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Dwain Richardson

English Editing in Quebec: All About Gender

two people rails 2000If you’re passionate about foreign languages, you’ll know that most of them contain masculine and feminine nouns. Some languages, such as German and Russian, go the extra mile and use neutral nouns. English has its fair share of masculine and feminine nouns, too, though most of them have been eliminated to make way for more neutral ones.

What exactly has been done to make English more neutral? According to The Canadian Style, officials laid out guidelines to eliminate sexual stereotyping in the 1990 “Fair Communication Practices.”1 While preparing the groundwork for these practices, officials embodied the principle that “all individuals, irrespective of gender, ancestry and ethnic origin or disability, are and must be portrayed as equally productive and contributing members of Canadian society.”2  Since then, many strategies have been drawn up to encourage neutral writing, such as eliminating masculine pronouns or repeating nouns, replacing typically male or female professional titles with more neutral ones, and avoiding generic terms like man, whether used alone or in a word (e.g., manmade).

It is customary practice to use masculine and feminine nouns in French copy:

Ce cours vise à fournir aux étudiants et aux étudiantes les connaissances sur les perspectives, théories et approches relatives au rôle de la communication dans la gestion des équipes.

Soulignons ensemble l’engagement de ceux et celles qui font rayonner leur quotidien.

Seul(e)s les candidates et les candidats retenu(e)s pour une entrevue seront contacté(e)s.

If French copywriters want to avoid both genders, they may insert disclaimers at the beginning or end of documents or forms:

Le genre masculin est utilisé sans discrimination et dans le seul but d’alléger.

Pour alléger le questionnaire, le genre masculin est employé la plupart du temps pour désigner à la fois les hommes et les femmes.

La forme masculine utilisée dans ce formulaire désigne aussi bien les femmes que les hommes lorsque le contexte s’y prête.

The above disclaimers are often—if not always—eliminated in English writing and translation. Here are some strategies English copywriters, translators and editors use when faced with feminization in foreign texts. (I’ll use French as an example for the purposes of this article.)

The French reads:

Instead of:


Appuyons les postiers et postières de Postes Canada.

Let’s support Canada Post’s mailmen and mailwomen.

Let’s support Canada Post’s letter carriers. (Note the neutral form.)

Est-ce qu’on doit faire confiance à tous les policiers et policières?

Should we be able to trust all policemen and policewomen?

Should we be able to trust all police officers?

Le directeur veille au bien-être de ses employés.

The supervisor looks after his employees’ well-being.

Supervisors look after their employees’ well-being. (Note the plural forms in this example.)

Un employé doit déposer un grief dans les délais prescrits. Son représentant syndical est déjà impliqué à ce stade-ci.

An employee must file a grievance within the prescribed time limit. His union representative will already be involved at this stage of the process.

An employee must file a grievance within the prescribed time limit. The employee’s union representative… (Employee is repeated twice.)

When all else fails, you can use both gender pronouns (e.g., “his or her students”) or use masculine and feminine forms alternatively throughout the text, all the while ensuring that neither gender dominates.


Previous “English Editing in Quebec” post: All About Style (Part Two).

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1 “Elimination of Stereotyping in Written Communications” from The Canadian Style. Public Works and Government Services Canada, Translation Bureau, 1997, p. 253.

2 Ibid, p. 253.


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