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Correct and Preferred Usage

Roxanne K. Young

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date: 24 June 2021


Sex refers to the biological characteristics of males and females. Gender includes more than sex and serves as a cultural indicator of a person’s personal and social identity. An important consideration when referring to sex is the level of specificity required: specify sex when it is relevant. Choose sex-neutral terms that avoid bias, suit the material under discussion, and do not intrude on the reader’s attention. See also 11.5, Age and Sex Referents.




chairman, chairwoman

chair, chairperson [but: see note]


medical aide, corps member (corpsman is used by the US Marine Corps and it may refer to either a man or a woman)










letter carrier, mail carrier

man, mankind

people, human beings, humans, humanity, humankind, the human race, human species [but: see note]


artificial, handmade, synthetic


employees, human resources, personnel, staffing, workforce


parenting, nurturing, caregiving

policeman, policewoman

police officer

spokesman, spokeswoman


steward, stewardess

flight attendant

Note: Use man or men when referring to a specific man or group of men, woman or women when referring to a specific woman or a group of women. Similarly, chairman or spokesman might be used if the person under discussion is a man, and chairwoman or spokeswoman if the person is a woman. Any of these might be used in an official title, eg, Dorothy J. Tillman, alderman of the Third Ward, City of Chicago (verify with the author).

Do not attempt to change all words with man to person (eg, manhole). If possible, choose a sex-neutral equivalent such as sewer hole or utility access hole.

Terms such as physician, nurse, and scientist are sex-neutral and do not require modification (eg, female physician, male nurse) unless the sex of the person or persons described is relevant to the discussion (eg, a study of only female physicians or male nurses).

After completing her internship, the physician specialized in emergency medicine and worked at several hospitals in California; she was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 2007.

Personal Pronouns.

Avoid sex-specific pronouns in cases in which sex specificity is irrelevant. Do not use common-gender “pronouns” (eg, “s/he,” “shem,” “shim”). Reword the sentence to use a singular or plural pronoun that is not sex-specific, a neutral noun equivalent, or a change of voice; or use “he or she” (“him or her,” “his or her[s],” “they or their[s]”).


The physician and his office staff can do much to alleviate a patient’s nervousness.


Physicians and their office staff can do much to alleviate a patient’s nervousness. [plural]

The physician and the office staff can do much to alleviate a patient’s nervousness. [neutral noun equivalent]


Everyone must allocate their time effectively.


One must allocate one’s time effectively. [singular]

People must allocate their time effectively. [plural]

Time must be allocated effectively. [change of voice]

Note: In an effort to avoid both sex-specific pronouns and awkward sentence structure, some writers use plural pronouns with singular indefinite antecedents (eg, Everyone allocates their time [note singular verb and “their” instead of “his or her”]), particularly in informal writing. Editors of JAMA and the Archives Journals prefer that agreement in number be maintained in formal scientific writing (see also 7.8, Grammar, Subject-Verb Agreement).


One must allocate their time.

Everyone must allocate their time.


One must allocate one’s time.

Or: One must allocate time.

Or: Everyone must allocate time.

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