How should I refer to a friend who is a girl but not a girlfriend?

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21

When I'm talking about my friend, who is a girl, but not a girlfriend, what word or phrase should I use? If the gender was unimportant, it would not be a problem. But if I want to note that the friend is female, not male, how should I say that, to avoid ambiguity?

Danubian Sailor

Posted 2013-01-23T21:21:43.300

Reputation: 2 783

"Gal pal" is a female friend and a term that isn't likely to be misinterpreted. – fixer1234 – 2017-03-19T02:22:52.023

@fixer1234 but how widely it is understood? – Danubian Sailor – 2017-03-19T19:26:54.817

@DanubianSailor, in the US it's a common term. – fixer1234 – 2017-03-19T20:04:23.973

Native English speakers often have difficulty deciding what to use in these circumstances also. I, for example, have a very good friend who just happens to be a girl. In writing the solution is easy as girlfriend is one word and girl friend isn't but in spoken English if I say girl friend it sounds like she is my girlfriend and if I say anything else I feel like I am saying 'This is my friend, she is a girl, but I really need you to know we are not in a relationship' which can seem inappropriate, especially if she is present. I think she thinks I am saying she is not good enough. – RedPython – 2017-03-24T13:11:41.907

I usually tend to say "lady friend". It's not easily confused with girlfriend, but is common enough to get the point across suitably. – Anoplexian – 2018-01-18T19:55:03.833

1It might help to know why it's important to specify gender. As Mitch noted, this can be awkward for native speakers too. – Kelly Tessena Keck – 2013-01-25T13:41:03.303

1Maybe it's simple because I wanted to translate the phrase from my language, and the concept of missing some information by transation is strange for me, but probably this is what could be done – Danubian Sailor – 2013-01-25T14:12:14.047

I think "my she friend" is enough ;) – akbar ali – 2015-03-12T12:50:47.203

Answers

108

My female friend is a perfectly acceptable and understandable way of putting it. A slightly more awkward phrasing that I have also heard is My friend, who is a girl....

waiwai933

Posted 2013-01-23T21:21:43.300

Reputation: 3 007

17This is something that has always frustrated me about the english language. Neither of those sound quite right to me, though technically of course, they are right. – GorrillaMcD – 2013-01-24T04:29:48.873

14We often work around the problem by saying "My friend Anne" or some such. – BobRodes – 2013-07-04T18:22:02.467

To make matters worse, sometimes people will introduce their romantic partner as "This is my friend, so-and-so." – Stew C – 2017-03-23T20:12:36.710

34

To native speakers this is also awkward. Using just 'friend' brings up the possibility, if knowing they are of opposite sex, that they are a romantic involvement, but to be truthful you want to deny that, but you don't want to seem like totally denying that you're denying even the possibility but they -are- attractive and if it were a different world but you can't say that because on an objective scale they're not -that- attractive either and what if my girlfriend hears this but...oh my god what a mess. OK, just a friend. Dang.

– Mitch – 2013-01-24T15:07:42.917

@Mitch Doesn’t that require also knowing or assuming the affectional orientations of both parties? Seems a bit awkward, or invasive, or arrogant, or naïve, no matter how you slice it. Definitely a minefield. – tchrist – 2013-02-18T02:27:43.297

1@JasonPatterson the male equivalent would be "guy friend(s)". – JJJ – 2018-03-13T04:42:23.147

1I just read an article where a native english speaker spoke about her friends, who are girls, mentioning them as "my girlfriends". – Trevör Anne Denise – 2014-04-21T10:16:04.610

@TrevörAnneDenise This is often used by women to speak about her female friends. Homosexual women wind up in the same situation as men when using this word, where there is ambiguity regarding the nature (platonic vs romantic) of the friendship. Oddly, boyfriend is never used except as a romantic term or perhaps jokingly. – Jason Patterson – 2015-01-05T17:47:49.847

139

There's nothing in the language that requires you to characterize with a noun. You can frame your discourse much less awkwardly with constructions like:

My friend Sidney? she'll be there, too ...
I have a friend, Sidney, her command of English is amazing ...
There's this girl, Sidney, friend of mine from school ...
You know my friend Sidney, Ed's little sister ...
My friend Sidney's pregnant ...

Talk about the person, not the role, and Great Mother English will take care of you.

