Are there differences in the way men and women speak and write?

I’ve often heard people say that they though someone was male or female from the way they communicated in text form, and been surprised when they found that they were the opposite sex, and I’ve also seen quite a few more successful guesses on the same basis. Naturally, that’s anecdotal.

Is there an actual difference in the way men and women speak or write (or at least how they’re perceived to). Has there been any research on it?

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that there has indeed been a lot of research on this, as well as popular writings, including those of Deborah Tannen–a good place to start.

This page tells me the OP was written by a dude, and explains why it thinks so.

Well, it’s correct.

Although when I copied in a much longer version of the OP I wrote on another forum (more specifically a writing related forum, where I was asking about writing androgynous characters) it concluded that I was either an informal female (admittedly by a small margin) or a formal male.

This is the post in question, if you’re interested.

Gender norms are tough in writing. Shakespeare, Twain, Whitman, Hemingway… take your pick. They were each perceived as “manly men,” but each composed a lot of effeminate literature. Women, particularly in the past 40 years, tend to write more aggressively (read: “mannish”) in what I suppose is an inculcation of women’s liberation thinking. [That’s an observation, not a judgement]. Among my favorite Twain quotes: “war was intended for men and I for a child’s nurse”; “I put the pistol to my head but wasn’t man enough to pull the trigger.”

And, of course, we all know that Hemingway WAS man enough to pull the trigger, but still a tortured soul. A good writer (of fiction, at least) is emotive and understands that men undergo comparable, but different, psychological stressors to women.

If you look back at, say Virginia Woolfe, you’d be hard-pressed to find evidence of her being male. Oscar Wilde and (depending on the text in question) James Joyce come across as having feminine writing styles.

I’d say that a lot of it comes down to culture/time period. It wasn’t long ago that a PTSD/“shell shock”/“battle fatigue” diagnosis meant that a male combat veteran was psychologically emasculated. We now view these things very differently (in some cases inversely).

There is a general tendency for women to write more about emotion, while male authors tend to write about action (huge generalization). But males are also inclined to equate the two - when angry, strike back; when sad, self-destruct; when happy, go “sow your wild oats.” Female writers, on the other hand, have a tendency to pursue some level of tranquility (Kate Chopin’s “Joy That Kills” comes to mind - “Body and soul free!”). There’s also often an underpinning of obligation in texts written by women - protecting a child/husband/parent, or righting a perceived injustice. Male authors tend to describe “righting a wrong” in snippets… short bursts of violent action, where female authors will often dig deeper into the origins of that perceived injustice.

All of this is just based on my observations (heck, I was the only male in the Feminine Lit class - sometimes it’s nice to be in the minority :smiley: ). One thing worth a try in writing characters of the other gender is to ask someone of that gender if you’re way the hell off-base. It can be rather enlightening (and shorten publication time… and result in “fun time”).

Suggested reading by Deborah Tannen

What I was going to recommend.

I decided to try out that Gender Guesser, so I copied in this old post: (The first of mine I came across that seemed long enough.)

I am female:

Genre: Informal
Female = 119
Male = 821
Difference = 702; 87.34%
Verdict: MALE

Genre: Formal
Female = 332
Male = 380
Difference = 48; 53.37%
Verdict: Weak MALE
Weak emphasis could indicate European.

Cool story, bro.

There are clear differences in Japanese between the genders, although it much more pronounced when spoken (and informally written). It makes it funny to listen to foreign men who learned Japanese from girlfriends or wives.

What about hand writting? I’ve always found that interesting as well.

I’ll recommend it a fourth time.


I used to work in a bank and there was a much greater difference on the handwriting based on age rather than gender. You could see when the emphasis went off formal handwriting in schools.

Mind you, that was back in the 80’s and I think most of the real copperplate styles will have disappeared.

Another interesting, relevant fact about Japanese, while the scripts have different, gender neutral uses nowadays, the writing system hiragana (ex: あ お さ) was originally meant for females with its pretty, curvy style, and katakana (ex: ア オ サ – same sounds as the ones I presented for hiragana) with its rigid, formal style was for men. Except for official government documents, of course, those were written in something pretty close to Chinese. Both systems of writing are actually heavily simplified from Chinese characters that were read phonetically to write Japanese words rather than for their semantic-phonetic meaning, a system called Man’yogana. I’m not even going to attempt to illustrate Man’yogana, it takes a good imagination to see how these characters were derived from their ancestors, even when it’s literally highlighted for you.

So handwriting was literally segregated by gender in olden Japan.

In Lakhota, the enclitic particles at the end of a declarative sentence tend to be *kštó *for women and yeló for men.

In Thai, the first-person singular pronoun is dichan for woman and phom for men. Both genders also say chan for the pronoun. The particle at the end of a Thai declarative sentence tends to be *khâ * with a falling tone for women and *khrap *with a high tone for men.

There are many more examples of such enclitic particles in both languages, some of which are used by one gender more than another. The particles themselves don’t get translated as they carry neither lexical nor grammatical meaning. They’re more like a sign of how the speaker feels about what they’re saying or about how they wish it to be taken by the hearer.

The late Alice Sheldon wrote under the pen name James Tiptree, and before she was outed as a woman many people swore up and down that the author behind the pseudonym had to be a man.

Yes, I recall that; the sc-fi author Robert Silverberg managed to embarrass himself that way.

There’s also the Gender Genie:

Speaking of gender differences in writing, I’m sure most of you have seen this tandem writing assignment from SMU: