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gender-inclusive writing: correspondence (Linguistic recommendation from the Translation Bureau)

[The same content is available in French in the article ÉCRITURE INCLUSIVE: CORRESPONDANCE (RECOMMANDATION LINGUISTIQUE DU BUREAU DE LA TRADUCTION).]

Background

Gender-inclusive writing, which avoids references to gender whenever possible, is increasingly becoming standard practice in correspondence. It may be useful or even essential to apply gender-inclusive guidelines when writing to the following audiences:

  • individuals whose gender is unknown;
  • non-binary individuals (that is, individuals who do not identify with either the masculine or the feminine gender);
  • a diverse group of people (so that no member of the group feels excluded).

To be as inclusive as possible, the Translation Bureau therefore recommends eliminating references to gender in correspondence whenever possible, as outlined in the guidelines below for gender-inclusive (or gender-neutral) writing.

Gender-inclusive writing in English correspondence

Receiver’s address

Omit the courtesy title (Mr., Mrs., Ms.) in the inside address (name and address on the first page of the letter) and on the envelope. Instead, use the person’s given name or names (or initials) and last name, followed by the address.

Inside address:

Use Avoid

Justine Teresa Ames (or J. T. Ames)
515 Concord Court
Gardenton, NS  B2X 9F6

Ms. Justine Teresa Ames
515 Concord Court
Gardenton, NS  B2X 9F6

Envelope:

Use Avoid

JUSTINE TERESA AMES
515 CONCORD COURT
GARDENTON NS  B2X 9F6

MS JUSTINE TERESA AMES
515 CONCORD COURT
GARDENTON NS  B2X 9F6

Note: On envelopes, use the Canada Post format for addresses.

Salutation

For a specific receiver

Omit the courtesy title when you are writing a letter or email to a specific person. Instead, write "Dear" + given name or names (or initials) + last name + colon:

Use Avoid

Dear P. T. Smith:

We are happy to inform you that…

Dear Mr. Smith:

We are happy to inform you that…

Dear Amrita Kumar:

We have received your request…

Dear Ms. Kumar:

We have received your request…

For an unknown receiver or a form letter

When writing a letter or email to an unknown receiver or when writing a form letter, use a generic salutation, followed by a colon:

Use Avoid
Dear Colleague: Dear Sir or Madam:
Dear Homeowner: Dear Sir:
Dear Taxpayer: Dear Madam or Sir:
Dear Customer Service Manager: Dear Madam:

Note: The noun or nouns after "Dear" are also capitalized.

In an email message, in addition to the salutations listed above, you can use the salutation Hello, followed by a comma.

Body of the letter or email

To write inclusively, use gender-neutral terms as often as possible. In the body of the letter or email, follow the guidelines for gender-inclusive writing below.

Use gender-inclusive nouns

Use neutral nouns that do not specify gender:

  • spouse (instead of "husband" or "wife")
  • person (instead of "man" or "woman")

In particular, avoid nouns formed from the word "man" and nouns with feminine endings:

  • police officer (instead of "policeman")
  • humanity (instead of "mankind")
  • proprietor (instead of "proprietress")
  • property owner (instead of "landlady")

Use gender-inclusive pronouns

Use second person (you) instead of third person (he; she; he or she):

  • Send your application (instead of "The applicant must send his or her application")

Use plural nouns or pronouns with "they" or one of its forms:

  • Applicants must send their application by December 31 (instead of "The applicant must send his or her application by December 31")
  • All of the graduates must wear caps and gowns if they wish to attend the ceremony (instead of "Every graduate must wear a cap and a gown if he or she wishes to attend the ceremony")

Eliminate the pronoun

Replace a possessive pronoun with an article:

  • Each applicant must send the application (instead of "Each applicant must send his or her application")

Repeat the noun:

  • A teacher can provide instruction to students even after the teacher’s official class hours have ended (instead of "A teacher can provide instruction to students even after his or her official class hours have ended")

Singular "they"

The plural pronoun "they" or one of its forms is often used in speech and informal writing to refer to a singular non-specific noun or indefinite pronoun:

  • Every member has paid their dues.
  • I checked with everyone, and they have all finished their work.

There is growing acceptance for singular "they" in formal writing; and if none of the guidelines above fit the writing situation, singular "they" may be the only practical solution for gender-inclusive writing. However, this usage is not yet accepted by all language references, so make sure to consult the language reference in use in your organization before opting for the singular "they." It can usually be avoided.

