How to introduce the inclusive “they” to your clients

How to introduce the inclusive “they” to your clients


How to introduce the inclusive “they” to your clients

Barbara McClintock, MA, Certified Translator and Certified Terminologist*


French-to-English translators work for French-speaking clients, and some are slowly adopting inclusive writing (l’écriture épicène) in French. It is easier to do so in English, which is considered a gender-neutral language compared with the Romance languages which are gendered languages.

Your French-speaking clients may not know that the use of “they” as an inclusive pronoun has a long history. The inclusive or singular “they” became more popular in Canada in recent years following the recognition that gender is a separate concept from sex. The pronoun “they,” which is part of efforts to make English more respectful of diversity, was selected as Merriam-Webster’s word of the year in 2019. M-W also notes that the nonbinary sense of “they” was added to its dictionary in September 2019.1

It can be confusing to pick the correct pronoun to use when addressing someone you have never met, which is not surprising given the number of possible pronouns and genders. Some of these include he/she; they/their/them/themselves; ze/hir; xe/xem; hy/hym and co/cos.2 There are at least 15 different non-binary genders alone ranging from agender (no gender) to pangender (having many or all genders).3 It’s advisable to ask the individual which pronoun they normally use. As you can see, he/she was replaced in the previous sentence by the inclusive “they.” Moreover, it takes a plural verb, which sounds more natural than a singular verb to English speakers and is based on Justice Canada’s recommendations:

For example, . . . the person against whom the objection is made, where they wish to present their position.4

As we have seen above, “they” is not the only pronoun to refer to a person. Fortunately, there is a simple solution for everybody: the inclusive “they” (including the pronouns their, them, themselves). Just be careful not to call a law firm “they.” Although firms tend to have long names, such as Desjardins Ducharme, Stein, Monast, they are singular in English:

DDSM was a Quebec firm headquartered in Montreal. In the early 2000s, it merged with XYZ.

Disclaimer for the masculine form?

The other day, a report crossed my desk containing the old disclaimer, “Le masculin est utilisé afin d’alléger le contenu.” I have dropped such disclaimers in the past because they do not apply to the English translation. By including the disclaimer, the client assumes that the masculine form can be used with impunity. This indicates that the client is not up-to-date with inclusive writing, such as the inclusive “they.” In such a case, you may want to send a note to the client if you think it is appropriate to do so, e.g., “The inclusive they is used to be gender neutral and to simplify the text.” At the very least, it will explain your style choice to the client and perhaps even nudge them towards considering a more gender-neutral style in the original French document. Moreover, I’ve heard that some English-to-French translators add a note for their clients in which they explain that some formulations are used in a spirit of equality (“certaines formulations sont là dans un but d’égalitarisme”).

* The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

  1. Merriam-Webster,
  2. Being Non-Binary,
  3. Ibid.
  4. Justice Canada Legistics, Date accessed: 2021-08-06.


Further articles about “they”

The Editors’ Weekly, The Singular “They” — Conjugations and Some Particularities

The Editors’ Weekly, Sex, Gender and Pronouns; Using the Correct Pronouns for Inclusiveness