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I commonly use the word 'guys' to refer to a group of males colloquially. It's colloquial but not rude, off putting, condescending, patronizing (though I wouldn't use it with a group of men at a board meeting (hypothetically of course), unless I knew them). So, some that I would not consider as replacements would be

  • buddies: too old-fashioned
  • dudes: too informal
  • boys: too patronizing
  • men, gentlemen: too formal or false respect

I realized that I had also been using it for any group of people, males and females, even just females. It worked for me and I didn't think of the gender implications, that women might not care for it. No one ever complained, directly or indirectly (rule of life: sometimes people don't complain about things they should).

But it occurred to me (maybe by reading something that sparked realization) that the intended hearers might not all care for it.

What might be a female gendered or non-gendered version of 'guys'?

Some that I've considered don't feel right about (though these may be reasonable answers) are:

  • dolls: too old-fashioned
  • babes: too informal
  • ladies: too formal or I've heard from women, too creepy
  • women: too factual
  • girls: too patronizing (as much as 'boys')
  • everyone, you all: too bland
  • y'all: perfectly non-sexist but too regional (might work, but not everywhere)

Hopefully I haven't eliminated all the possibilities any suggestions?

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Was wondering about this too. –  JFW Apr 2 '11 at 13:55
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...As a female, I don't have a problem with "guys." I use it myself in the same indiscriminate way. So do all my female friends. We would not say "gals" unless mocking something or other. that's my experience at least. –  kitukwfyer Apr 2 '11 at 18:15
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From all the answers, it's clear that using a masculine term (eg "guys") is considered sexist (see Leopd's comment), and using a feminine term (eg "gals") is also considered sexist (see The Raven's answer). The only way to be safe, then, is to use a gender-neutral term, eg "people". Of course, if you use "guys" for males and "people" for females, you're just reintroducing a distinction: you should stick to "people" for everyone. –  LaC Apr 2 '11 at 23:46
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@LaC: That's certainly one way to do it. I think, however, it'd be preferable to just eliminate the masculine connotation of "guys." That seems, from where I stand, to be happening anyway. Why not encourage it? Besides, not to be cliche, but, you can't please everyone. I'm sure there are men and women who would be offended at the asker NOT distinguishing them from the opposite sex. Probably as many as would dislike being so distinguished. I think it's safe to say most people are going to be more concerned with what you have to say than your mode of address. –  kitukwfyer Apr 3 '11 at 1:30
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@kitukwfyer: but then "guys" will go out of fashion, and there will be a new term to refer to males, and the cycle will start anew. We might as well get off the euphemism treadmill and admit that for a man to talk to women is inherently sexist. –  LaC Apr 3 '11 at 9:55

18 Answers 18

up vote 122 down vote accepted

"Guys" can be used in English as gender neutral to refer to a group of mixed gender. You will even hear women refer to other women as "guys."

The closest linguistic equivalent with a feminine tilt would be "gals". "Guys and gals" is a rather informal variant of "ladies and gentlemen". (Note the reverse order.)

Edit: As noted by @kitukwfyer in the question comments, it is possible for "gals" to be derogatory when used by itself so be careful. It's not likely to be a problem used in the pairing above. Used carefully it's probably safe, but used by itself it could be heard as mockery. Saying, "The gals talked in the kitchen while the guys went out to see Fred's new truck." is unlikely to offend anyone, but walking up to a couple women on a street corner and saying, "Excuse me gals, where is the grocery store?" might get a strange reaction. Saying to a couple girls, "Hey gals come with me," might make them doubt you, but if you are explaining some game instructions and say, "Alright, guys on this side of the room, gals on the other," it's likely to be fine.

