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If I ask the parent about a baby's gender, will it be impolite or not appropriate to say, "Is it male or female?"

Is there any subtle difference, in terms of politeness, among

  1. "Is it a boy or girl?"
  2. "Is it he or she?"
  3. "is it male or female?"
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4  
Don't ask. Don't tell. It's more fun that way. ;-) –  Kamil Szot Apr 10 '11 at 11:31
    
I feel like most countries should have a federal law of some sort prohibiting parents who would actually be offended by this from raising children in the first place. –  Jason C Mar 22 at 20:04

6 Answers 6

First you would probably ask if the parents know the sex yet, and the friendliest way to ask the question would be to use boy and girl.

Do you know if it's going to be a boy or a girl?

Male/female sounds too clinical and he/she sounds like you're from Mars.

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2  
"...if the parents know the sex yet..." If the baby hasn't been born yet, it's a lot less offensive to be unsure of gender. If the baby is born and one still can't tell the gender it can get a little awkward. –  Ami Apr 10 '11 at 4:05
4  
@Ami, you get used to it: my sister refuses to dress my niece in pink, so she's constantly having to correct people who guess wrong. (It doesn't matter how frilly and flowery and feminine the outfit is, people see blue and jump straight to "boy".) –  Marthaª Apr 10 '11 at 4:55

Are you talking about for a pregnant woman or for an infant? If you are talking about pregnant woman, "Do you know the sex yet?" is fine. If you are talking about an infant and are worried about offending the parent that you can't tell the sex, I avoid this by jokingly saying something to the baby along the lines of "You're so cute. What's your name?"

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10  
What do you do when the parent says "Taylor"? –  Jon Purdy Apr 9 '11 at 22:53
8  
Run away and never look back. Simply cut all ties immediately! –  Karl Apr 10 '11 at 0:49
    
@Karl: hear, hear! (Ditto for Morgan, Riley, Rowan...) –  Marthaª Apr 10 '11 at 1:44
    
Hahaha - or Pat - anyone remember that SNL skit??? –  Adam Rackis Apr 10 '11 at 2:37

In America, the most commonly heard terminology for the question is

Is it a boy or a girl?

The other two are quite rare and might thus be deemed inappropriate by some. Often times on signs and balloons announcing a baby's birth, you will see:

It's a boy/girl!

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1  
Same in the UK :) –  psmears Apr 9 '11 at 21:06
2  
What if it is an adult foreign name? How do I ask the question to his/her colleague? –  genesco Apr 9 '11 at 21:15
3  
@snumpy As a practical matter, when I encounter a foreign name and I'm not sure if it's a man's or a woman's name, a Google image search for that name will often clear up the matter without having to have that awkward conversation. –  nohat Apr 9 '11 at 21:52
3  
@nohat That only works if you know how to spell the foreign name. If it's something like Baatarsaikhan, that might not work. –  Peter Olson Apr 10 '11 at 1:40
6  
@nohat: Ah, good one, I wish I had thought of that! Once I was tutoring this kid called Bartek, and, not knowing the name, I was wondering whether it would be a boy or a girl. When Bartek arrived... I still couldn't tell. The kid was rather androgynous and had a high-pitched voice. In my desperation I made some Latin exercises, in which the right genders of adjectives had to be filled in to correspond with a couple of names. It was a relief when he filled in Bartek optimus est. –  Cerberus Apr 10 '11 at 3:05

Arguably, the most common way to ask expecting/new parents about their baby's gender is:

Is it a boy or a girl?

The other one is a less common but certainly not unheard of:

Is it a he or a she?

Is it male or female? sounds awkward, especially in this day and age when personal pronouns are used for pets. It would not be out of place, however, to use male/female to qualify new or unborn babies in formal and literary contexts.

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Some parents will be offended no matter how you ask and some parents won't be offended no matter how you ask.

In general, it's definitely not a good idea to use the word it to refer to a human being, as others have mentioned already.

  1. Is the baby a boy or a girl? (most commonly used and accepted)
  2. Is the baby a he or a she? (doesn't quite sound right, the usage of he/she seems to be used mostly in reference to animals)
  3. Is the baby a male or a female? (sounds very formal but would generally be acceptable if asked by a professional working with the baby, such as a doctor, nurse, social worker, etc.)
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You should never use "it" for a human, unless you are writing a novel featuring a serial killer.

If you don't know the gender, use "him or her", or in the case of the unborn "the baby". "Is the baby a boy or a girl" not "Is it a boy or a girl"

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1  
Hm...I had always envisioned serial killers as being male. –  Peter Olson Apr 10 '11 at 1:41
7  
It is perfectly acceptable to use "it" for an unborn baby or small child whose gender is not known/is not obvious. –  Marthaª Apr 10 '11 at 1:42
6  
@James P, stuff and nonsense. The "it" in "is it a boy or a girl?" is no more referring to the child as an object/animal than the "it" in "who is it?" is expecting an object/animal to be at the door. –  Marthaª Apr 10 '11 at 4:50
2  
-1: As Martha says, it is perfectly acceptable to use it for a newborn or unborn child. –  Jimi Oke Apr 10 '11 at 17:23
1  
@JamesPoulson - In this day and age you can guarantee that someone out there is sensitive and will get offended by whatever you say - but then they'll also be offended if you say nothing! –  neil Jul 18 '12 at 13:06

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