"Blond" and "blonde" have different meanings. Learn the difference.
It sounds like a joke, but it's actually a legitimate question: How do you spell “blond"?
‘Blond’ Versus ‘Blonde’
The word originally came into English from Old French, where it has masculine and feminine forms. As an English noun, it kept those two forms; thus, a blond is a fair-haired male, and a blonde is a fair-haired female.
When you're using the word as an adjective, "blond" is the more common spelling and can be used for men or women, especially in the United States; however, "blonde" can also be used to describe a woman with fair hair, as in “Go ask the blonde woman at table 2 if she wants pepper on her salad.”
A blond is a fair-haired male, and a blonde is a fair-haired female.
Is ‘Blonde’ Sexist?
Some people think it is sexist to use “blonde” to refer to women, but the AP Stylebook currently says to maintain the distinction between the two gendered forms of the word if you use it, and The Chicago Manual of Style also seems to uphold the difference. It doesn’t say so explicitly, but it uses the "blonde" form for women in some example sentences.
Still, it may be perceived as especially sexist when you refer to a woman simply as “a blonde” or “the blonde,” as in “The blonde got in line to check out a book.” Garner’s Modern English Usage says that for this reason, it’s usually best to avoid using “blonde” (and “blond”) as a stand-alone noun.
Most of the time, inanimate objects are treated as male. For example, if you have a blond wooden dresser, “blond” is spelled without the E. A recent exception though is that Starbucks uses the feminine form for its blonde roast coffee. Maybe the marketing people believe we’ll love it more if we think of it as a woman or as female.
How to Use ‘Blond’ and ‘Blonde’
1. Avoid using “blond” as a stand-alone noun for men or women if you can easily rewrite your sentence or you think it may offend your readers.
2. If you do use the words as nouns, maintain the gender difference and use “blonde” for a woman and “blond” for a man.
3. Inanimate objects usually get the masculine form of the word.
4. When you’re using “blond” as an adjective, use the masculine spelling, without the E, especially if you’re in the United States.
‘Blond’ and ‘Blonde’ Examples
Here are four examples of how the different spellings are commonly used:
- The blonde was delighted when Squiggly presented her with a dictionary. (feminine noun, sometimes considered sexist)
- The blond wondered if he should use hair gel. (masculine noun, sometimes considered sexist)
- The blond man looked horrible in the orange sweater. (masculine adjective)
- Turn right at the blond brick pathway. (inanimate object, masculine adjective)
Other Gendered English Nouns
Although it’s rare to have nouns that differ by gender in English, “blond” (and “blonde”) isn’t the only one.
Two that you may have seen before also come from French: “confidant” (and “confidante”) and “fiance” (and “fiancee”). The AP Stylebook says to uphold the gender difference for both words, unless you need a gender-neutral option for “fiancee,” and in that case, it recommends describing couples as engaged or planning to marry. The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t address “fiancee” and notes the feminine form of “confidante” but says it’s fading from the English language.
You may also be familiar with this pair from Latin: “alumnus” and “alumna.” An "alumnus" is a male graduate, and an “alumna” is a female graduate. (Read more about “alumni.”)
And of course, English has many pairs of words we use to describe similar men and women, some of which are still in use, such as “king” and “queen,” and other pairs where one has fallen out of use, such as “editor” and “editrix.” (Read more about when to use gendered nouns.)
Note: Karen Conlin, @GramrgednAngel on Twitter, pointed out that "brunette" and "brunet" are another pair like "blonde" and "blond."
‘Blond’ or ‘Blonde’: Lesson Ideas
These assignments are appropriate for students in middle school and beyond.
“Blond” and “blonde” are unusual because it is rare for English nouns to be different for people of different genders. Therefore, these are commonly confused words.
Have students read the article on this page or listen to the audio from the Grammar Girl podcast (episode 646, November 8, 2018), available at the top of this page and through Apple Podcast, Spotify, and Stitcher.
Assignment #1 (Easy)
Have students search an online news site and find real-life examples of all the major correct uses of “blond” and “blonde”:
- A use of “blond” as a noun referring to a man or boy.
- A use of “blonde” as a noun referring to a woman or girl.
- A use of “blond” as an adjective.
- A bad use of “a blond,” “the blond,” “a blonde,” or “the blonde” as the only reference to a person.
Did they find any other uses that surprised them or that were incorrect? What was the most common error they found? Why do they think it is the most common error?
Assignment #2 (Advanced)
Have students identify additional sets of English nouns that have different male and female forms beyond those mentioned in the article.
Then have students search a news site and the Google Books database for at least three sets of words and evaluate whether they think usage has been changing over the last few decades.
Have the students write a reflection piece or discuss whether they think these words serve a good purpose in English, or if it would be a good thing if the language no longer made such distinctions.
If students think the language should be streamlined, how would they suggest the language change to accomplish this goal?