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@Leopd The usage I hear on the street says this is going the opposite direction. I understand the now much more restricted use of "he" in neutral contexts in favor of "they" (even for singular) and the like, but usage among the fairer folkd of "guys" seems to be going the opposite way. –  Caleb Apr 2 '11 at 18:03
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+1: I hear females call other females "guys" all the time. e.g. "Come on, guys - hurry up." (even if the group is 100% female) I've heard it used this way on television quite a bit too. (mostly by younger generations, though) –  advs89 Apr 2 '11 at 18:54
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@Leopd is it really sexist? Does that mean languages like Finnish are sexist, because they have only one non-gendered pronoun? –  g33kz0r Apr 2 '11 at 19:32
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@Mitch It's only "discriminatory" if you attach masculinity to the word "guys". I do not. (Discrimination also implies intent, so I think you've crossed the line there.) My choice of "he" to refer to everyone is arbitrary, therefore, I do not discriminate. –  g33kz0r Apr 3 '11 at 0:02
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@Noah: Fair enough. @intuited: A lot more than 3/4; right now 485 out of 500 are men. But there's no "only" about it - because that's still more women than men under 5'6". In one of the most notoriously glass-ceiling, male-dominated areas in business, being a short man is even worse for your chances than being a tall woman. (Of course, women average shorter, so gender-bias is related. Would you like to guess how many below-average-height women are in that list? If you're one of the 25% of humans who're female and below average height - here's a job you're not allowed to have.) –  Tynam Apr 4 '11 at 11:40

I often use folks when addressing a group, both in public speaking and in email. Admittedly, it is a bit, er, folksy for business email, but it saves me time in thinking about the issue.

Edit: another informal term is gang. For email, I would only use this for colleagues within my department or team, and not to those outside of the team. e.g. "Hey gang, remember that the server is being rebooted tonight."

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I agree with this assessment. It works, but with a ...folksy connotation. –  Mitch Apr 2 '11 at 15:53
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Folks is good, it doesn't come of as derogatory like gals does. –  dan_waterworth Apr 2 '11 at 19:24
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+1 for 'gang' too (if I could) –  Mitch Apr 2 '11 at 20:06
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I'm not a huge fan of folks, though I can't quite put my finger on it. Perhaps it sounds a bit rural? –  Cerberus Apr 3 '11 at 3:52
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Despite the popularity of 'guys' as a gender neutral term for 'guys', I'm going to accept this one as 'the answer'. 'gals' and 'ladies' don't sound right. And most likely, in actual practice, I will probably go with "hey y'all" (natural in my idiolect) or the boring "hey, everybody". To really decide on "guys"'s (or any word for that matter) acceptability, we'd have to do a real trial, account for gender of the hearer and speaker, etc, etc. –  Mitch Apr 5 '11 at 13:30

Especially in these rapidly changing times, we must be careful not to make false assumptions about our addressees. For this reason, it is important to use broad, inclusive appelations like sentient life forms and beings. If there is a chance that one or more of the group members may have ceased to be by the time your utterance has been processed, you should use the term entities or conceptual units. If all bets are off, you cannot fail to address the addressees appropriately and correctly with the term addressees.

Canadians is also universally acceptable.

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I'll admit, that last one made me smile...:) –  kitukwfyer Apr 4 '11 at 18:16
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OK, this one's hilarious. –  Tynam Apr 5 '11 at 8:13
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Well, addressees is better than To Whom It May Concern . I don't know what other Beings think, though. –  jbelacqua Apr 8 '11 at 2:39
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Cripes, where's the like button? –  KitFox May 16 '11 at 19:18
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This was funny until the random "Canadians" comment that holds relevance only to about 5% of the world's population. This is an international community. This is not an "American" community. Thank you. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 12 at 9:32

Gals comes to mind, as in the commonly used expression guys and gals.

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As much as this seems to be a parallel ('guys and gals' is a phrase) using 'gals' feels too dated to me. –  Mitch Apr 2 '11 at 15:51
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@mitch: Not in south-eastern USA. I hear it very often. –  advs89 Apr 2 '11 at 18:55
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In southern UK 'guys and gals' is pretty dated too, but it's still quite common among middle-aged speakers (often with self-mocking overtones).Younger people on average seem to avoid acknowledging in their standard chit-chat that these gender differences even exist. Much as most of us don't feel the need to keep distinguishing the blacks folks from the white folks, in ordinary conversation in multiracial company. –  FumbleFingers Apr 2 '11 at 22:36

You can also use guys to address a group of women. See my response to the question "What is the possessive of 'you guys'?"

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One -can- , and I have, but I'm finding that women may not care for it, the internal, mental response being 'What? I'm not a guy." (I surmise without being telepathic). –  Mitch Apr 2 '11 at 16:00
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@Mitch: Women use it themselves to each other all the time. –  Robusto Apr 2 '11 at 16:04
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Hm...yes..I'll accept that but it still may be unwelcome for men to use it for women. –  Mitch Apr 2 '11 at 16:17
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@Mitch: Perfectly fine with girls, as far as I know. –  Cerberus Apr 2 '11 at 16:35

"Gals" is, while traditional, also diminutive, patronizing, and potentially chauvinistic. It is possible to use "gals" in certain contexts, but these are carefully circumscribed.

