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fe·male (fēmāl)
a. Of or denoting the sex that produces ova or bears young.
b. Characteristic of or appropriate to this sex in humans and other animals: female hormones; female fashions.
c. Consisting of members of this sex. See Usage Note at lady.
2. Of or denoting the gamete that is larger and less motile than the other corresponding gamete. Used of anisogamous organisms.
3. Botany
a. Designating an organ, such as a pistil or ovary, that functions in producing seeds after fertilization.
b. Bearing pistils but not stamens; pistillate: female flowers.
4. Designed to receive or fit around a complementary male part, as a slot or receptacle: the female end of an extension cord.
1. A female organism.
2. A woman or girl.

[Middle English, alteration (influenced by male, male) of femelle, from Old French, from Latin fēmella, diminutive of fēmina, woman; see dhē(i)- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]

femaleness n.

Usage Note: Perhaps because the use of female to modify a noun for a professional, as in female doctor, can seem derogatory if it seems to imply that professionals are male by default, some writers use woman or women as modifiers when identifying the sex of the referent is necessary. Despite this tendency, in our 2016 survey, overwhelming majorities of the Usage Panel (97 percent) found the use of both female and male to be acceptable in the sentences This book is written by a ______ author and This anthology features ______ authors. In contrast, the Panelists overwhelmingly rejected man author (92 percent), man authors (96 percent), and men authors (81 percent). Woman authors was a bit less unpopular (it was rejected by 74 percent of the panel), but it was rejected largely because of the clash between the singular modifier and plural noun, not because woman was being used as a modifier. The Panel was more favorable toward woman author, which was accepted by 43 percent of Panelists, and women authors, which was accepted by 64 percent, the only phrase among the batch surveyed that received a majority acceptance.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.