Gender-neutral language is nowadays preferred wherever possible.

In practice, gender-neutral drafting means two things:

  • avoiding nouns that appear to assume that a man rather than a woman will perform a particular role: ‘chairman’ is the most obvious example;
  • avoiding gender-specific pronouns for people who may be either male or female.

Noun forms

Gender-neutral noun forms (chairspokesperson, etc.) are preferred.

  • EXAMPLES:  firefighters instead of firemen; police officer instead of policeman or policewomantradesperson and craftsperson instead of tradesman and craftsman 

Pronouns

If the text clearly refers to a specific individual on a particular occasion, and you know the gender of the person concerned, use a gender-specific pronoun:

  • EXAMPLES: The High Representative (Baroness Ashton) voiced her objections.
  • EXAMPLES:  The President of the Commission (Mr Delors) said that he welcomed the common position reached at the Council.

Otherwise, depending on the circumstances, consider the following FOUR alternatives:

1. When writing instructions, use the second person or the imperative:

  • EXAMPLE: You should first turn on your computer.
  • EXAMPLE: First turn on your computer.
  • AVOID: The user should first turn on his/her computer.
  • Where possible draft in the plural; this is very common in English for general references:
  • EXAMPLE: Researchers must be objective about their findings.
  • EXAMPLE: This does not apply when passengers miss connecting flights for which they have reservations.

 2. Omit the pronoun altogether:

  • EXAMPLE: The chair expressed dissent.
  • AVOID: The chair his/her/its expressed dissent.
  • Substitute ‘the’ or ‘that’ for the possessive pronoun:
  • EXAMPLE: A member of the Court of Auditors may be deprived of the right to a pension.
  • AVOID: A Member of the Court of Auditors may be deprived of his right to a pension.
  • In current usage, ‘they/them/their/theirs’ are often used to refer back to singular nouns:
  • EXAMPLE:  This does not apply when a passenger misses a connecting flight for which they have a reservation.
  • EXAMPLE:  Identify the person responsible and take their advice.

This device should be used only when the reference is absolutely clear. It was formerly perceived as grammatically incorrect but is now widely used.

3. Use ‘he or she’:

  • EXAMPLE: This does not apply when a passenger misses a connecting flight for which he or she has a reservation.

This becomes clumsy if repeated too frequently and should be used with caution. If its use is really necessary, prefer ‘he or she’ to ‘he/she’, ‘(s)he’ or ‘s/he’, which should be avoided.

4. Repeat the noun

  • EXAMPLE: This does not apply when a passenger misses a connecting flight for which that passenger has a reservation.

This can be cumbersome and look excessively formal but may be a useful technique in a longer sentence.

Reference List

European Commission English Style Guide - A handbook for authors and translators in the European Commission Eighth edition: January 2016 Last updated: May 2018 "[PDF File]" Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/styleguide_english_dgt_en.pdf