral language in English
*Gender-neutrality in languages without grammatical gender
*Gender-neutral pronoun
*Gender role
*Grammatical gender


External links

* [ A detailed clarification in Esperanto about the gender-specificity of Esperanto nouns]
* [ Justin B. Rye on sexism in Esperanto]
* [ "Riismo" in Esperanto]
* [ Commentary on various proposals for avoiding sexism in Esperanto]

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