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When writing a book and referring to a female and male aged 18–25, what term would be most appropriate? Boy and girl seem too young, whereas man and woman seem too old.

Example sentence:

A boy/man emerged from the shadows.

Edit: I think the word I am looking for is similar to 'guy' but less American and colloquial. Any thoughts?

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3  
Try young adult –  Jim Feb 1 '13 at 20:37
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See JAM's answer; "A youth emerged from the shadows" seems more graceful than "A young adult emerged from the shadows." –  Gnawme Feb 1 '13 at 23:22
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7 Answers

I think the best you can do here is

A young couple emerged from the shadows.

If you need to specify gender, I would use young man or young woman as appropriate. While I agree with Charles that in spoken English young man is used more towards children, I would posit that this is the case only when addressing them directly. I could, for example, address a 15 year old boy as young man. It would make me sound professorial, but it would not be out of place.

However, if someone were to tell me they

saw a young man entering the house

I would think of a young adult, not a child.


Update:

The closest to guy would be youth but it only applies to males when used to refer to individuals as opposed to groups. Better, but also exclusively male, is lad but that is also more British than American. Kid can be used, but is ambiguous. An older person can refer to young adults as kids but it usually means children. Finally, and probably best in your case, you can use youngster(s). Once more, though, this is a term that is used by older people towards younger ones. It is more used for teenagers and young adults than for actual children but it also carries an implication that the person using the term is older than those she is describing.

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Thank you for your suggestions. I have edited the question to be a little more specific as I have not quite found the answer I was looking for. –  Charlotte Feb 3 '13 at 13:31
    
@Charlotte I have updated my answer with a few more choices. I don't think you are going to find exactly what you are looking for. –  terdon Feb 3 '13 at 17:00
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Following @Charlotte's edit, I was thinking of "lad" (and "lass"), especially since she wanted something "less American." BTW "youth" refers to females as well as males. –  JAM Feb 3 '13 at 21:09
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@JAM, yes lad and lass are good but neither can be applied to both sexes. Youth can, but only when applied to groups, not individuals. I saw a youth implies a young man. The fickleness of youth will apply to young people of either sex. –  terdon Feb 3 '13 at 21:13
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"Young man" and "young woman", if you want to call attention to their age.

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Thank you for your suggestions. I have edited the question to be a little more specific as I have not quite found the answer I was looking for. –  Charlotte Feb 3 '13 at 13:33
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In work I do with this age group, they are always referred to as youth.

EDIT:

After pondering your request for a word "similar to 'guy'", I have thought of chap and fellow. The disadvantage of both words is that they do not specifically refer to youth. Furthermore, they are in no way gender-neutral -- both refer to a man or a boy. However, to me at least, they carry a connotation of spriteliness that I for one would associate with youthfulness. But just do be clear, they don't mean that the person is 18 to 25 years old.

(I myself would still go for youth, though)

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Always? Maybe in your line of work, but I don't think that's universal - it depends on the environment, I think. Some 23- or 24-year-olds might not like being identified as "youth." In some places, youth is a label shed around 18 or 19; I've heard the term "college-aged" on occasion. Another option I've heard used to describe the 18-25 age group is "too young to rent a car," although that wouldn't work to solve the O.P.'s problem :^) –  J.R. Feb 2 '13 at 0:02
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@J.R. You're right, it's not universal, but neither, as far as I can think, is any other term. I just wanted to add it to the discussion. I like "too young to rent a car" though... :) –  JAM Feb 2 '13 at 0:55
    
Thank you for your suggestions. I have edited the question to be a little more specific as I have not quite found the answer I was looking for. –  Charlotte Feb 3 '13 at 13:30
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As Jim said, "young adult" is what I would say. "Young woman"/"young man" somehow seems much younger in casual conversation. It's what people would call me when I was a teenager or pre-teen.

But in literature, you can say "a twenty-something" or "a youngish man" or "someone who looks college-age" or any number of other descriptors. What about their age is relevant to the work?

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Thank you for your suggestions. I have edited the question to be a little more specific as I have not quite found the answer I was looking for. –  Charlotte Feb 3 '13 at 13:32
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You could put the setting or make reference to their ages earlier in the story, then readers will know the rough ages of the characters and you may not need to say 'young adult' later on.

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Thank you for your suggestions. I have edited the question to be a little more specific as I have not quite found the answer I was looking for. –  Charlotte Feb 3 '13 at 13:40
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Stripling is fit for this category.

Oxford English Dictionary

Definition of stripling

a young man: he’s a mere stripling

Perfect example: the Army of Helaman, "coming from the mormon religion, out of the Book of Mormon" (Urban Dictionary).

The Army of Helaman

These “stripling warriors,” it seems, could have ranged in age from approximately twenty (going by the Mosaic rule) to approximately twenty-two (those who could have been around age seven when the oath was taken) in the twenty-sixth year of the judges.

Three years later, sixty more young men from the land of Jershon joined ranks with their comrades (see Alma 57:6), perhaps having recently qualified by age for military service. Thus, in the thirtieth year, when Helaman wrote his long epistle to Moroni (see Alma 56:1), it seems possible that his youngest soldiers perhaps were age twenty-one, and his eldest, twenty-six.


Reference:
Tvedtnes, John A. “What were the ages of Helaman’s ‘stripling warriors’?” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Intellectual Reserve, Inc. September 1992. 3 February 2012. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1992/09/i-have-a-question?lang=eng#footnote2-92909_000_010)

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Nice one, +1. Archaic, but spot on. –  terdon Feb 3 '13 at 21:53
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The term is Millennials, used in advertising a lot.

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That's fine, perhaps, for a group of young people aged between 15 and 25 but not for an individual. –  Mari-Lou A Apr 5 at 22:51
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