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A friend of mine is reading a English textbook in which a girl thanks her mother. In the letter, one of the things she said was "thank you for teaching me how to be a good man".

The English textbook isn't very good - it has lots of spelling mistakes, for example. But my friend wants to know what the textbook should have said instead.

Would you say "how to be a good woman"? Or "how to be a good person"? What would be more normal English?

The sentence was in the following paragraph:

Mom, I know I have never written even a note to express my thanks to you before. But today, on this special occasion, I just want to tell you loudly [sic]: I love you mom! Thank you so much for not only giving birth to my [sic], but also teaching me how to be a good man. Thank you, mom, for all what [sic] you have done for me, for the whole family.

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"How to be a good woman" seems fine, but for some reason it hurts my ear (though I'm not a native speaker). In addition to Novice's answer, I would like to just point out two more things:

  • man can mean not only "a male human", but also "human" in general
  • a good person is a great phrase that can be used for anyone.
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    Your first bullet is true (and I upvoted your answer for mentioning that important fact), but I have a hard time imagining any young woman thanking her mother by saying, "Thank you for teaching me how to be a good man," except in some exceptional circumstance, such as if the daughter had entered some male-dominated field, and had received some advice from her mother that proved particularly helpful as she worked through the ranks. Even then, though, the word man there wouldn't mean "human in general." The "Fall of Man" may refer to "humankind," but such usage is typically in the aggregate. – J.R. Jan 26 '13 at 10:16
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    To me (a native speaker), the term "good woman" itself carries somewhat sexist connotations. I picture Mom teaching her how to cook, clean, keep her husband happy, etc. – cHao Mar 14 '13 at 17:23
  • @cHao, Yes, unfortunately for us all, we've been indoctrinated to accept 'political correctness' as the way of the future. There should be nothing wrong with a woman expressing happiness or gratitude for being a 'good woman. :-) – MrWonderful Feb 11 '14 at 22:29
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    I agree with both J.R. and cHao. I think a good person is the only one that doesn't sound strange here. – starsplusplus Mar 5 '14 at 16:37
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How to be a good woman” is perfectly fine, but a much more attractive sentence would be:

How to be a real lady.

Or alternatively,

How to be a perfect woman.

If you want to refer to a person, generally:

How to be a great person.

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    The "best" choice really depends on context, which isn't clear in the example. Lady is felt (at least in much of the US) to be dated, and sometimes demeaning. Perfect woman is a bit strong; good woman would serve better in most cases. If the meaning really has nothing specific to do with gender, then "good person" is most suitable; if I could choose how I am viewed by the rest of the world, "good person" is what I'd strive for. – barbara beeton Jan 26 '13 at 14:05
  • @barbarabeeton Yep, "real lady" sounds like something from the '50s. Which could be the intent, in which case fine, but it's not something an English learner should say: it's loaded with connotation. Good Person is definitely best in the context given. – SusanW Nov 1 '16 at 11:12

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