StoneyB

Posted 2013-01-23T21:21:43.300

Reputation: 168 450

29This is what I always tell my Italian friends: by the next sentence it will become clear. – Groky – 2013-01-31T13:29:49.583

what if you dont know her name? – bubakazouba – 2015-07-17T20:31:24.150

2@bubakazouba Just refer to her as your friend, without the name. But if she's your friend you oughta know her name! – StoneyB – 2015-07-17T21:22:51.453

4My friend Sidney is Ed's little brother. :) – BobRodes – 2013-07-04T18:21:35.340

@BobRodes Perhaps they're twins? – StoneyB – 2013-07-04T18:49:30.720

3It is a tad awkward even for native speakers, but contriving a sentence so as to force a gendered pronoun like "she" and "her" is the ideal way to do it. You get across the idea of gender, but you make it a sub-point that could easily be overlooked if someone doesn't care. Note that if you really want to make a point of gender because it's important, you'll need to be more explicit to avoid the old comic trope, "sure, that's fine...wait, did you say SHE?" – BrianH – 2013-07-26T15:52:49.693

2I thought Sidney was a male name. – kinokijuf – 2014-10-05T14:38:18.160

@kinokijuf It's actually a family name originally; it was a male name for a long time, but recently it has become a female name too. – StoneyB – 2014-10-05T15:06:55.490

English have that problem... There's no amiga (feminine form of friend) like in Portuguese... But these are good solutions. +1 – Fabricio Araujo – 2013-04-03T21:19:33.080

45

In written English, you could use girl friend rather than girlfriend. According to Wiktionary, the former means a female friend, whereas the latter means a female partner.

Andrew Grimm

Posted 2013-01-23T21:21:43.300

Reputation: 3 204

5Don't forget "gal pals"! – Tyler James Young – 2013-09-16T22:58:30.370

11Absolutely correct, and works perfectly in written English--not so much when spoken, unfortunately. I've always found this topic interesting, as I hear many people refer to male platonic friends as "guy friends" (which would never be confused with a boyfriend) but the difference between "girl friend" and "girlfriend" cannot be heard when spoken. – WendiKidd – 2013-02-08T22:47:43.270

2In Persian, the difference is "Doost-e Dokhtar" (girl friend) and "DoostDokhtar" (girlfriend). The problem is that English doesn't differ between additive and adjective phrases – Ahmad – 2018-02-18T16:00:58.323

along the same lines as "guy friends" is the term "gal friends." Two notes on that phrase: 1) I've only ever heard it used in the plural 2) I've only ever heard it used by people above a certain age – Yes I use MUMPS – 2013-04-02T21:39:22.897

29

If you are a male, the phrase "female friend" works. If you are a female, the phrase "girlfriend" is actually acceptable, though somewhat uncommon depending on region. But English speakers tend to be unspecific unless the conversation requires you to specify your friend's gender.

Ken Bellows

Posted 2013-01-23T21:21:43.300

Reputation: 3 946

3I have actually seen boyfriend used this same way (though in the plural), but only once. This is exceedingly rare. – TRiG – 2013-01-30T21:40:59.717

2It's definitely acceptable, but it's uncommon enough that it might cause confusion in contexts where 1) it's not commonly used by women to refer to their female friends and 2) the person listening doesn't know (or wouldn't assume) your sexual orientation (or for that matter, if you are a woman who dates women). – Kelly Tessena Keck – 2013-01-24T14:19:40.950

That's definitely true. I rather expect that within the next few decades this usage will be almost entirely phased out, or be considered somewhat "archaic". – Ken Bellows – 2013-01-25T10:42:43.337

KenB, that wouldn't surprise me at all. I think I know exactly one person (in her 40s, and from North Carolina) who uses "girlfriend" used to mean "a woman's platonic female friend." – Kelly Tessena Keck – 2013-01-25T13:40:01.573

21

Probably the easiest and simplest way is to just call her your friend and refer to her with a female pronoun. For example, "My friend Sidney is helping me move. She'll be here in an hour."

"Female friend" or "girl friend" is grammatically correct, but it calls a lot more attention to gender, which can be awkward. (If you talk about your male friends as "friends" and your female friends as "female friends," it implies that they're somehow a different kind of friend because they're female.)

