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Another question brought up something that I have long wondered about.

How do you refer to a young woman, probably unmarried, and around eighteen to twenty-five years old?

I do not want to insult her by calling her "girl", but "woman" sounds too old to me -- like I should use that for women over thirty, married, with kids in tow, with a career.

I have a tendency to prefer "gal" in those situations, but I am not sure that is right and it sounds too informal for some settings.

For additional points: am I showing a gender bias? I think I would mostly refer to male friends of that age as "the guy over there" instead of "the man over there". I think that I reserve "man" for someone past similar milestones in life: over thirty, married, with kids, in a career.

  • 2
    This depends partially on how old you are. And partially the formality of the setting. And perhaps whether it is a college campus. – user6951 Jan 8 '15 at 23:24
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    "Young woman" is neutral. But there's no one word that means "woman out of her teens but still childless." – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 8 '15 at 23:44
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In the U.S., the most common word I hear for women that age is "girl". Unfortunately, there's isn't an age-neutral word like "guy" that you can use for women. Note that "boy" always refers to a child, but "girl" does not. (Even older women sometimes refer to themselves are girls. For instance, if a group of women spend an evening together without any men around, they might call it a "girls' night out".) This is probably because of differing social pressures. Women are taught to value youth and beauty, while men are taught to value power and experience.

The common options are:

  • Girl: Very common, especially among 18- to 25-year-olds themselves. Somewhat informal. Usually paired with "guy".
  • Woman: More formal. Often used to refer to women in abstract instead of a specific woman. Usually paired with "man". Sometimes used to emphasize maturity.
  • Lady: Common in plural form, as in "ladies' night". Can be formal or informal depending on the tone and circumstances. Usually paired with "gentleman". In the singular form, usually refers to an older woman. Sometimes used in the traditional sense of "a woman with class".

Some less common options are:

  • Young lady: Don't use this unless you want to sound old or archaic. People under 70 mostly use this phrase when disciplining their children.
  • Young woman: If you use it informally, this will also make you sound old, but less old than "young lady". Like "woman", it's often used to refer to women in abstract.
  • Lass: If you use this in front of Americans, they will think you sound Scottish. (Or Irish. We're easily confused.)
  • Gal: Informal. If you are not a native of the southern or southwestern United States, this will sound a bit silly.
  • Miss: Very formal. Normally only used in second-person. ("Excuse me, Miss? You dropped your bag.")
  • Chick: Very informal and a bit demeaning.

If you see any others, post them in a comment and I'll add them to the list.

So here's my advice. If you're speaking casually, use "girl". If you're speaking formally or technically, use "woman" (or "young woman" if her age is important). If you're ever in doubt, use "woman". Only use the other options for deliberate wordplay.

I don't think you're showing a gender bias. This is a real problem in English, and even native speakers have trouble with it.

2

It depends on a context. You can either use the word 'lass' or with informal touch 'miss'.

Both words are used specially for unmarried young woman. But again, depending on the context any of word can be used.

Hope this would help.

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    I love the sound of the word lass, but if a non-native speaker uses it in the United States, people will howl with laughter. – Adam Jan 9 '15 at 5:28
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    @Adam I know and that's the reason, being a non-native I wrote it and did not say! :) – Rucheer M Jan 9 '15 at 5:39
  • It's a good option but seems archaic. – Maulik V Jan 9 '15 at 5:46
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I've seen this in many Hollywood movies (names, I don't remember though) where such girls are called...

Hello, young lady! (Don't forget 'young', that's the key!)

And trust me, in most of the scenes, the expressions of those all 'young ladies' were so happy! I'm pretty sure, no one felt insulted.

I think calling someone a young lady (replacing 'woman') might serve the purpose especially when the age span is what you have defined.

However, natives are the better judges here! :)

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    Unfortunately, saying "young lady" in a professional context could be a very serious mistake. It might be seen as condescending or flirtatious or both. – hunter Jan 9 '15 at 15:19
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As a woman in the age category you are describing (18-25), I would find it very insulting if someone (male or female) referred to me by calling me a girl. The definition of a girl is a young female child-dictionary.com

It is safe to call a female under the age of 13 a girl. They are pre-teens who have not hit puberty. Ages 14-15 range you can usual refer to as a girl or young lady. Once you hit ages 16-17 you need to refer to them as young women (Because that is what they are: They are young and they have the body of a woman). After 18 it is woman all the way. It does not matter if they are married, unmarried, have children or no children, career or not...they are women. A 52-year-old woman can be unmarried with no children, that does not mean she is a girl.

If you are unfamiliar with the females age, young woman or woman is always safe.

You state that you reserve the title "men" for individuals over 30 years of age who have children, a wife, and a career. There are men everywhere of every age who are not married and do not have children. Would you refer to them as boys? Of course not, so why the stereotype of men (and women) have to have a spouse and children. A 25-year-old could have a child and wife and a 55-year-old may have neither. Anyone above the age of 18 is a man, no matter what.

  • It is in fact common, especially in American English, for people to refer to women in their 20s as "girls". Context and setting are important, of course, but the fact remains that this usage - however informal - is common, regardless of anyone's personal objections. – Dr. Funk Mar 29 '17 at 14:53

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