Decoding Gendered Discourses in Online Personal Ads


The research paper deals with personal advertisements presented via the medium of the Internet. This kind of advertising is a relatively new genre because the medium of the Internet is not a very old phenomenon; therefore it is nearly unexplored. The following analysis of personal advertisements appears to be quite interesting as today personal advertisements represent one of the very popular and often used means providing possibility to meet new friends and potential life partners. Ads offer a rich source of written language, as well as research material.

They usually facilitate in sending right messages to people of opposite gender identities on dating webpage. The most important goal of the research paper is to focus on the features of online dating from the point of view of gender differences. It tries to find out whether and how the differences between men and women influence the language of personal advertisements. It wants to explore whether some general gender stereotypes also occur in this new kind of personal advertisement.

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In our society it is believed that men and women talk as they belonged to two different entities. Since personal advertisements are written by both sexes, the research paper tries to explore how language relates to gender and how stereotyped assumptions and beliefs are reflected in the text of online personal advertisements. The paper focuses on how men and women characterise themselves, as well as their potential partners, what kind of expressions they use for this purpose. From the viewpoint of gender stereotypes, the paper will concentrate on the issues of talkativeness and a hedges usage as it is presupposed that women will be more talkative and will use hedges more frequently.

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It is also presupposed that men will emphasise success in their self – description and appearance in their partner –description. Women are presupposed to put greater emphasis on their appearance as well as on partner´s success.




1. Advertisement in general
1.1.Role of advertisement Nowadays, advertisement is a usual part of everyday life. Wherever we are, ads are always surrounding us. We can see it everywhere: on TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards, means of transport, the Internet or in public places. Its goal is to attract people ´s attention and give information about some concrete product or service. The ultimate aim of ads is to persuade people to buy what is advertised. Information provided by the creators of the advertisement has a strong impact on the addressees, either negative or positive. Advertisement is very often rejected and invokes passionate discussions. However, thanks to it, people or companies can quickly inform about their products or services in a very easy way.

1.2.Language of advertisement A great variety of advertisements for different subjects emerges on the market, ads for e.g.: products, services, ideas or images of organizations, charities, companies, individuals. Language of present advertisements is special. It tries to attract possible customers or addressees and focuses on their attention and consciousness to influence them positively. „ Ads use fictions, word play, compressed storytelling, stylized acting, photography, cartoons, puns, and rhythms in ways which are often memorable, enjoyable and amusing. The word and details of ads often come to people´s minds more readily than those of novels and poems and plays, and they are often recalled with more laughter and enthusiasm“ (Cook, 2003, p. 3).

It can be said that language used in advertisements plays a very important role. It is obvious that the more extraordinary, peculiar, interesting and original the advertisement is, the greater chance it has to draw addressees´ attention and to go deeply into their subconscious.

2. Personal advertisement
2.1. The role of the advertisement As any kind of advertisement, personal ads are part of everyday life. They can be seen in all media; mainly on the Internet and print media. Personal advertisements serve for the purpose of communication between people. The primary aim is to catch attention of an ideal partner. The 2

options for creating personal ads are limited as their writers depend on the space given and words expressing their intention. 2.2. Language of personal advertisement As it was said, language of advertisement is very specific, especially language of personal advertisements. “Communication adaptation theory (CAT) (Burgoon, Stern, & Dillman, 1995; Giles, Coupland, & Coupland, 1991) holds that individuals vary their language choices within interactions, depending on their social goals. Thus, speakers may choose to emphasize (or deemphasize) particular aspects of their identities as a way of aligning with (or distancing from) interaction partners“ (

responding-to-gender-role-bidding-in-personal-ads, p.401,cited 30.11.2010) As Winn and Robin (ibid, cited 30.11.2010) continue, the writers of the personal ads regulate their self- presentations by means of language choice. On the other hand, prescribed requirements of e.g. space can have an influence on the way of writers´ presentation. The authors of personal ads must be brief when they portray themselves.

However, they also have to use such language means which help the writers to present elements of their identities that are supposed to be most important to finding partners. Therefore it is obvious that personal ads writers “ will often converge with, or match, the speech patterns of their interlocutors” (ibid, p. 401, cited 30.11.2010). As the authors of article printed in a magazine Journal of language a social psychology point out, writers of personal ads construct their text and use such a vocabulary to be in harmony with what is preferred by their readers; “ individuals are seen to adapt their language” (ibid, p. 401, cited 30.11.2010).

3. Gender differences

Gender study appears to be not a very old discipline. It was introduced in the second half of the last century and explores the field of differences between men and women. It is generally assumed that women differ from men in many attributes. Nowadays, comments like woman will never understand man and vice versa nearly become a proverb. Of course, differences between women and men are of various types; however for the purpose of this research paper only difference concerning language use will be discussed. A theory dealing with issues of gender differences in using language is called sociolinguistic. Its major topic is “ the connection between the structures, vocabularies, and ways 3

of using particular languages and the social roles of the men and women who speak these languages” (p. 315).

