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?"
  • 4
    Don't ask. Don't tell. It's more fun that way. ;-)
    – Kamil Szot
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 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
    Commented Mar 22, 2014 at 20:04
  • Yes, some parents will be offended. No matter how you phrase it. Some parents will be offended at just about anything. In general, just assume that somewhere, there’s someone out there who is quite likely to be offended by your very existence and the fact that you draw breath. Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 12:22

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.

  • 3
    "...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
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 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
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 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?"

  • 10
    What do you do when the parent says "Taylor"?
    – Jon Purdy
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 22:53
  • 8
    Run away and never look back. Simply cut all ties immediately!
    – Karl
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 0:49
  • @Karl: hear, hear! (Ditto for Morgan, Riley, Rowan...)
    – Marthaª
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 1:44
  • 1
    Hahaha - or Pat - anyone remember that SNL skit??? Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 2:37
  • @AdamRackis Yes. Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 3:30

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!

  • 2
    Same in the UK :)
    – psmears
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 21:06
  • 2
    What if it is an adult foreign name? How do I ask the question to his/her colleague?
    – genesco
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 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
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 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. Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 1:40
  • 8
    @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. Commented Apr 10, 2011 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.


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.)

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"

  • 1
    Hm...I had always envisioned serial killers as being male. Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 1:41
  • 8
    It is perfectly acceptable to use "it" for an unborn baby or small child whose gender is not known/is not obvious.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 1:42
  • 7
    @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
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 4:50
  • 3
    -1: As Martha says, it is perfectly acceptable to use it for a newborn or unborn child.
    – Jimi Oke
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 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
    Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 13:06

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