Kelly Tessena Keck

Posted 2013-01-23T21:21:43.300

Reputation: 341

15

You might say "my friend <her name>", if her name is unambiguously female. That avoids the problem without being specific about her gender.

barbara beeton

Posted 2013-01-23T21:21:43.300

Reputation: 2 581

@Flimzy -- thanks. you've make this answer make sense. – barbara beeton – 2013-01-24T20:17:52.120

2OP mentions wanting to imply gender, might want to mention not being too particular in English. "but if I want to note that the friend is female not male, how should I say that" – Ryan Leonard – 2013-01-23T21:52:12.827

2@barbarabeeton, I thought "lady friend" implied romantic interest. Not necessarily that two people are a couple, but that they're dating or the man hopes they will be at some point. (But I'm not from the generation that uses it, so the contexts in which I've heard it are probably really limited.) – Kelly Tessena Keck – 2013-01-25T13:43:17.933

1@Rhino -- true, but sometimes it's desirable to avoid awkwardness, and to me, "female friend" sounds like one is trying too hard. (Admittedly, I'm from a generation in which "lady friend" is still acceptable.) – barbara beeton – 2013-01-23T22:57:43.677

11

It's not unusual in this situation to dispel ambiguity by further specifying the origin or current context of your friendship. This can be done with a simple compound of the context and the word friend (alternatively, 'partner' or possibly 'buddy' - although this is more commonly applied to men).

Examples:

family-friend

school-friend

drinking-buddy

bridge-partner

If you wish to make gender obvious, then it's best to use a pronoun to do this.

bruised reed

Posted 2013-01-23T21:21:43.300

Reputation: 1 390

While "bridge-partner" doesn't imply any such thing, it seems to have become common to refer to someone with whom one is in a committed relationship as "partner" rather than "spouse". While this avoids any reference to marriage, it doesn't imply a casual relationship. (So be careful.) – barbara beeton – 2018-08-02T14:25:58.863

10

My platonic lady friend.

This states that you are just friends. Platonic says your just friends and avoids lady/female friend being interpreted improperly.

As suggested by J.R. as well, you can say:

She's a platonic friend.

Here gender is shown by the pronoun she.

Mark Robinson

Posted 2013-01-23T21:21:43.300

Reputation: 692

1In the American South, especially, "lady friend" has a very explicit meaning of implying a sexual relationship, and it often implies disapproval (though it varies in context and sometimes is just an attempt at expressing a potentially inappropriate relationship in polite terms). Attempting to add "platonic" or anything implying non-sexuality would immediately provoke a reaction of "oh yeah, sure, I'll bet you are just friends". So I assume you'll be going to the party with your very special best platonic lady friend who you definitely aren't having sex with, right? "Thou doth protest too much" – BrianH – 2013-07-26T16:02:39.493

The use of the word platonic can help others from misinterpreting the nature of the relationship. That said, I don't hear "lady friend" very often, at least not here in the U.S. As an alternate answer for the O.P., "She's a platonic friend" might do the trick, with the pronoun identifying the gender, and platonic describing the nature of the friendship. – J.R. – 2013-01-24T10:36:30.727

1To me, using 'platonic' implies that there could be some love interest, or a very close relationship. Not what I would use to refer to a girl who is just a friend. – Alfro – 2016-06-16T13:30:13.893

@J.R. I will add that in as well. – Mark Robinson – 2013-01-24T13:16:11.430

@MarkRobinson the problem is normal beginners won't understand what is platonic. Indeed, I have not used platonic for any of my writing (or speaking). It would be difficult for new learners.. – smartboyhw – 2013-01-24T13:43:02.347

1When you use platonic to qualify your friendship, you're giving recognition to a sexual under-current which is not realized. The word expresses a limitation in a sexual relationship, not the absence of one. – Kaz – 2013-02-16T17:29:10.163

3"lady friend" sounds a bit awkward, and in some regions/context has a connotation of a, perhaps illegitimate, romantic/sexual relationship. – Flimzy – 2013-01-24T19:06:19.717

2If you use "lady friend", be sure to avoid the problems @Flimzy notes by stressing the first word and leering while you say it. Maybe wink for good measure. – Shog9 – 2013-01-25T01:57:04.947

@Shog9 Lol, nothing like a little sarcasam:) Side-note do you always have 101 rep on beta sites? Cause Robert has 101 on our meta, even though he got like 10 upvotes. – Mark Robinson – 2013-01-25T04:27:09.253

Unless we participate on the main site, we're stuck at 101, @Mark - Robert actually has a bit more now because he did post an answer. – Shog9 – 2013-01-25T04:33:53.570

4

If it's just some girl you know, try:

A friend of mine, her name is Hildegart....

or:

Hildegart, a friend of mine...

if it's your girl, use:

My girlfriend Hildegart is giving the ...

ost as a guest

Posted 2013-01-23T21:21:43.300

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