When "man" is used as a general pronoun for humans, which gender (female, or male) does it have? For example, how should the following statement be corrected?

Today’s man, besides the physical world with which he has been accompanied since his creation and been accustomed to its circumstances, has stepped into a new world named cyber space, which has different characteristics.

Is he -used in the quote- satisfy both men and women? Or should I use something like he/she?

  • 2
    A fellow I once met used to quip: "Remember, there are two kinds of man: there is male man, and female man." That's good to keep in mind, but still – rightly or wrongly – you risk getting a scowl nowadays if you use the word "man" to refer to "people" or "mankind"
    – J.R.
    Feb 8, 2015 at 10:43
  • Good to hear that. Feb 8, 2015 at 10:48

5 Answers 5


To build on Jasper's answer, if you are writing for a company or someone besides yourself, find out if they prefer to use "he" as the "gender-neutral singular" pronoun or not. I have worked with one company which did, which meant that when I wanted to avoid using it -- which was most of the time, because I wanted to avoid the subconscious masculinization that Jasper mentions -- I would find ways to re-structure the sentence so that using the plural "they" would be correct.

In this sentence, for example, "Today's humans...with which they have been...since their creation...have stepped..."

If you are quoting someone else, then you're out of luck changing the sentence, and will have to sneak in a "men and women" somewhere else to make it explicit that you intend the quote to mean "mankind"/"humankind."


If you are using "man" to refer to humanity in general -- in other words, men, women, and children -- then you can use "he" as the corresponding pronoun. In this usage, "he" is not gender-specific.

Unfortunately, this usage is ambiguous. Unless the context is very clear that "man" refers to humanity in general, most listeners will subconsciously imagine men (not women) as the subjects of the sentence.

Constantly saying "he or she", "(s)he", "he/she", or "she/he/it" is very awkward. "He or she" is sometimes used in legal documents. "She/he/it" has a nasty (mis-)pronunciation.

In longer (non-legal) works, a viable approach is to have different people in different paragraphs or situations. Some of the people can be male, and some can be female. As A.Beth explains, sometimes "you can have examples to clarify things, and you can switch up the genders there." For example:

Alan sends an e-mail to Betty, copying Carl. Betty checks the e-mail, makes her annotations, and sends it to Carl, copying Alan.

  • I don't understand the last part of your answer "...different characters..." Feb 8, 2015 at 18:32
  • 1
    In technical writing, you can have examples to clarify things, and you can switch up the genders there. E.g., "To illuminate the workflow, here is an example: Anne sends email to Betty, copying Chris. Betty checks the email, makes her annotations, and sends it to Chris, copying Anne."
    – A.Beth
    Feb 8, 2015 at 18:44

Hmm. I searched for this question today because I was writing an essay and the pronoun I chose for "man", as humanity in general, was "it". I don't care for today's concern about gender pronouns, but I conceptualize "man" as an entity, living, not animal, but not always behaving human. Or should I say "humanly"?


I think in this case you can use "one" also.

Today’s man.. with which one has been.. since one's creation...


Invent a new word for man - or hu"man"ity...its the only way to go gender free. Or just get over this ridiculous trend altogether and realize the "man" has existed as a pronoun to describe all of humanity for eons and its really how one reacts to the word man which comes from latin for mind that makes it either neutral or triggery. Personally there are really bigger fish to fry and humanity is probably going to stick for eons to come...adjust and move on.

  • and men have been the default human for eons, we really don't want that to continue.
    – WendyG
    Dec 18, 2018 at 12:14
  • You're entitled to your opinion, but please remember that this is a language site, not a political site. The focus here should be on helping people to express themselves well in modern English. Jan 26 at 7:20

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