‘Guys’ is not gender-neutral, let’s stop using it

Rising up, it was frequent in my area of the US to make use of the phrase “guys” with the second individual plural, as in: “How are you guys?” I didn’t suppose twice about using it till I discovered the history of the phrase “man” and regarded what it meant when used for teams that included girls and nonbinary individuals.

Historical past of second-person pronouns

Previous to the 18th century, the English language had distinct pronouns for the second individual singular and plural:


  • Singular: thou, thee, thine
  • Plural: you, ye, your

You/ye/your was additionally used as a type of respect when addressing one individual, which ultimately led to thou/thee/thine being perceived as disrespectful and falling out of use. With this lack of the second individual singular, trendy English has lacked a pronoun to tell apart between “you” that refers to a person individual and “you” that refers to a number of individuals.

Therefore, countries and regions have give you options:

That brings us to “you guys” which is utilized in many areas of the US and different English-speaking international locations. Whereas a lot of individuals really feel that “guys” is gender-neutral, many others don’t, for good purpose when contemplating its historical past.

Historical past of “man”

The origin of “man” is traced to Man Fawkes who became infamous when he was arrested for making an attempt to assassinate King James I in 1605. English parliament established November 5 as Man Fawkes Day to commemorate the failed assassination plot. The phrase “guy” got here to imply an effigy of Fawkes with a grotesque masks which was burned on that celebration day. In England, “man” got here for use as a pejorative for a man (“He’s a foul man”).

When the time period later unfold to United States slang, the unfavorable connotations had been largely misplaced, maybe as a consequence of lack of context, and man came to mean “man” or “fellow” within the singular and “individual” within the plural. This created the inclusivity downside. Since a singular “man” is an individual of the male gender, those that are not of the male gender can feel excluded when known as “guys” within the plural. This is much like the exclusion girls and nonbinary individuals could really feel when they’re referred to with different masculine phrases, equivalent to “All males are created equal.”

I just lately posted a tweet with recommendations for gender-neutral options to “you guys” and solicited extra choices. Some individuals responded that they view “you guys” as “gender-neutral” and that “there are larger issues to get labored up over.” Others expressed that they too have been bothered by the time period “guys” for girls and mixed-gender teams and have been making an attempt to stop using it. As Claire Mulligan-Foster said, “Most individuals say they imply everybody however the difficulty is that not everybody hears it that manner.” Dr. Ronda Alexander identified, “It hurts most when it’s a corporation/group composed totally of ladies.” And as Kymberly Louise famous that “you guys” may be problematic even when the speaker perceives the group to be all-male: “I don’t wish to unintentionally misgender somebody even from my perspective [that] they seem to determine as male.”

Changing “guys” with gender-neutral options grants respect to the individuals being addressed, no matter whether or not you view “guys” as gender-neutral or gendered. Would you greet a mixed-gender or all-male group with “How are you gals?” In all probability not until to make a degree, as Gordon Dosher said, “I did use ‘gals’ one time in a blended group to level out the ridiculousness of claiming ‘guys.’”


As one study discovered, refined gender-exclusive linguistic cues can lead girls to really feel ostracized and to self-select out {of professional} environments. Within the research, girls responded with a decrease sense of belonging and fewer motivation throughout mock interviews that used gender-exclusive language (he) as in comparison with interviews that used gender-inclusive (she or he) or gender-neutral (one) language. Thus, dropping “guys” and different gender-exclusive language will help to create organizational cultures wherein everybody feels a way of belonging.

There are a number of methods to recover from the “guys” behavior.

Turn into conscious of gender-inclusive options: Not each various suits each context, however typically a number of of those choices will work.

Substitute “you guys” with:

  • you all
  • you two
  • you each
  • you of us
  • you
  • y’all / all y’all / yous / youse / you’uns / yinz / ye / you lot (relying in your area)

For different usages equivalent to “hey / hello / whats up guys,” substitute “guys” with:

  • all
  • everybody / everyone
  • individuals
  • of us
  • staff
  • colleagues
  • comrades
  • squad
  • associates
  • buddies
  • peeps
  • get together individuals
  • beautiful individuals
  • lovely people
  • Or simply say “hey,” “hello,” or “whats up” with out attaching every other phrase

Accountable management

These in authority (executives and managers) ought to set the instance of inclusive language by not using ‘guys’ for girls and mixed-gender teams. Leaders may also talk tips for anticipated use of inclusive language of their organizations. Professors and lecturers can problem their college students to not use “guys,” as Dr. Nancy Lough has done. Inclusivity is finest addressed from the highest down, by leaders who set expectations and norms.

Mannequin and self-correct

Set a aim to stop using “guys” to discuss with girls and mixed-gender teams. Nonetheless, remember that ‘guys’ may be so ingrained in our speech habits that it is virtually inevitable to slide up. It occurred to me final yr (pre-pandemic) after I handed a gaggle of feminine colleagues within the hallway. I greeted them, “How are you guys doing?” As I stored strolling, I internally chastised myself. Should you use ‘guys’ unintentionally, give your self grace for the error and proper it if the scenario permits: “I meant to say, ‘How are you all doing?’”

Ask for correction

Inform others that you’re quitting the “guys” behavior and provides them permission to name you out when you use it inappropriately. One trainer asked her fourth grade class to do that and located that the “youngsters received me collectively SO fast,” as she said.

Name it out

Should you hear others repeatedly using “guys” to discuss with girls or mixed-gender teams, name it out in non-public with a rationale. This is particularly necessary within the office the place inclusive language will help girls and nonbinary individuals really feel welcome. For instance, you might clarify, “I do know that many individuals use ‘you guys’ to discuss with a gaggle, however some individuals don’t consider themselves as a ‘man.’”

Solicit assist from colleagues

Should you’re a part of a gaggle being known as “guys,” it may be difficult to name out. Should you really feel snug, converse privately to the person, explaining that when you know it wasn’t their intention, once you hear “guys,” you’re feeling excluded. Additionally, take into account discovering a like-minded colleague who will help by talking to people in your behalf, and vice versa.

As a response to my Twitter put up, one individual noted, “Language adjustments with time.” That is right, and we will all assist the English language evolve in the direction of inclusivity by eliminating the utilization of ‘guys’ when referring to people who find themselves not male gender.


Amy Diehl, PhD is chief data officer at Wilson School and an skilled on gender bias within the office. Discover her on Twitter @amydiehl.