There is a person A, with whom I have to exchange an email or two each month. Today, because of the time constraints, I had to phone them and I realized the person on the phone was female. Up until that point I have been using male pronouns in the email. The person never corrected me, but I do feel a simple apology is in need.

The person works for another company and the only time I need to contact person A is when some data is missing. This leads to mostly generic emails.

"Hello Mr A, The files for the job are missing. Could you check them from your side? Thank you."

Because of this I never had any context for the gender. I assumed their first name was a male name. Now, however, after realizing my mistake I googled and it's commonly a female name.

So, should I write a simple apology email or is it better to ignore my mistake and from now on use female pronouns in the email?

  • 3
    Did you ask them how they prefer to be addressed? Sometimes people with feminine names can prefer pronouns other than she/her.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 13, 2021 at 18:13
  • 1
    What gendered pronouns do you need in emails to Person A?
    – chepner
    Jan 13, 2021 at 19:56
  • 1
    How sure are you that you got the gender right this time? You say it's "commonly" a female name - does that mean it's sometimes used for men, too? And men can have high voices, too.
    – Llewellyn
    Jan 19, 2021 at 20:52

7 Answers 7


Ignore it and carry on using the right pronouns in future. Or you can apologise in the next email (that you get right), but don't make a big deal about it (especially since she clearly hasn't).

Personally, if I don't clearly know someone's gender when I'm emailing them, I'll avoid guessing and use impersonal pronouns (or just use their name).


If they haven't brought it up then neither should you.

Just use it correctly going forwards and forget it ever happened.

  • 3
    Simplest and most logical answer. If they didn't bring it up, chances are that it happens often and they realised it was a harmless mistake. Just use the right pronoun going forward and move on with life. Jan 13, 2021 at 19:09
  • @WillAppleby Yep. If they wanted to acknowledge it, they would have. Similarly if they want to acknowledge your switch to the right pronoun then they can do so, but it should be entirely up to them.
    – Kaz
    Jan 18, 2021 at 14:13
  • Meh, just because she didn't bring it up, doesn't mean she was a bit "weirded out" when she was reading the emails. I would apologise and risk being extra polite, than ignore it completely.
    – Cris
    Jan 19, 2021 at 11:07
  • That's the best advice IMO. I'm female and my first name can be both male and female, so most (90%) colleagues who haven't met me just assume that I'm a man. I never correct them because it's really not a big deal. Jan 23, 2021 at 12:02

Because of this I never had any context for the gender. I assumed their first name was a male name. Now, however, after realizing my mistake I googled and it's commonly a female name.

I done this once in the past but the reverse. A male with a female name. Never corrected me and I didn't realized until we met in person. I also seen signatures where people would put "Mr" in front of their name just as a hint that they are a male rather than incorrectly referred to as a female.

I think the best way to handle this in the future is to simply use the person's name, rather than trying to say "him" or "her." I also suspect that since they didn't correct you or seemed shocked by it, it's probably not the first time it happened.

Best way to handle it in the future is to use their name rather than attempt to figure out their gender. For example, if the person's name is Dana, simply say, "Dana, the files are missing. Can you check from your side? Thanks." Instead of using Sir or Ma'am, or Mr or Ms.

Once you know for sure who it is, I would still use their name as oppose to pronouns. As far as this issue, I would just continue on. You can make a short sentence:

"Dana, thank you so much for meeting me. I apologize for previously referring you to as Mr Dana. Thank you."

Just do it like that and you're set. There's nothing bad about your statement and nothing wrong with anything else. As I said if you just refer to them by their name. Replace Him or Her with their name. For example, if Ralph needed to contact Dana, simply say:

"Ralph, Can you find out what happened to the missing files? Dana is stating the files were sent. Thanks."

Instead of:

"Ralph, get with Dana. He says the files were sent." which may not be correct since you never met or spoken with the person before.

Simple changes and no issues at all.

