D&I Education

Inclusive Language

Our world is always evolving, and so are languages and language use. With new knowledge and inclusion of marginalized groups, our language use adapts. It adapts to find appropriate terms for the world around us and terms that make sure we can address everyone. UM embraces language use that addresses everyone in general communication and that addresses individuals in a way that makes them feel seen and respected.

Prof. dr. Rianne Letschert, president of Maastricht University, said in her farewell speech as Rector Magnificus during the 46th Dies Natalis: "I am a strong proponent of diversity as a driver of dialogical leadership". She used gender-inclusive language when welcoming the audience as "distinguished guests".

You can find the following resources on this webpage:


Gender Inclusive Language at UM

What is gender inclusive language?

Gender Inclusive Language is speaking or writing in a way that includes everyone in your target audience by ensuring they are not excluded due to gender terminology. This means that regardless of their gender identity, they feel addressed and included through your choice of words. Gender inclusive language is also language that appropriately reflects the diversity we see in the population, and a way to accurately report on findings and events.

Why use gender inclusive language at UM?

The Strategic Plan 2022-2026 highlights UM’s core values being diversity and inclusion, sustainability, mutual respect, integrity, democratic principles and transparency. At UM, everyone has the right to participate, study, work, and engage in UM activities regardless of their gender identity. Therefore, it is our responsibility to make sure the language we use actively welcomes everyone at UM to ensure inclusion and mutual respect.

Why is gender inclusive language such a big thing?

Gender (assumptions) often appear in general language use, and to varying degrees in different languages. Often, the way we write or speak changes depending on the perceived gender of the person or people we are talking to, or about. The issue is that these assumptions are not always correct, and incorrect assumptions can be hurtful. Watch our video “Sex and Gender: What? Why?, and How?” for more information.

The good news

Language is flexible and evolves, and gender inclusive language already exists and is easy to use, even if it takes a little bit of practice. For example, this introduction is written in a gender inclusive manner, and below you will find more tips for how to ensure you use gender inclusive language when writing or speaking, to/about different people.

Tips and examples

Definition of gender terms


Those who identify as having no gender or being without a gender identity. 


Having two genders and exhibiting characteristics of both 


Gender identity matches gender assigned at birth 

FtM / MtF 

Abbreviations for female to male, and male to female, commonly used to describe a trans person’s identity or journey.


A social construct to classify a person as a man, a woman, or another identity. 

Gender confirmation surgery

GCS, surgeries trans* people might have to help their bodies match their gender identity. 

Gender expression

The outwardly, visible expression of one’s gender through appearance such as but not limited to hair and clothing.

Gender fluid

Describes someone whose gender identity shifts

Gender identity

A sense of one’s self as woman, man, trans, or another identity regardless of whether this matches the sex and gender assigned at birth.

Gender neutral

Relating to people, and not especially to women or men

Gender non-conforming

Adjective for people who do not subscribe to social expectations of gender roles and gender expressions.


Someone born with neither or both male and female biological characteristics.


A gender identity that goes beyond the male/female gender binary.


Exposing someone’s sexual or gender identity without their consent and permission.


When a trans person does not “appear” trans, and passes for a cis person.


Linguistic tool to refer to someone, such as he/him, she/her, they/them

Sex assigned at birth

The sex (and thus often also gender) that is externally identified at birth.  


Umbrella term for transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people.


Someone whose gender identity does not match their assigned sex/gender at birth.



Sentence examples

Form Examples
They Cleo is French. They study politics.

Every client got a care package delivered to them.

Yesterday they got a care package delivered to them.

Each child played with their parent.

As a child, Cleo played with their parent.

The cup of coffee is theirs.

Themselves (or themself)

A private person usually keeps to themselves [or themself].


Form Example

Mark is British. He studies economics.


Yesterday, Mark got a care package delivered to him.


When he was younger, Mark played with his parent.


The cup of coffee is his.


Mark is a private person, he usually keeps to himself.


Form Example

Tay is from Kenya. She is a teacher. 


Yesterday, Tay got a care package delivered to her.


When she was younger, Tay played with her parent.


The cup of coffee is hers.


Tay is a private person, she usually keeps to herself.


Optional exercise for practice

Re-write the following sentences to ensure they could apply to anyone at UM:

  1. The PhD candidate and his supervisor meet regularly to discuss his progress.
  2. If a student falls ill and misses her exam, she must register for a resit.
  3. Marianne is a female doctor, and has three children.