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.

  • 1
    "a good woman" has (perfectly normal) gender-specific connotations, whereas "a good person" is generalized to humanity. Then sentence might have meant either (or both).
    – RonJohn
    Aug 25, 2023 at 14:00

2 Answers 2


"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.
  • 7
    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, 2013 at 10:16
  • 4
    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, 2013 at 17:23
  • 1
    @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. :-) Feb 11, 2014 at 22:29
  • 5
    I agree with both J.R. and cHao. I think a good person is the only one that doesn't sound strange here. Mar 5, 2014 at 16:37
  • 1
    @MaciejStachowski: It's a very common cultural stereotype. Personally, i'd say the conspicuously gendered language implies a difference between men and women, and absent any explanation, makes us find one even if we wouldn't normally recognize one. That means leaning on our culture and leveraging those stereotypes.
    – cHao
    Mar 10, 2021 at 3:41

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.

  • 7
    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. Jan 26, 2013 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, 2016 at 11:12

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