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I was wondering about what each of the following word is referring to:

男の子/女の子 男子/女子 男性/女性 男/女

I know the literal translation of each, but couldn't figure out on whom to use it. Thank you

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The nuances of words will be different to everybody, each speaker has his/her own understanding of the shades of words, so it's hard to give an exact age number for these words. However, here are the general consensus:

男{おとこ}の子{こ}/女{おんな}の子{こ}: Used to refer to children and young adults, generally speaking, anyone below the age of thirty could be referred to as 男の子/女の子, although for those already married or even have had children, 男の子/女の子 will be unlikely.

男{だん}子{し}/女{じょ}子{し}: A more formal version than 男の子/女の子. Can be seen on more formal documents, but since the kanji 子 is used it still gives a feeling of "youngness". Can be used for children and young adults.

男{おとこ}の人{ひと}/女{おんな}の人{ひと}: A general term for "men/women". No restriction on age, but you wouldn't wanna refer to someone young as 男の人/女の人 though(you still could), calling those young people 男の子/女の子 would be more suitable, especially children.

男{だん}性{せい}/女{じょ}性{せい}: The most formal version of "male/female" of them all. No restrictions on age at all, and more often than not 男性/女性 refers to the gender rather than the person. Like 男の人/女の人 would refer to "a male person/a female person" and 男の子/女の子 is "a male child/a female child", but 男性/女性 is just "male/female". Can be the person, but can also be just the gender. When you fill out a form where you specify your gender, 男性/女性 are the options you're probably gonna see.

男{だん・おとこ}/女{じょ・おんな}: Not really used in speech, and in writing, these can be a shorthand of 男性/女性. For example, there are washroom signs with just 男/女 on them, or when filling a form instead of 男性/女性 they can show you 男/女 instead. However, 男/女 can be used in speech to address a male/female person, when they're read as 男{おとこ}/女{おんな}, like あの男{おとこ}… あの女{おんな}… This is very disrespectful way of addressing people, so unless you're really mad at someone, you don't wanna call them by this.

P.S. When 男 and 女 comes together to form a word it's read as 男{なん}女{にょ}

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    Shouldn't the last reading be だんじょ rather than なんにょ? Typo? Jul 13, 2023 at 3:22
  • Thank you a lot. I appreciate the detailed answer! So if I want to talk about a group of guys, let's say in the university I could refer to them as 男の子たち? Jul 13, 2023 at 5:55
  • Actually both readings (なんにょ, だんじょ) are listed in dictionaries for word 男女. has on'yomi なん and だん, and has on'yomi にょ and じょ.
    – Arfrever
    Jul 13, 2023 at 6:27
  • 男女 in the compound 老若男女 is read as なんにょ (I can't think of any other case where it's read なんにょ) but 男女 is usually read as だんじょ (or sometimes as おとこおんな) eg: 「[男女]{だんじょ}を問わず」「[男女]{だんじょ}共同参画」「高校生の[男女]{だんじょ}6人が...」
    – chocolate
    Jul 13, 2023 at 16:59

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