French Language Blog

French Language – Gender Neutrality Posted by on Oct 15, 2019 in Culture, Grammar, Language, Vocabulary

One of the trickier aspects of learning to speak French, for the average English speaker at least, is dealing with the rules of gender. Not just remembering which nouns are masculin and which féminin, but also l’accord des adjectifs, keeping professions straight, and understanding why one man in a group of 99 women takes precedence (at least linguistically speaking!) over all of the women. While no one seems too keen on getting rid of the genre des noms, there is movement afoot to address the other two ‘issues’.

Le masculin l’emporte sur le féminin

In French, if Pierre goes to the movies avec toutes ses amies (with all his female friends), we say that ils vont au cinéma (they go to the movies, using the masculine plural ils even though les filles (the girls) outnumber le garçon (the boy)).

And if I have a white cat (chat, n.m.) and a white car (voiture, n.f.), mon chat et ma voiture sont blancs.

The two examples above are grammatically correct, because in French le masculin l’emporte sur le féminin (the masculine trumps the feminine).

They are also now being reconsidered by those who argue that how we speak affects how we think … and act, and that making le mâle superior to la femelle in language might be impacting les relations entre les sexes (the relationship between the sexes).

L’écriture inclusive

To remedy this situation, some have proposed a new approach to writing called l’écriture inclusive (inclusive writing) that outlines a series of rules that, according to its supporters, would “contribuer à l’égalité femmes-hommes” (contribute to the equality between women and men).

The first of these rules would replace la loi de la priorité (the law of priority) with la règle de la proximité (the rule of proximity) in which agreement is driven not by the sole male but by the nearest subject.

This means that, selon la règle de la proximité, mon chat et ma voiture sont blanches.

A second rule – list all the genders of a subject in alphabetical order – would mean that when Pierre et ses amies vont au cinémas, elles et il vont au cinéma!

Another ‘invention’ of l’écriture inclusive concerns how the gender of professions (which are traditionally represented as masculine when the context is not clearly feminine) and other indeterminant nouns should be represented. Look at the following examples:
Commerçant·e·s (merchants)
La candidat·e / les candidat·e·s  (the candidate, the candidates)
Les artisan·e·s (the craftspeople)
Les agriculteur·rice·s (the farmers)

I hadn’t seen it before I came across this article about American chef and restauranteur David Change’s complaints about les rayons ‘produits du monde’ (the ‘world foods’ aisles) in Note the use of “des immigrant·es mexicain·es et sud-américain·es” (Mexican and South American immigrants).

Et vous, have you come across this yet?

Et qu’en pensez-vous? What do you think? Does l’écriture inclusive advance the cause of women? Does it make French easier … or do all those dots just make it more confusing?

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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Since my first trip to France at 16, I have been a passionate francophile. I love the language, food, music, art, people, and more that make France and la Francophonie in general such an amazing part of our global community. Having lived in France and studied the language and culture for over 35 years, it is my great pleasure to be able to share a little bit of my deep love with you through this blog.


  1. Richard:


    This is a bit off topic, but what is the difference between “poiroter” and “attendre”? Poiroter is today’s French Word of the Day and I’m curious about any differences between these two words.


    • Tim Hildreth:

      @Richard Bonjour Richard. And thank you for your question. Always happy to help! Poiroter (or poireauter, as it is also spelled) is slang. Like ‘attendre’ it means to wait, but it carries the idea of waiting around for a long time, waiting uselessly, or waiting around instead of doing something else (that maybe you should be doing, or would rather be doing) 😉 … It comes from the expression “faire le poireau” (‘make like a leek’) that vegetable that grows in tall rows and sticks straight up.

      • Tim Hildreth:

        @Tim Hildreth In fact, I think I might even translate poireauter more as “hang around”, “hang out”, or “cool one’s heels” more than simply ‘to wait’. I hope that helps!