I know that "brethren" can mean "fellow members", but I have usually heard it used when a man is referring to his fellows or brothers. But can a female do that ? Let's assume I am the sole female in a group of males, can I refer to the other members of the group as "brethren" ?

On a similar note, is the behavior the same with "sistren" as well (I know it is not common as brethren) ? Could I refer to a group of females (when I am a male myself) as my sistren ?

  • Sistren - had fallen completely out of use by the middle of the 16th century. It has recently been revived, typically by feminist writers, with the new meaning 'fellow women'. It's not currently listed at all in the full subscription-only OED. Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 13:34
  • @FumbleFingers Yeah I read that too, it is said to be used by feminists though.
    – doubleOrt
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 13:35
  • Are you a feminist (or supporter thereof)? Assuming it's mere "happenstance" that you're the only female in a group of males (or the only male in a group of females) it's not necessarily a good idea to call attention to the gender bias, just as you might not wish to use subtle tricks of language to call attention to the fact that one person in a group happens to be of a different race / religion / sexual orientation to all the others. Unless you're being deliberately facetious, I'd avoid it. Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 13:45
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    I'd say brethren today is almost always "dated" or "facetious" except in certain religious contexts. It still comes naturally to some native speakers, but if you're not already one of those I really think you should steer it a wide berth (you're very likely to unknowingly use it inappropriately). Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 13:58
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    Taurus: Unfortunately, it's somewhat in the nature of language that there's little correlation between what sounds "nice" to speakers of different languages (causing incredible headaches for marketeers within international companies who'd like globally consistent product names). And things get especially complicated when we're talking about words that have strong religious connotations (even if you're not an ardent feminist, you might be a bit bothered by the "men-only" implications of, say, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood). Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 14:15

1 Answer 1


Females can call a group of male siblings brothers, but it would sound odd to call them her fellow brothers because that would assert that she was one of the brothers.

I think the word brethren tends to come across as fellow brothers, rather than just the plain brothers.

The definitions below support this 'inclusive' feel:

brethren plural noun 1 Fellow Christians or members of a male religious order. 1.1 (ironic, humorous) People belonging to a particular group. - ODO

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