Complimentary close

Complimentary closes in English are all gender-neutral and so do not pose a problem for gender-inclusive writing. Standard closes include the following:

  • Sincerely
  • Sincerely yours
  • Yours truly
  • Cordially
  • Regards
  • Best regards

Note: A comma is used after the complimentary close.

Gender-inclusive writing in French correspondence

Receiver’s address in French

In the inside address (name and address on the first page of the letter) and on the envelope, use the receiver’s first and last name, but do not include the courtesy title (Monsieur, Madame, etc.) or the job title.

Inside address:

Use Avoid

Claude Trépanier
Société arboricole
1, chemin des Érables
Gatineau (Québec)  J8V 1C1

Madame Claude Trépanier
Présidente
Société arboricole
1, chemin des Érables
Gatineau (Québec)  J8V 1C1

Envelope:

Use Avoid

CLAUDE TRÉPANIER
1 CHEMIN DES ÉRABLES
GATINEAU QC  J8V 1C1

MADAME CLAUDE TRÉPANIER
1 CHEMIN DES ÉRABLES
GATINEAU QC  J8V 1C1

Note: On envelopes, use the Canada Post format for addresses.

Salutation in French

The standard salutation is "Monsieur," "Madame" or "Madame, Monsieur." However, to be gender-neutral in letters and emails, use "Bonjour" instead, followed by a comma.

Use Avoid

Bonjour,

Nous sommes heureux de vous annoncer que…

Madame, Monsieur,

Nous sommes heureux de vous annoncer que…

In a letter or message that does not include an inside address (name and address on the first page of the letter) or that you want to personalize, use the receiver’s first and last name in the salutation.

Use Avoid

Alphonse Bernard,

Pour donner suite à votre appel…

Monsieur,

Pour donner suite à votre appel…

Marie Lafontaine,

J’ai le grand plaisir de vous inviter…

Madame,

J’ai le grand plaisir de vous inviter…

Body of the letter or email in French

To write inclusively, whenever possible avoid words that express gender or that suggest a preference for one gender over others. Follow the guidelines below for gender-inclusive writing (also called gender-neutral writing).

Use collective nouns

Use gender-neutral nouns that designate a group of people without specifying whether they are male or female or non-binary. For example:

  • clientèle (instead of "clients et clientes")

Use neutral nouns, adjectives and pronouns

Use neutral nouns, adjectives and pronouns that do not change form according to gender. For example:

  • spécialiste (instead of "expert" or "experte")
  • apte (instead of "qualifié" or "qualifiée")
  • quiconque (instead of "les hommes et les femmes qui…")

Avoid nouns that refer to people

Use nouns that refer to an action, a process, a result, etc., instead of to people. For example:

  • les résultats du sondage révèlent que l’outil est facile à utiliser (instead of "les répondants et les répondantes ont indiqué que l’outil est facile à utiliser")

Avoid gendered words

When the context is clear enough, avoid gendered words. For example:

  • la plupart (instead of "la plupart des participants et participantes")

Switch from passive to active voice

Switch from passive to active voice to avoid using masculine and feminine forms. For example:

  • Nous vous prions de passer par le côté (instead of: "vous êtes priés et priées de passer par le côté")

The active voice in French is explained in detail in the article COMMUNICATION CLAIRE : PRIVILÉGIEZ LA VOIX ACTIVE (in French only).

Complimentary close in French

The complimentary close can take a variety of forms, but it often contains words that indicate gender. We recommend that you omit the courtesy title (Monsieur, Madame, etc.) in the complimentary close.

Use Avoid

Veuillez agréer mes meilleures salutations.

Veuillez agréer, Monsieur, mes meilleures salutations.

Je vous prie de recevoir l’expression de mes sentiments dévoués.

Je vous prie de recevoir, Madame, l’expression de mes sentiments dévoués.

In cases where the receiver’s first and last name are used in the salutation, you may opt to repeat the full name in the complimentary close.

Use Avoid

Recevez, Alphonse Bernard, l’expression de mes sentiments très cordiaux.

Recevez, Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments très cordiaux.

Je vous prie d’agréer, Marie Lafontaine, l’assurance de ma haute considération.

Je vous prie d’agréer, Madame, l’assurance de ma haute considération.

Additional information

See the Translation Bureau’s Gender and sexual diversity glossary for more information on the different audiences that are the focus of gender-inclusive writing.