As others note above, women are commonly seen to use "guys" among themselves and that's a safe default when in doubt.

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Agree about 'gals', but I'm finding that 'guys' just doesn't sound right to women...coming from a guy. –  Mitch Apr 2 '11 at 20:12
    
@Mitch Agreed.... I don't know of a good substitute. I tend to use an opening phrase like, 'Could you all....' –  jbelacqua Apr 2 '11 at 20:27
    
I have found the acceptance of 'gals' to be largely geographic also. –  Sam Apr 3 '11 at 1:43

Like Guffa, I'd go with gals, which is the most “symmetric” term to guys.

Apart from that, you have lasses (mostly Scottish, though), chicks (a tad derogatory), maiden (dated), damsels (literary), wenches (archaic and derogatory).

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...and hoes (urban and somewhat derogatory). ;) –  Guffa Apr 2 '11 at 14:44
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Wenches is neither universally archaic nor universally derogatory. And to claim that maiden is not "archaic" but "dated" seems strange, since I'm sure it hasn't been used seriously since around the 16th century. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 2 '11 at 15:15
    
Well, its usage has decreased, but does not seem extinct: ngrams.googlelabs.com/… –  F'x Apr 2 '11 at 15:40
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@Alenanno: I asked for confirmation here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/19098/… –  F'x Apr 2 '11 at 16:47
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@Guffa somewhat derogatory? Are you kidding? –  jbelacqua Apr 2 '11 at 20:28

Apart from guys, which is fine and the most obvious choice, as others have mentioned, you could use ladies, which has a tinge of both irony and flattery. Most women appreciate this. Ladies is best accompanied by slightly exaggerated punctilio if the speaker is a man.

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'Ladies' has too much connection with its parallel 'gentlemen'. What is 'punctilio'? –  Mitch Apr 2 '11 at 16:44
    
According to Merriam-Webster: 1: a minute detail of conduct in a ceremony or in observance of a code 2: careful observance of forms (as in social conduct) –  PSU Apr 2 '11 at 18:47
    
Wow, I thought I knew what punctilio meant before I read the definition. Now I have no idea. –  intuited Sep 3 '12 at 13:21

As many people have noted, it's perfectly appropriate to call a group of girls "guys."

If it's really making you uncomfortable, you can also just say "people." Among my circle of friends we say "peoples," but obviously that's informal. Girls also use "ladies" among themselves pretty informally, although I have to agree, coming from a male it would seem...stilted in most contexts, and perhaps a little odd.

Theoretically, you could just dispense with it entirely. Just say "Hey...!" Or wave your arms around a bit. That'll get attention, and, in a colloquial setting, it probably won't be the bad kind. Still, definitely trust your own judgement when it comes to arm-waving.

If you really need help, why not ask the women in your family or close friends what they like to be called? Odds are they'll have the best answer for wherever you actually are.

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Ladies - stilted. exactly. –  Mitch Apr 2 '11 at 20:08
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Ladies is generally so used ironically, exactly because it is stilted in informal settings. –  Cerberus Apr 3 '11 at 3:47

It's lose-lose. There's always someone you'll upset or offend no matter which word you use. So instead what you do is figure out what person considers which term to be derogatory and which term to be complimentary, and figure out which type of person you'd actually rather be friends with. Pick that word, and use it. If you offend someone, they're not the type of person you want to associate with anyway.

For this reason I usually stick with 'girls' - I've never met anyone I liked who took offense to it. I've never had to deal with teenagers, who are the only girls I would say might have a legitimate claim to it being patronising, so I might go with 'ladies' but not 'young ladies' in that case.

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Dolls. the analogous term for females is Dolls, hence Guys and Dolls

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Where I grew up, "doll" would be considered on the level of "darling" or "sweetie," which is to say I wouldn't advise using it unless you want to seem overbearing and quite possibly a creeper, unless you're family, in which case I'd think it was mockery. Note: I grew up in Virginia. –  kitukwfyer Apr 3 '11 at 1:36
    
its a play, i was screwin around –  jon_darkstar Apr 3 '11 at 3:47
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Facetious but funny. I was going to raise this for discussion anyway, as the musical in particular is evidence that "guys" is still partly a gendered term. –  Tynam Apr 3 '11 at 12:34

In this context it often means "people" as much as or more than "males".

