Most German job titles have a masculine and a feminine form. The masculine form can be used to refer to all holders of that job regardless of gender, while the feminine form can only be used for female people who do that job. I want to know in what kind of sentence I can use the masculine form when referring to a female individual:

Anna ist Arzt / Ärztin

Anna arbeitet als Arzt / Ärztin

Annas Beruf ist Arzt / Ärztin

Mein Hausarzt / meine Hausärztin heißt Anna

Anna ist der beste Arzt / die beste Ärztin unserer Stadt

In any of these sentences, is only one form considered correct? If not, is there a difference in meaning when using each form? Especially in the last sentence, I feel like "die beste Ärztin" is comparing her to other female doctors, while "der beste Arzt" compares to all doctors.

As an example of what I mean by "a difference in meaning": If Bob is a man and somebody says "Bob ist Ärztin", he is using the wrong word. Either he is wrong about what the word means, or he's wrong about Bob's gender, or he is trying to express some additional meaning beyond identifying Bob's job. My question is whether "Anna ist Arzt" carries the same weight, or if it's just a perfectly acceptable stylistic choice like using the generic masculine to refer to a person of unknown gender.

Since there are a lot of different opinions about gendered language, I'd prefer answers that can link to authoritative sources.

Are there, in fact, standard rules about such usages? What is accepted as the "norm" in such cases versus what is opinion?

This question has been marked as a duplicate of a question that essentially asks whether it is correct to say "ich gehe zur Zahnärztin". This is not a duplicate for obvious reasons: That question asks about a specific idiom, this one asks about the usage of generic masculine when describing a female individual.

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    Anna is unique person and not a group of male/female/other persons, thats the reason why in your examples the female form is correct. What kind of authoritative source do you expect? There is no "government agency for the german language" :-)
    – user32207
    Mar 5, 2018 at 21:05
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    This is both a social and a linguistic question. Answers from these two viewpoints will be different. If you are looking for a most "authoritative" answer, look into official laws - German law uses generics only and never mentions "Täter und Täterinnen" - But it's covering generic persons.
    – tofro
    Mar 6, 2018 at 6:46
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    @tofro talking about a generic person is very different from a specific person. I often hear women say something like "ich bin Pilot" and I want to know how far you can take that or whether it's already considered incorrect
    – KWeiss
    Mar 6, 2018 at 7:28
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    Ganze Kerle: Frauen, die ihren Mann stehen - Just for the sake of the provocation.
    – tofro
    Mar 6, 2018 at 8:00
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    I am voting for reopening this question because "primarily opinion based" is not a viable argument for me. Many things in humanities and science are opinion based (the more complex something is the less certainty is possible), and especially the forms of human behaviour (this includes the use of language, especially style) are anyway a matter of opinion, not of "hard facts". Mar 6, 2018 at 11:07

3 Answers 3


The problem is: There is no authoritative answer, because there are different definitions of correct.

A grammar-based answer is the one you have already implicitly given in your question - Genus and Sexus are two different things and the generic masculine form exists, just like the generic feminine form does ("Mäuse", even if "Mäuseriche" exists - it's just much rarer). That is one fact, the generic masculine is grammatically correct. Also, using the generic masculine for specific feminine persons is correct as well ("Meine Tochter wird Arzt").

Another, real-life fact is, that for reasons of gender-equality some official administrations in Germany explicitly disallow the usage of the generic masculine form in official publications, even if it is grammatically correct. Because on the other hand, generic masculina might be psycho-linguistically misleading (readers might tend to discriminate females by mis-understanding the generic masculines as sexus). Given that Switzerland, for example, in earnest had a real long debate about women's right to vote because their constitution used a generic masculine form ("Stimmbürger" and "Schweizer"), there is reasoning behind that.

Generic masculina are thus grammatically correct, but can be semantically misleading ("Meine Tochter wird Arzt (Macht aber vorher keine Geschlechtsumwandlung)")

Wikipedia has a long article on this you might find worth reading. And no, they don't have an authoritative answer as well.

  • 1
    Your answer is correct, but it does not address the specific case of using the generic masculine for female individuals
    – KWeiss
    Mar 6, 2018 at 7:49
  • It does answer "there is no definite answer". I was also trying to not put any opinion of mine in the answer. Want to hear that?: As long as you're understood, it's fine whatever you do.
    – tofro
    Mar 6, 2018 at 9:26
  • Another, real-life fact is, that for reasons of gender-equality ... - That's not true. Since the female form is exclusively female, the newly suggested forms aren't gender-equal, because there is no exclusive masculine form. The language is not symmetric and it can't be made symmetric by law. Mar 6, 2018 at 10:34
  • @tofro It's fine if you don't have a source for using generic masculine for female individuals (it's mentioned in the wikipedia article, but not explained much). But your answer as written is tangential to the question.
    – KWeiss
    Mar 6, 2018 at 12:09
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    No. My comment says, that in "Studentin und Student", the first substantive refers to women only and the second is still generic, so it is not gender-equal. The next question is, whether it is or should be gender-equal or sex-equal. The whole problem statement, based on ill perceptions of the language, only gets more and more into trouble. Mar 6, 2018 at 12:20

For me as a native speaker both forms sound correct. But the feminine form sounds more specific. I wouldn‘t say that the meaning is different - I think it is just more polite. Not sure if it is just in Germany, but there is a gender debate always present. With this in mind it is probably better to use the feminine form if possible, but it is definitely not incorrect to not use it.


Take your readers into account:

I would advise against using the masculine form for women’s job titles, unless you are positive that your readers are exclusively conservative people (men) who strongly believe in the “generic” masculine form.

If you are not certain that your readers belong to this group, then use feminine job titles for women. The use of masculine form might be perceived as inconsiderate or, worse, offensive.

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