What is the hypernym for man and woman? I don't think it is gender because that would've been male and female.

  • 3
    The hypernym is "person", as both men and women are people, but I don't think that's what you meant. – Jon Hanna Jan 15 '14 at 15:43
  • Species? Mars to Venus? – mplungjan Jan 15 '14 at 15:44
  • 2
    You assume that a word can only be a hypernym of one set of things. That is not true. (Just like a word can be a synonym/antonym of many different things, depending on context.) So gender is fine, and so is sex, for male/female and man/woman and bloke/gal and stud/mare. – RegDwigнt Jan 15 '14 at 15:44
  • LOL I was thinking species as well. – Archimedes Trajano Jan 15 '14 at 15:49
  • 4
    It very much depends on what you want to use the hypernym for. If the grouping does not focus on gender difference, people, humans, adults and several other options might be right. If it does, there may not be a true hypernym. – bib Jan 15 '14 at 16:00

Man and woman are different sexes.

  • 4
    Man and woman aren't really sexes. Male and female are. – Armen Ծիրունյան Jan 15 '14 at 15:53
  • 2
    As much as it bothers me, 'sex' and 'gender' are now, alas, synonyms. – Michael Owen Sartin Jan 15 '14 at 15:59
  • 5
    Not really. Sex defines people by physical characteristics. Gender defines them by mental characteristics. – Barrie England Jan 15 '14 at 16:06
  • 2
    Biologically speaking, male and female are sexes. Whether or not they are also genders depends on what level of distinction you are making between biology and orientation. And whether man and woman are sexes or genders or both is another matter altogether. – nxx Jan 15 '14 at 16:06
  • 2
    Nouns have gender; people have sex. – Tim Lymington Jan 15 '14 at 17:19

You might be looking for "gender identity". Male and female are genders, but a person can identify as a man or a woman regardless of whether they are physically male or female.

But of course, this is a very fuzzy subject, and if you ask 10 different people you're going to get 15 different answers.

  • "Gender identity" makes more sense for a field label. And it is less ambiguous. In addition it will make it easier to map to applicable pronouns for messages. – Archimedes Trajano Jan 25 '17 at 14:19

Man and woman are gender. Social roles defined by society. There is nothing genetic or biological about wearing high-heels, for example. Men don't do that (usually...) because social norms say they shouldn't.

Male and female, on the other hand, are a biological matter of sex that have nothing to do with social norms. With apologies to Simone de Beauvoir, you are born female but society makes you a woman.


Answering the question rather than the title: the hypernym of woman and man would, depending on context, be either human or adult. A hypernym is just a word whose meaning encompasses the meaning of a word or group of words.


Honestly, it might be easier (and possibly more correct) to switch the hypernyms in your example.

Male/female makes a bit more sense with "sexes" as the hypernym, since it is talking about physical gender characteristics. This sort of debate shows up in the comments about Barrie England's answer. In that case, man/woman would have the hypernym of "gender", since it is a more socially constructed division.

Of course, they are close enough in meaning you might get away with using either interchangeably if you're using them casually - either male/female or man/woman , or else 'sexes' or 'genders'. But if you want to talk about these sets of terms or distinguish between them, the standard usage is that "sexes" go with male/female for denoting the physical, and "genders" go with man/woman for social meaning and construction.


"Male" and "female" refers to the property of belonging to a particular category in a categorization scheme, and/or those categories themselves. "Man" and "woman" refers to an individual with that property, along with several others, most notably being human and being of a certain age and/or state of maturity.

If you get hypernyms by removing distinctions, then the hypernym is whatever the word is for something possessing all the remaining properties. "Human", "person", "individual", "adult" and "member of a (two-)gendered species" are all reasonable choices, depending on which categories are relevant in whatever context you want to use such a hypernym.

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