Gender is not synonymous with sex. According to the AP Stylebook, gender refers to a person's social identity while sex refers to biological characteristics.

Since not everyone falls in the category of "male/man" or "female/woman" in your writing, avoid references to both as inclusive of all people. Consider referring to a person or people or, if appropriate, including the term "non-binary" as a way to encompass all people.

Transgender is an adjective (so modifying man or woman—as in transgender man, transgender woman) that refers to someone whose gender assigned at birth does not match their gender identity. AP allows the use of trans on second reference and in headlines. Do not use transgender as a noun or use the term transgendered.

Exception: In federal reporting, such as terms used by the National Center for Education Statistics IPEDs, federal enrollment and graduation rates, sex and gender are used interchangeably and this data refers to "men" and "women" (not male and female).

Note: When interviewing individuals or otherwise referring to people, ask them how they want to be referenced (e.g., male, female, man, woman, transgender, gender fluid, nonbinary, etc.). Further, ask the individuals if there are pronouns they prefer to be used when they are being referenced (e.g., he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs). Ask, too, if there are any terms they do ​not want to be used in reference to them and in which cases that might apply.

  • Freshman: The Diversity Style Guide work group discussed whether to change the use of freshman and freshmen to first-year student or another term. Because freshman/freshmen is so widely understood, no recommendation was made to use another term. This change would also naturally influence the related terms sophomore, junior and senior.
  • Alumna/us: A woman who has graduated from a school takes the Latin term alumna. To reference a man, alumnus is used. For two or more women, the proper term is alumnae. If two people who are both men or a man and a woman are referenced, the correct term is alumni. There is no gender-neutral term and the work group did not adopt or recommend alumX/alumx or some other term to denote gender neutrality for an alumna/us or alumni/ae. Alum, while gender-neutral, is not preferred.
  • Gender and race/ethnicity: Also still under discussion by the work group are gender-neutral references for specific races and ethnicities. For example, we recently replaced Latino/a and Chicano/a with Latinx. 
  • Gender-neutral pronouns: Since there is no gender-neutral term in English for a single person, and using one is overly formal for most types of writing, you may wonder about when to use he or she (or both, or if you should alternate he and she). This is an important question because part of writing inclusively is balancing references ​to genders.

The AP Stylebook advises against "[presuming] maleness in constructing a sentence." If you can reword a sentence to avoid gender, that's ideal. If that's not possible, you may opt to use "they" or "their" to indicate that the gender of the individual referenced is either not known or the reference applies to any gender.

Consider using the suffix –person (e.g., chairperson instead of chairman; spokesperson instead of spokesman) in your writing to avoid presuming maleness. Ask the person whose title you're referencing what they prefer as well, if possible. Be aware, too, of words that use –ess and denote femaleness, such as stewardess or hostess. When possible, choose a gender-neutral alternate, such as flight attendant.

The singular "they": In March 2017, the Associated Press voted to accept the singular they (as well as them/their) as a gender-neutral pronoun when he/she or her/him is not accurate or preferred.

If possible, try to reword a sentence to avoid using the singular they/their/them, since this usage is still unfamiliar to many, if not most, readers and can cause confusion. So rework the sentence if you can and use the person's name in place of a pronoun when you can.

Another exception to avoid using only men/women or male/female (a binary reference) would be in a reference where men/women or male/female are necessary for accuracy, as in the case of a study that included men and women.

Mx: Though the Oxford Dictionary accepts Mx as a gender-neutral alternative to Mr., Mrs. or Ms., the AP Stylebook doesn't use these courtesy titles so does not offer guidance on the use of Mx.

It is the work group's feeling that this is currently not commonly understood and its use would likely confuse readers. Recommendation: Avoid the use of Mrs., Mr., and/or Ms. altogether, and only use traditional titles when necessary.

Gender: Terms to Avoid 

  • Hermaphrodite (preferred term: intersex)
  • Normal/norm (to refer to people who are not transgender, gender-fluid, non-binary)
  • Sex change (preferred terms: sex reassignment, gender transition)
  • Sexual preference
  • Tranny
  • Transsexual
  • Transvestite (preferred term: cross-dresser)