When I am in the middle of a meeting and the discussed name is not clear if it is male or female I usually hear the question "is it a he or a she?", is that a correct way to ask for the sex of a person?

  • 1
    If you're talking about a person in that context, I wouldn't use it, nor would I say he or she. To me, it sounds like you're talking to a pet (like a cat or a dog). That may not be insulting to everyone, but it would certainly be abnormal to most. I think the safest way to pose your question would be "Is [person's name] male or female?" or "Is [person's name] a man or a woman?" If you're not given the name, use they instead: "Are they male or female?"
    – Kman3
    May 3, 2020 at 3:02

4 Answers 4


Using 'it' to refer to a person sounds rude or insulting to many people. A better way of phrasing the question would be: "Are they male or female?" This is acceptable since the plural is now commonly used to refer to a single person of unknown gender as in "A flight attendant will deliver your meal to your seat". In fact "they" is also sometimes used as the personal pronoun for a person of non-binary identity.

Another alternative is to use the forename and say "Is Jamie Male or female?" It's better than using the surname since you would need to know the gender in order to say "Mr or "Ms".

  • 1
    "It" would be appropriate in many (even most) contexts, just like "Who is it?" is totally fine. The main thing to watch for is that the pronoun "it" shouldn't stand for the person directly, but as a filler for a specified role or action, like "Was it a man or a woman who discovered microorganisms?" (to which the answer could be "It was a man" or "It was Antony van Leeuwenhoek"). On the other hand, "What gender is it?" when referring to a person would absolutely be rude. Jan 3, 2020 at 2:06
  • @the-baby-is-you Good point, but I think that 'it' in that context is a dummy pronoun similar to the 'it' in "It is raining" or "It's a long way to Tipperary" rather than a personal pronoun. I believe that that's why "Who was it at the door?" is acceptable but referring to Jamie Curtis as 'it' is not.
    – BoldBen
    Jan 4, 2020 at 11:26

It's not very elegant, but it is understandable in spoken English. "Man or woman" is probably a simpler way of asking.

Next we have Jamie Morita

Jamie ... Is that a man or woman?

You need to think about why you are asking this question. For example, if you were discussing job applicants for short-listing then the question would be inappropriate.


In this case, using the pronoun is inoffensive and still clear.

In the given context, your question is correct, but only omit the article 'a' and you may ask the gender of the discussed persons in the following way :

Is it he or she we're talking about?


Technically not incorrect, but it is more common to say "Is it a man or a woman?"

We don't usually use "a he" or "a she" when describing one's sex. Terms like man, woman, boy, and girl are often used.

  • That answer has already been given.
    – Chenmunka
    Nov 28, 2022 at 14:58

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