3

Population:

  • male is 100
  • female is 90

The population of males is higher than their "gender counterpart"

Or

The population of males is higher than their "female counterpart"

Let's say you are trying your best to find the synonym of "female", so you used the bold words above. Which of the two is the correct English words that is equivalent to the word female?

24

I believe neither of those two sentences uses the word "counterpart" correctly. The word "counterpart" does not refer to opposites. Let me give you an example. "The generals met with their counterparts from the enemy army to discuss terms of surrender." In other words, the generals are meeting with the enemy generals. They are alike instead of opposite. They are doing the same kind of job. Here's another example. The President of the United States, Donald Trump, met with his counterpart, the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel. They both hold a similar job, so they are counterparts, even though one is male and one is female.

It would be more correct to write:

The male population is higher than that of the opposite gender.

Or just:

The male population is higher than the female population.

  • 1
    Oh that's another synonym. Excellent. But, is there any other way to use counterpart in my sentence? – John Arvin Mar 25 at 6:44
  • 9
    John: the answer is "No, there isn't". – Fattie Mar 25 at 11:25
  • 1
    @JohnArvin "Equivalent" would be acceptable though. "Counterpart" is too specifically an individual though. – Graham Mar 25 at 22:06
  • I don't see the issue with "counterpart from the other gender" in the way you describe in this answer, any more than there's issue with "counterpart from the enemy army". Wether the group is "generals" or "population", counterpart as a word works the same, as far as I can see. – hyde Mar 26 at 11:58
  • Hmm, but are not males and females rather counterparts (complements) than opposites ? Like the counterpart to black is non-black, but the opposite is white. – Poutnik Mar 26 at 12:36
15

One of the definitions of "counterpart" on www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary says:

Something that completes : COMPLEMENT
"The lead actress and her male counterpart"

Gender counterpart would generally mean the other gender. So if it's for males, the counterpart would be understood to be female and vice versa. (It works here because there are only two genders. If talking about more, this could create confusion.)

Female counterpart would specifically mean the females.

  • 8
    As a native British English speaker, I would understand what both sentences are trying to convey, but I would regard both as wrong. (They are neither anything that a native speaker would ever say.) – Martin Bonner Mar 25 at 14:56
  • 4
    The example here is misleading. There's a lead actress, presumably more actors, and one of the actors is a (male) lead actor. This is a normal playwriting style, where a performance has two main characters so you can write a dialog. So the specific setup with a counterpart is very much intentional. If the roles were not written as counterparts, they wouldn't be having the dialog, and the audience wouldn't be able to follow what's happening. – MSalters Mar 25 at 16:44
  • 3
    Actually, as a native speaker, I might say "than their female counterparts", but only if my intention were more style than abject clarity (which, let's face it, isn't unusual :D) Certainly it sounds natural enough to me, if not particularly common in this context – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 25 at 17:33
8

If you're really desperate not to use female or women, you could use the everyday terms opposite sex or (less commonly) opposite gender. If you really want to sound fancy - which is what it sounds like you're trying to do - you could say gender complement, but this is not a widely used term (though it's not completely unattested). It just makes sense in terms of what complement means1, at least if you take a heteronormative view (that is to say, the idea that a man and a woman 'complete' one another). Counterpart isn't a natural thing to use in this situation at all.

Really, you're better off with a simpler and less obscure term.


1: Interestingly, the dictionary suggests that counterpart and complement are synonyms, but in this sense of completion, complement is what gets used. If you're composing a meal and working out what goes well with what else, you are looking for good complements - things that complement each other well, using it as a verb.

  • I think it might also be related to the mathematical meaning of "complement", e.g. "complementary angles". – nick012000 Mar 25 at 13:57
  • @nick012000 Yes, or complement sets, or complement subgroups, etc etc. All about "making complete" or "things that are not X" or similar. There's a reason mathematics uses that word. – SamBC Mar 25 at 14:11
6

If you want to maintain your use of counterpart, you can do so by using male and female as adjectives:

The male population is higher than its female counterpart.

2

The population of males is higher than their gender counterpart.

I wouldn't say that this is flat out wrong, but it makes the reader stop and think to understand what is being said, and it feels both akward and pretentious. I would advise against using this.

The population of males is higher than their female counterpart.

This is clearer, but "counterpart" seems to serve no useful purpose except to increase the average word length and falsely suggest greater precision.

The population of males is larger than the population of females.

This is clearer and more accurate. If it is OK to write "males", then it should be OK to write 'females". The parallelism in form emphasizes the parallelism in meaning. "Higher" not as good a way to describe the increase in population numbers as "larger".

By the way, in the example sentences in the question, either "their" should be changed to "its" treating a "population" as a single thing, or else "counterpart" should be "counterparts", treatign it as a collection of people. I would favor the 'its' form.

  • 2
    Even better still: The male population is higher than the female population. (That "population of males" bit just isn't how the word is generally used.) – J.R. Mar 25 at 16:38
  • 1
    @J.R. Even better: The male population is larger than the female population. – David Siegel Mar 25 at 16:47
  • That could be ambiguous; it could be interpreted as saying that males are taller and heavier than females. But that's a different question altogether. :-) – J.R. Mar 25 at 16:49
  • 2
    @J.R. "Higher" could equally be interpreted as "taller". When modifying "population" "larger" seems to default to meaning "more numerous " unless context indicates otherwise. – David Siegel Mar 25 at 16:54
  • @J.R. You would think written communication would be ambiguity free, but I see more and more it isn't. I just had the experience of writing a message to my doctor and taking pains to give him the facts, and it was still misunderstood. – Don B. Mar 25 at 22:31

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