In the German language, there is a grammatical rule that is called Generisches Maskulinum (English: generic masculine). It says that when you want to address a group that consists of people of both genders, you only use the male word even though you know there are females there.

German examples:

  • Der Lehrer - the teacher (male)
  • Die Lehrerin - the teacher (female)
  • Die Lehrer - the teachers (only male, or male and female)
  • Die Lehrerinnen - the teachers (only female)

If I want to write a text about a person whose gender is unknown, is it semantically (not opinion based) okay just to call them a "he" or is it semantically wrong?

Note: I do not want to her opinions about "gender equality" or something like that. I only want to know if it is semantically correct to only use the male form for a generic person whose sex does not matter.

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    Unfortunately this is not a question which can be answered with grammar. Grammar consists of syntax and morphology, which concern themselves with the relations of parts of speech in a sentence and the inflection of words respectively. Grammar has nothing to say on the the topic of semantics; it merely shifts around opaque symbols. The fields of linguistics which concern themselves with meaning are semantics and pragmatics. Semantics is mostly descriptive; we are left with pragmatics. And pragmatics starts to pick up opinions. There is no right or wrong answer; there is only accepted and not. – Dan Bron Jan 19 '18 at 17:21
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    And in contemporary society, the acceptability of a masculine default has waned significantly. It is often excoriated. So that’s really the only answer you can appeal to, and there is no grammatical defense against the pragmatics which have turned against using the default masculine. – Dan Bron Jan 19 '18 at 17:23
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    Dan Bron, I think we both see the problem. In the german language, there is the rule of the generic masculinum. So in german you can definetily say that the double nomination is wrong. But I dont find a similar rule in the english language. Maybe there is none. So this would be the answer. From this one could you conclude, that the sole mention of the male form is in the eyes of some reluctant, but still correct, right? – Henry Weinert Jan 19 '18 at 17:36
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    @HenryWeinert English doesn’t inflect for gender, if that’s what you’re asking. But it does inflect for number, and still they is used for the singular; it always has done so, but increasingly so in recent decades for the gender-equality reason. That is, though in English, they usually only agrees with the third person, now it also agrees with the first person, so that’s part of English’s grammar. If Germans increasingly inflect words with new endings, then in a few years, the grammar of German will also accept these endings (grammar describes how people actually structure sentences). – Dan Bron Jan 19 '18 at 17:44
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    But thank you for the answer. I could not read it because of writing the last comment. I would say that the question is now answered. – Henry Weinert Jan 19 '18 at 17:52