3.1. Gender and language Nowadays, linguists still have the same opinion that men and women differ in the language use. The distinction is partly caused by biological differences, e.g. a constitution of human brain depends on gender; however the fact is that women and men are also psychologically different, e.g. “women are more concerned with making connections; they seek involvement and focus on the interdependencies between people. Men are more concerned with autonomy and detachment; they seek independence and focus on hierarchical relationship” ( Boe qtd. In Holmes, 1995, p. 7).

According to Coates ( 1993), usually, emotiveness is a typical feature of women, while rational thinking is characteristic attribute of men. Men put emphasis on success, efficiency, power and ability, whereas women regard as the most important relationship, feelings, family, and confidence. We can say, all these areas affect women´s and men ´s acting, their decision making, thinking, and their expressing of their emotions, needs and opinions. The distinctions mentioned can be reflected also in personal advertisements.

3.2. Cultural stereotypes and language Not only history and culture of the society but also gender differences influence the existence of certain persistent stereotypes in the society. There are some linguistic stereotypes concerning communicative competence of men and women based on gender differences that are believed by almost each member of our society. According to Coates ( ibid ), each of us are familiar with linguistic stereotypes, like that “ women talk more than men, that women “gossip”, that men swear more than women, that women are more polite and so on” ( Coates, 1993, p. 107). Coates mentions also other language areas in which women are distinct from men, which are “tag questions, hedges, commands and directives, taboo language, compliments, topic and topic development, formal versus informal language, and minimal responses” ( Coates, 1993, p. 114).


3.2.1. Talkativeness As for talkativeness, “ there is a widespread belief in our society that women talk more than men” ( Coates, 1993, p. 115). In spoken language Coates calls this stereotype “verbosity” (Coates, 1993, p 114). Persistence of this stereotype is closely connected with the topic discussed. In societies, it is believed that women like to talk more about ´trivial´ topics, as family cooking or personal issues, and they avoid topics that could be titled ´serious´. The triviality of topics is usually connected with abundant usage of words. Coates points out another reason for persistence of this belief that is “different expectations of male and female speakers: while men have the right to talk, women are expected to remain silent. Then talking at any length can be viewed as talkativeness” ( Coates, 1993, p. 115). However; it should be emphasized that no research has proved this general belief (Coates, 1993).

3.2.2. Markers of hesitation, uncertainty As Coates (1993) says, women´s speech is often viewed as ´tentative´. While men and women telling the same, women are supposed to use more features of hesitation like comment clauses, hedges, interjections, and pauses than men. According to Coates, hedges are “linguistic forms such as I think, I ´m sure, you know, sort of and perhaps, maybe which express the speaker´s certainty or uncertainty about the proposition under discussion” ( Coates, 1993, p. 116). The more frequent use of hedges can be a sign of possible women ´s markers of hesitation based on some stereotypes again as showing of certainty or confidence during conversation could be viewed as less feminine. This stereotype about women ´s hesitation for the purpose to be feminine correlates also with another component of conversation, tag questions.

3.2.3 Asking questions, tag questions Concerning the question usage during a discussion, it is known that women often ask questions to keep conversation in process. As Holmes says, they usually ask “supportive elicitations” (Holmes, 1995, p. 43) to manifest interest and get deeper into a topic. The author continues and points out: “While women elicit more questions in private conversations, men tend to ask more queries in formal and public contexts” (Holmes, 1995, p 39). The reason why men use more questions in public places could be that they incline to be dominant in public as they are 5

generally more aggressive than women. Women differ from men also in the frequency of using tag questions. Preisler claims that “women use tag questions more often than men” ( Preisler qtd. in Coates, 1993, p. 119).

3.2.4. Topics of conversations As it was already mentioned, certain topics that are called ´trivial´ , such as relationships, family etc., are often applied to women and topics considered to be serious, such as politics, cars, technology, etc. are related to men´s conversation. According to Coates (1993), for women an conversation serves for the purpose to share problems, consolidate relationships, gain experience or to offer support. On the other hand, for men an conversation means a source of information, giving advice and presenting knowledge. This different expectation very often leads to miscommunication between men and women. The linguistic differences between men and women can be represented also in personal advertisement. The style of personal ads reflects women´s desires and ideas about men as well as men´s wishes and needs concerning the opposite sex.




The practical part of the paper research will focus on the analysis of women´s and men´s advertisements, gender differences from the perspective of self- and partner-description, using hedges and talkativeness. 1. Methodology The sociolinguistic analysis was applied on the material of 40 personal advertisements presented on the web page that belong to the UK ´s largest dating services. The corpus consists of 20 women´s and 20 men´s advertisements that were under a sociolinguistic analysis. The personal ads were chosen randomly. The age of respondents was between 35 and 45 including. All of the respondents came from Great Britain. Texts of all advertisements that underwent the analysis can be found in Appendix 1. 2. Analysis and results

