As a society, we are becoming more aware of our biases. Any discrimination based on age, gender, race, or other factors is met with justified criticism. We no longer call groups of people “guys” in favor of gender-neutral terms such as “people”. We can do the same with gendered pronouns such as “he”.
When a person’s gender is unknown or unimportant, we often speak about them as if we were talking about men. These sentences are gendered towards men, intentional or not:
- “The person forgot where he parked his car.”
- “The patient does not remember who treated him.”
To counter this pattern, some blindly replace male pronouns with their female counterparts. This well-intentioned change is an overcorrection. We cannot undo the damage done by defaulting to “he” for centuries by flipping the switch and only using “she” now. Calling any group of people “girls” from now on changes little.
There is a gender-neutral solution that might seem unusual to those not yet familiar with it. Allow me to blow your mind: we can replace he/she with they.
Taught to us as a pronoun referring to multiple people, we now use they to refer to individuals. In doing so, we remove any information about a person’s gender. We can also replace him/her with them and his/her with their to achieve the same:
- “The person forgot where they parked their car.”
- “The patient does not remember who treated them.”
To be more inclusive going forward, give the singular they a spin!
This issue reaches further than written and spoken language. I wrote an article called Your API might be sexist that covers a related symptom hidden deep in a product’s code.
All lessons in this course
An actual video
Two words can look like translations of each other even if they aren’t. The word “actual” is our first venture into this category of false friends.Read full lesson
Making a photo
Even if you translate each individual word in a sentence correctly, the resulting translation can still be off.Read full lesson
What for a picture
Not every word in a sentence needs to appear in its translation. Languages don’t map to each other one-to-one.Read full lesson
You can spot Germans by the fact that they use “or” to ask questions. Unfortunately, the word doesn’t work that way in English.Read full lesson
This mistranslation gave this course its name. “Together” refers to doing something with others. Here’s how to greet a group of people instead.Read full lesson
What do you call a phone you can hold in your hand? Well, it’s not this. If you call it a handy, you’re in for some awkward looks.Read full lesson
Becoming a car
“Bekommen” and “to become” are another pair of false friends. If you want something, make sure you’re not accidentally turning yourself into that thing.Read full lesson
Less vs fewer
Is it “less mistakes” or “fewer mistakes”? They both seem to say that something is not as much as it was before, but only one is grammatically correct.Read full lesson
False friends are everywhere. Eventually is very similar to the German “eventuell”, but it means something completely different.Read full lesson
Why isn’t it “Whom let the dogs out”? The extra letter does not turn a regular “who” into a fancy version of itself.Read full lesson
When coming from a language that doesn’t normally use them, where to put apostrophes can seem confusing.Read full lesson
I vs me
Was an event organized by “Nina and I” or “Nina and me”? To find which one applies, take the other person out of the sentence for a second.Read full lesson
Good vs well
You’re doing well, Superman is doing good. This lesson looks at the rules behind which of these two is correct in a given situation.Read full lesson
When you’re excited about something, tell others what that thing is. On its own, you’re only saying half an expression otherwise.Read full lesson
When you don’t know someone’s preferred pronouns, you can use they/them even when speaking about an individual person and not a group.Read full lesson
We have been taught to always say please and thank you. Whether they are right for a situation depends on the context.Read full lesson
Some actions happen to multiple people at once, like running into someone. In these situations, we need to use reciprocal pronouns.Read full lesson
Other languages don’t always use the auxillary “do” as much as the English language does, so it’s often lost in translation.Read full lesson