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Exactly. Just like 'dude' can refer to a male OR female. –  rmx Apr 4 '11 at 14:29

I actually rather agree that gals is the closest, at least in more civil conversations. Not to be crude but I've got to say: 'bitches' comes pretty close in many circles these days to being a similar level of gender neutrality and similar usage while technically maintaining gender-bias. :)

Common when referring to mixed-gender groups:

How's it going guys?

-

What's up bitches?

Of course when it comes to being polite and avoiding offense, this isn't very useful! If in doubt and somehow in a critical situation, keep it ultra neutral: Hello everyone; hi people.

Usually, while I find gals closer, guys and ladies seem to match up more kindly. They don't flow very well in the same sentence however.

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No, bitches is the feminine version of niggaz. –  intuited Apr 4 '11 at 9:11
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I see lol, missed that when u posted it first. The differences in urban dialects has always fascinated me ;D –  Garet Claborn May 6 '11 at 5:29

Lady-guys?

Although lady-boys seems to have a slightly different meaning.

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...To most women, there's nothing "slight" about it! o.O –  kitukwfyer Apr 2 '11 at 19:59
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@kitukwfyer - and, I suspect, to most men ! –  mgb Apr 2 '11 at 20:28

Well this one may be beaten to death, let me add one note that seems to have been glossed over: In practice, terms for men and women are not necessarily symmetrical.

For example, by the dictionary definition, ladies and gentlemen are parallel terms. But in practice, ladies is often used as a generic term for a group of women where we would be very unlikely to say "gentlemen" if they were men. Likewise, it is common for people to say, "The ladies in our club ..." But they would rarely say, "The gentlemen in our club ..." -- not unless they were trying to make some sort of point about the membership. They would almost certainly say, "The men in our club ..." A bathroom for males is routinely called "the men's room" while the equivalent for women is usually called "the ladies' room", not "the women's room".

If you call a 40-year-old man a "boy", he is likely to take that as a put-down. But it is common to refer to women of any age as "girls". Some women find the term demeaning, but most do not. It depends on context, of course. (Personally, I suspect the difference here is that women generally like people to under-guess their age, while men prefer to be thought of as "mature". I think an amusing research project would be to ask people what age they would most like people to think they are, or what age they think is "ideal". I suspect women would average at something in the early 20's, while men would average around 40. Just speculating wildly.)

If a man refers to another man as his "boyfriend", everyone would assume this means that they are homosexual lovers. But women frequently refer to other women as their "girlfriends" with no such connotation.

You also sometimes get very specific connotations. Like, a "ladies' club" is normally understood to mean an informal, non-commercial social group for women, like a book club or a charitable organization. But a "gentlemen's club" is understood to be a business that features alcohol and strippers.

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I use "guys" or "folks" for both genders if the group is mixed, "ladies" if the group is distaff. I used to begin business correspondence with "gentlemen" but have been slapped down about it to the point where I substitute "gentlebeings", "gentles" or some other coinage unless I'm sure I'm addressing a sexually homogeneous audience (which gets "gentlemen" or "ladies" as appropriate). God only knows what I'll do with all the varieties in between...maybe just revert to "hey" and be done with it.

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Surprisingly, it appears that nobody has mentioned the very simple term: "women". Quite often, I've heard men refer to other members of a group as "men" (usually followed by an imperative of some sort):

Men, let's get down to business...

But I do admit that it generally tends to be used in a humorous sense more often than not. And it's probably true that its female counterpart "women" is very rarely used when addressing a group. Still, I thought it was worth mentioning.

(By the way, in Ireland, groups of rural women in particular often refer to each other as "lads".)

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'women' was mentioned in the OP as too factual. –  Mitch Apr 16 '12 at 21:52
    
Oops! And so it was. My goldfish brain had forgotten that fact by the time I had read all the other responses! :-) –  TrojanName Apr 16 '12 at 21:59

I disagree with using the word "guys" when addressing a group of women. You would not address one of them individually as a guy obviously. You could say, as I often do, "She's a nice gal;" however, you would never say, "She's a nice guy."

Nonetheless, I think we use far too many colloquial words and expressions these days, and could stand to formalize our speech a little. "Ladies," to me, is the best way to address a group of women.

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