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Although in English there is 'heroine', we can use the word 'hero' to refer to both male heroes and female heroes, and it sounds perfectly fine. We can use 'hero' when we don't know the gender of the person, as well as when the person is known to be female.

Is this true for French as well? If not, why not? If it is, what are some other examples of words that can be used similarly?

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    To be considered: Is this a long-established use of "hero" or is it in line with recent trends towards the use of "actor", "steward", "waiter", etc. as gender-neutral terms in order to minimize gender-based stereotyping, discrimination, etc.? If the latter (which I would learn towards in the case of "heroine" but not with absolute certainty), is that phenomenon also going on in French? Potentially a very interesting question. – Luke Sawczak May 17 '17 at 15:38
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Is this true for French as well?

In french, if you know that the person is a woman, you may prefer to use héroine.

If not, why not?

Is is probably a very general rule, but I don't see any case we prefer the male gender for both.

Catwoman est une héroine fantastique ! is right, Catwoman est un héros fantastique ! is not.

I would recommand to always use the female gender when you know you are talking about a woman. Of course even if you do not you will remain understandable, but this could be perceived as a grammatical error.

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You have to keep in mind that French is a much more 'gendered' language than English, so we tend to use the feminine version of the word as long as there is one. Using 'hero' when the sex of the person is known will definitely be perceived as incorrect, although actually right if the gender is unknown.

But there are some French word who aren't gendered, called épicène. Some example include :

  • un/une photographe (a photographer)
  • un/une gendarme (a policeman)
  • un/une adulte (an adult)
  • un/une partenaire (a partner)

Please note that those words have no feminine alternatives (since they are non-gendered), so I'm not sure that's what you asked for.

Strange thing, there are words with no feminine counterpart. For example chauffeur (driver) has none. To name a woman driving a vehicle, you would have to use the term conductrice...

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