if you are talking to a group that contains men and women, you have to use the masculine form of "they": ils (even if there are lots of women and just one man!)

Given the above point, what happens if we address the given group with "elles"? Will the only man in the group take offense? (Because he has somehow been ignored!). How much do the French people care about this?

  • 2
    "French people" s'en amusent. Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 17:09
  • You might evenhear "Salut les files" (Hello girls) to a group of male friend a a common joke.
    – MakorDal
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 14:16

3 Answers 3


It is not more offensive than using "she" instead of "he" when talking about a man...

"you have to use the masculine form" : please note you actually use the neutral form "ils", which is spelt the same as "ils" (masculine form).

"French people" means many different people, with different reactions, so I guess there is no simple answer to your last question.

  • 2
    If you are trying to imply that there is a separate neutral gender in French, you're wrong. Mixed genders defaults to masculine, that's all. Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 19:56

It really depends on the context. But considering my own experience as a long haired man, most of the time when people realized the group contained not only women, then they apologize.

It may be rude for some to be confused for a lady.


It IS mocking, but it is also a common joke.

If you feel comfortable enough with doing that kind of humour with the well-accompanied man, it will generally be OK.

If there is no joke intended, stay neutral and avoid it.

  • Could the downvoter explain his reason ? x)
    – Limo
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 14:29

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