I was wondering what do native speakers normally call someone who is unable to speak in modern English.

I know the words "dumb" and "mute which perhaps according to the dictionaries, it is dated and even impolite.

Also I need to know what do you call someone who is unable to speak and hear at the same time.

I wonder what is the safest and more common way to address such people.

  • Because dumb has been metaphorically extended to mean stupid, you might prefer mute. More often used as a noun that an adjective, when applied to a person who lacks the power of speech: He is a mute (where article-less He is mute would often imply not speaking right now, rather than as a permanent condition). Aug 23, 2021 at 14:03
  • But "mute" is old-fashioned as well @FumbleFingers. (Added to the thread)
    – A-friend
    Aug 23, 2021 at 14:06
  • [what native speakers normally call someone]
    – Lambie
    Aug 23, 2021 at 14:07
  • "Polite" Anglophones today would rarely use a noun for such contexts. We'd say John cannot speak, not John is a mute. Aug 23, 2021 at 14:09
  • Then may I ask you what is the fixed term / expression to describe a person unable to speak and deaf at the same time?
    – A-friend
    Aug 23, 2021 at 14:11

2 Answers 2


As has been pointed out, dumb has fallen out of favor and the preferred term is mute. This is an example of the so-called euphemism treadmill; as you have pointed out, "dumb" used to be perfectly fine, but now it can seem offensive. Similarly moron and (I believe) retard used to be medical terms for people with IQs below a certain level, but now are only ever used as very offensive insults.

I would call someone who can neither hear nor speak a deaf-mute. And as Fumble pointed out, it is often better to refer to someone as a person rather than a collection of inabilities, so "a person who can't hear or speak" might be better.


You would not use a noun.

There are many conditions that can result in a person being unable to speak: Strokes, and other forms of brain damage. Deafness in some cases (though the deaf person may sign even though they didn't learn to speak). Physical deformaties of the jaw or throat. Psychological conditions, and probably many others.

There is no reason to lump these together. Instead you'd just say, for example:

Lucy had a stroke and is unable to speak.

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