• 4-minute read
  • 10th January 2021

Writing Tips: Latino, Latina or Latinx?

“Latino,” “Latina,” and “Latinx” are all terms used to refer to people of Latin American descent. But what are the differences here? Why is “Latinx” controversial? And when should you use these terms in your writing?

This post will explain the basics of these terms.

What Do Latino, Latina and Latinx Mean?

Spanish is a gendered language. This means that all nouns in the language are assigned a gender, which determines how they are spelled: typically, male nouns end in the letter “o,” while female nouns end in “a.”

The difference between “Latino” and “Latina,” then, is a matter of gender:

  • Men of Central or South American descent are “Latinos.”
  • Women of Central or South American descent are “Latinas.”

Mixed groups have traditionally taken the male form of the word.

Hispanic and Latinx as Gender-Neutral Terms

In the past, those seeking a gender-neutral term for people from a Latin American background had to rely on “Hispanic.” However, this word excludes Latin American people who aren’t from Spanish-speaking countries, such as Brazil or Guyana. Some also consider it old-fashioned or problematic.

Since around 2014, though, the word “Latinx” has emerged as a gender-neutral alternative to the words “Latino” and “Latina.” For those who prefer to use gender-neutral language, the “x” ending provides a useful way of describing:

  • Mixed-gender groups and non-specific individuals.
  • People with a Latin American background who may be non-binary (so do not wish to identify solely as male or female).

“Latinx” is now fairly widespread, especially among English and dual Spanish–English speakers. However, some people have rejected the term.

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What Is the Problem with “Latinx”?

There are two key reasons that some people have rejected “Latinx” as a term.

For some, it misunderstands the role of gender in Spanish, where it is a way of classifying nouns rather than saying something is inherently male or female. And without the usual male and female word endings, it is hard to know how to spell any connected adjectives so that they agree grammatically.

Another objection is that the word “Latinx” is unpronounceable to many Spanish speakers and impossible to understand if they are not fluent in English. This has led to some seeing it as something English speakers are imposing on Latin Americans.

Other gender-neutral alternatives to “Latino” and “Latina” have emerged. One that sidesteps the pronunciation problem is “Latine,” with the “-e” ending simple to say in Spanish as well as English. This word is not yet as widely known, though.

Which Term Should I Use?

The best term to use for a person or group of people of Latin American heritage will depend on your situation and preferences. However, we have a few tips:

  • Latino and Latina are fine if you are referring to specific people of those genders. If you are a traditionalist, you may also use “Latino” for mixed groups.
  • Latinx is a gender-neutral alternative to “Latino” or “Latina.” It is useful when you want to refer to someone who is non-binary, whose gender hasn’t been specified, or a mixed gender group. However, it may be hard for Spanish speakers to pronounce, so it is best reserved for those who speak English.
  • Latine is another gender-neutral alternative to “Latino” and “Latina” and avoids the pronunciation problems association with “Latinx.” This term is not yet widespread, though, so some readers may not know what you mean.

In addition, if you are writing about an individual, do your best to respect their identity. If someone refers to themselves as “Latina,” for example, use this rather than imposing a gender-neutral term on them. And if someone describes themselves as “Latinx,” it is common courtesy to follow their example.

Finally, if you need more help, our editors can offer tailored advice on vocabulary. Why not give our free proofreading trial a go today?

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