  • 1
    This is easy enough for short exchanges, but using the person's name, and moreover finding ways to structure your sentences so that it doesn't read awkward, in longer emails or in meetings in which the person isn't present, gets really difficult really fast. Consider the following: "Dana is a subject matter expert on widgets. Dana should be able to answer your question, so how about after this meeting you go and send Dana an email to ask Dana's opinion on what you should do about this project that Dana will be helping you with?"
    – Ertai87
    Jan 13, 2021 at 16:28
  • "Dana is a subject matter expert on widgets and should be able to answer your question. After this meeting, get in touch and get the information you need." You're constructing sloppy sentences and then saying they're hard to fix. Nobody wants X's opinion, they want to know what to do. And referring to the project under discussion as "this project X will be helping you with" is flat out weird. Relax and try it, you might surprise yourself. Jan 13, 2021 at 16:36
  • @Ertai87 If you having a very difficult time forming sentences without using gender specific pronouns, then it would be wise to simply ask in a respectful manner. You can also make a phone conversation, "Dana, this is a lot to go over. Give me a call please." Thereafter you can easily figure out everything without asking directly.
    – Dan
    Jan 13, 2021 at 18:46
  • 6
    In some cultures using first names uninvited is informal and possibly impolite.
    – arp
    Jan 13, 2021 at 20:12
  • 1
    It might also be weird to suddenly switch to first name basis. It implies a level of familiarity that might be unwanted. (She may understand that you realized your mistake, but she might also think that it was talking on the phone that made you drop the formal address.) Worse, switching to an informal address now that you know she's female may seem a bit sexist.
    – Llewellyn
    Jan 19, 2021 at 20:46

It happens, particularly with gender-neutral names that you may not perceive as gender neutral (e.g. Sam(uel/antha), Robin, Jordan, Alex(ander/andra), etc).

I think you already missed the opportunity to apologize for it, and if you apologize now it'll come off as awkward. If they didn't say anything, it's probably not an issue, so just ignore it.

For future, what I like to do is, when they pick up the phone and I find out it's a woman on the other side who I've been calling he/him this whole time, I'd say something like "oh, all this time I'd thought you were a guy because of your name! I'm super sorry about that!", and usually they say something like "oh, no problem, happens all the time", and that's the end of the topic.

Caveat: Only do the above if you have addressed them using the wrong gender in communications that they have seen. If you misgendered them in communications to others, then apologizing for it without appropriate context is going to be super awkward ("all this time I've been misgendering you behind your back; you had no idea I was doing such a thing but now I'm bringing it up to you directly") and I wouldn't do it at all.

Of course, implicit in all of this is to fix it for the future, of course.


Write a short email, without making too much fuss. Something like (thanks @GabeSechan):

Dear Ms A,

thanks for helping with x during our last call. It's come to my attention that I may have been using the wrong pronouns for you. If so, I appologize. What are your preferred usages?

Best Regards


It is not a mandatory approach, you may do like Snow said and not saying anything, but since you have got in touch many times and you will continue to do so, it is nice to do something kind to someone else. Perhaps you will need a small favor in the future, and I think that everyone prefers to help someone that has been kind with them.

Furthermore, if you asked this kind of question perhaps you are the person who would have loved to receive an email like this in the same situation.

  • 4
    Disagree. You're going from assuming they're male to assuming they're female. If you're apologizing you should ask for their pronouns first. Asking for the correct pronouns is more important than apologizing.
    – xyious
    Jan 13, 2021 at 20:01
  • 2
    @xyious That would over-complicate an otherwise trivial issue and may do more harm than good to their relationship. If the OP was unsure about the desired pronoun, they should go with the "ignore" option. Otherwise, this answer is fine in my opinion.
    – Theo Tiger
    Jan 13, 2021 at 21:39
  • 4
    A good compromise would be "It's come to my attention that I may have been using the wrong pronouns for you. If so, I appologize. What are your preferred usages?" You get an appology in if it was needed and avoid making it a big deal (which in this case it shouldn't be). Jan 17, 2021 at 22:03
  • 3
    99% of females will get offended if you ask what pronouns you should use.
    – Chris
    Jan 19, 2021 at 19:04
  • 3
    The "asking for pronouns" thing should be used with caution. In many places, peoplw have never heard of it and would find the question weird. In other places, it would be expected that people with non-standard pronouns voice this wish, otherwise people would use standard pronouns (and most people would be offended by this question).
    – guest
    Jan 19, 2021 at 19:48

The American bias is really apparent in the answers. People saying stuff like "ask her what her preferred pronouns are".

Are you people serious? OP is in Eastern Europe. Asking somebody what their preferred pronouns are would make you seem like a weirdo. You don't do that. It might be something you Americans are struggling with right now, but don't bring that culture into other places, especially when it literally would accomplish the opposite of what OP is trying to do here.

OP: Ignore it, it happens, and isn't a big deal. As a general rule, if you don't know somebody's gender, avoid using pronouns, if its not super formal, you can use first names, or don't use anything at all, e.g. the following format would work fine:

"mailto: [email protected]


I've attached the requested document, please let me know if that's what you wanted.

Sincerely, Your Name"


I don't think you can assume their gender from the voice you heard over the phone.

You could apologize for your past assumptions, and ask them how they want to be addressed.

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