Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

It's often confusing for me to talk about my friends, especially my female friends. This is because in Dutch there are words for both male ("vriend") and female ("vriendin") friends. In English however, there's as far as I know only the word friend, which can mean both a male or a female friend.

For this reason I was wondering if there is a word to say a person is both female and a friend.

share|improve this question
9  
The obvious word is "girlfriend," although that often connotes some kind of dating relationship. (I suppose you could say "platonic girlfriend," but that's a mouthful). Then again, if you simply said, "She is my friend," that would eliminate the need for a special word, wouldn't it? –  J.R. Jun 20 '12 at 9:00
8  
Friend Without Benefits? –  Aric TenEyck Jun 20 '12 at 16:52
7  
"female friend"... –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jun 20 '12 at 20:46
    
Out of curiosity - does vriendin in Dutch have the same usage as Freundin in German, where the word can (and in German usually does) mean girlfriend in the romantic sense? –  David Hall Jun 20 '12 at 22:17
15  
There is also no single English word that specifically means a person is both green-eyed and a friend, or left-handed and a friend, or taller than six feet and a friend. –  Russell Borogove Jun 20 '12 at 22:40
show 2 more comments

6 Answers 6

up vote 31 down vote accepted

Personally I typically use "guy friends" and "lady friends" to avoid the relationship connotation.

share|improve this answer
1  
+1, I like it! And it doesn't sound nearly as stiff as 'female/male friend' –  Nieszka Jun 20 '12 at 15:03
    
I like it as well :) –  Simon Verbeke Jun 20 '12 at 15:39
33  
The only problem with this is that in the past, "lady friend" was used as a euphemism for a mistress. It is still taken this way sometimes –  SSumner Jun 20 '12 at 16:16
2  
@SSumner: Yea, good point. I guess for me it also largely depends on the company I'm talking to. Is it close friends? Family members? Board of executives? The fact that the OP wants to explicitly distinguish that they're female probably means the people in the conversation are closer friends/family. In a business situation, "friends" would probably suffice, whereas in a personal/family situation, they probably know that you're not referring to mistresses, while at the same time, if you were to say girl friends, they might wonder if you've started a new relationship. –  Dustin Graham Jun 20 '12 at 17:25
    
I would definitely take "lady friend" to either mean she was a lover, or at least jokingly imply that she was a lover. –  Jon Hanna Jan 30 '13 at 1:29
add comment

That is quite true: there is no such word. In English we have to use several words to express the precise nature of the kind of relationship you describe. The words girlfriend and boyfriend usually indicate that the people concerned are rather more than friends, although I believe ladies will sometimes refer to their female friends as girlfriends with no such implication.

There’s a wider question here, which goes beyond language. It is about the extent to which men and women can be friends with each other in the absence of any kind of romantic attachment.

share|improve this answer
13  
A French colleague once said that the English were lucky - that a husband could say they were out with a friend without arousing any suspicions –  mgb Jun 20 '12 at 21:27
4  
There's also another wider question here: If there is no kind of romantic attachment, then why should it matter what gender the friend is? What's wrong with "friend"? –  T.E.D. Jun 21 '12 at 18:59
    
@T.E.D. It's just the way we talk about friends in Belgium, we nearly always mention whether it's a male or female friend. I wouldn't know how where that comes from though, as in a lot of other languages the distinction is nearly never made. –  Simon Verbeke Jun 21 '12 at 19:11
3  
@T.E.D.: Let's say you're in company of people (all of them of same gender as you) deciding where to go (to hang out or something) and you want to ask if it is okay to invite new person. People of different gender are more likely to have different preferences, so in such situation it makes sense to have some way of telling person's gender in a few words without making anyone think you're inviting your romantic interest. –  SigTerm Jun 21 '12 at 19:47
    
@Simon, I am not sure about “a lot of other languages”, but in many European languages (Romantic, Germanic, or Slavic at least) that distinction is indeed often made. –  theUg Jul 18 '12 at 20:06
show 2 more comments

I have heard the phrase "gal pal" used in this way.

share|improve this answer
2  
That seems like just the right mix of informality and preciseness. +1 –  scribu Jun 20 '12 at 18:14
add comment

You are right, there is no word to distinguish between a male and female friend, and 'friend' is not the only word that runs into this problem. You, or your conversation partner, can infer the gender of the person you're talking about from subsequent or previous use of words such as 'she'/'her'/'hers'.

You can say 'female friend' though in my opinion that places a lot of, often unnecessary emphasis on the gender.

You can also say 'girlfriend' though this has the disadvantage of being slightly colloquial and could lead to ambiguity regarding your relationship with that person.

share|improve this answer
    
Why do you think "female friend" places "too much" emphasis on the gender? I agree that it does place a lot of emphasis on the gender. But clearly the expressed intent is to point out the gender, or OP could just use "friend". –  ThePopMachine Jun 20 '12 at 16:38
3  
I guess this goes back to what Barrie England said: "...the extent to which men and women can be friends with each other in the absence of any kind of romantic attachment." I like to fervently believe that they can and so when I talk of my friends I don't distinguish unless their gender is key to the matter. Furthermore, like I said, it does become evident sooner or later through the use of 'she, hers' etc. so the addition of 'female' before friend sounds more stiff than it needs to be. –  Nieszka Jun 21 '12 at 7:34
add comment

I realize it doesn't exactly conform to grammar rules, but my friends and I have always informally refered to them as "she-friends."

share|improve this answer
add comment

English language is heavily based on the use of pronouns, which other languages can skip because the subject/object of a verb or adjective can be easily inferred from how the words around it are declined; English has lots of invariant words, which make for a much easier grammar, but at the cost of having to put pronouns everywhere in order to properly express what the speaker is actually referring to.

What you are describing happens in Italian too (amico/amica/amici/amiche), and also for many other words which have male/female/singular/plural forms. In English, you need a pronoun to achieve the same effect: "he" or "she" (or, of course, the person's name) is the only way to distinguish a male friend from a female one.

share|improve this answer
    
I reckon it be the main culprit. English does not have grammatical category of gender any more, hence no gender declension, and, consequently, need to clarify everything (sometimes (often?) awkwardly). –  theUg Jul 18 '12 at 20:12
3  
Or, the benefit of not having to clarify gender when it's irrelevant. Overall, I view this as a win for English. –  kbelder Jan 22 '13 at 23:28
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.