2.1 Graphical arrangement of online personal advertisements The overall graphical arrangement of online personal advertisements on the web page is as follows: a) prescribed items with only one choice from the list, e.g. : relationship status, occupation, body type, height, hair colour, eyes, children, personality, country/residence, smoking, date of birth, education, ethnicity, I live…, my style, appearance, my best feature, political view, religion, romance, etc.; b) prescribed items with a multiple choice from the list, e.g.: entertainment, interests, sports, my taste in music, my favourite films, my pets, etc. ; c) prescribed partner´s description with a multiple choice from the list, e.g.: relationship status, children, body type, personality, smoking, views on marriage, ethnicity, nationality, appearance, height, weight, hair, eyes, style, best features, education, occupation, religion, political view, interests, sports, films, income, etc.; d) free-production part that is limited to maximum of 2000 characters, and where respondents write more about themselves and the partners they are looking for; this is the most important part of the personal advertisements as it serves as a material for the research paper sociolinguistic analysis. 7

There is also possibility to add photos on the web page. 2.2. Self – description of appearance 2.2.1. Women Focusing on the description of appearance, only six women depict their appearance (ads No. 1,2,4,5,7,20). As it is obvious from Figure 1, majority of the women (5 of them) put emphasis on their overall impression rather than on describing single parts of their appearance. The words that are used for that purpose are: sexy (used 2 times); attractive (used one time); fit (used 2 times); pretty (used one time). Two women put emphasis on their hair. Both use the word blonde. Only one woman describes her eyes by using the expression blue eyed. In only two ads an emphasis is put on figure, which is described with the words curvy and slim. There is only one advertisement (advertisement No.7) where a woman depicts all categories which are mentioned above. “I am a pretty blue eyed blonde, slim…” Generally considered, women do not put great emphasis on describing their own appearance.

Majority of the women, that is 13 of them, do not mention their appearance at all. Although we predicted that the appearance is considered to be significant for women to attract men ´s attention, this prediction is not proved. 2.2.2. Men Concerning the description of their appearance, the men do not put a great emphasis on their appearance. Only four of them (ads No. 2,7,8,11) try to catch women ´s attention by focusing on their look. They use adjectives good looking (1 time) and handsome (1 time) for describing of their overall appearance; expressions athletic (1 time) and in good shape (1 time) for their figure.

As it can be obvious from the Figure 1, the men absolutely do not put an emphasis on their eyes or hair. One of the advertisements (No 9) is special concerning the way how a man describes himself. He chooses a totally different way how to attract a women ´s attention. He does not say whether he is “handsome” or “ugly”. The author of this advertisement probably wants to stay mysterious as for his appearance and so to awaken a women ´s interest: “I am no George Cloony but am not a Frank Galliger either” Generally considered, as we previously predicted, the men do not seem to put a greater emphasis on their appearance. 8

2.2.3. Differences in self – description of the appearance

80% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0% 70% 25% 10% 10% 10% 10% 0% 0% 5% women men

Figure 1: Comparison of women´s and men´s self-description of their appearance

Dealing with the appearance, Figure 1 illustrates the fact that neither women nor men put emphasis on their own appearance. 70 % of the women and 80 % of the men do not describe their look at all. This fact does not correspond with the stereotype that appearance is very important for women. 2.3. Description of partner ´s appearance 2.3.1. Women Concerning the description of partner’s appearance, only four women depict how their ideal partner should look like. They use general adjectives, such as attractive (used in No. 17); tall (used in No.16); handsome; and young-looking (both used in No 18).

One woman puts emphasis on the partner ´s eyes, as she uses expression attractive eyes (No 1) , and one women is even more specific in her description of an ideal partner as she writes :…. taller men, with nice teeth, 34/36 waist ( in No 16). An overall majority of the women (16 of them) do not mention their ideal partner ´s appearance at all. 2.3.2. Men At the beginning of the analysis we assumed man will emphasise the appearance of their ideal partners. However; the analysis shows that only two men concentrate on the women´s look. Those men who mention appearance of their partner use general adjectives such as attractive and slim: I am looking for someone slim and attractive (No 12); …someone …that…is attractive…(No 1) The rest of the men do not mention the women ´s look at all. It seems men prefer other qualities rather than appearance of their ideal partners. 2.3.3. Differences in partner-description of the appearance

100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0%

90% 80% 5% 10% 10% 0% 5% 0% 0% 5% women men

Figure 2: Comparison of women´s and men ´s partner appearance description

Focusing on the description of the ideal partner´s appearance, the results are very similar in both groups. 80% of the women and 90% of the men do not mention how their ideal partner should look like at all. The stereotype that men emphasise the women ´s appearance is not proved. 2.4. Self- description of qualities and personality 2.4.1. Women When creating a personal advertisement, to mention people´s positive qualities seems to be a very important part. It is a useful way how to easily draw a potential partner´s attention. The authors of personal ads do it by various means, however; the most common is using adjectives that help to describe human qualities clearly and briefly. In the advertisements the women use a wide range of adjectives to depict their qualities and personality in the best way. More than 40 adjectives have been used for this purpose. The adjectives are divided into several groups expressing the same element of character: sense of humour; feminity; intellect; emancipation; moral qualities; social qualities; success; and others.

Figure 3: Women ´s description of their qualities and personality

To compare description of appearance with the description of qualities and personality, only one woman do not put emphasis on description of her personality. It is obvious this part of personal ads is significant for the women. The most important qualities are those belonging to the categories of emancipation, sense of humour and feminity. Concerning the category of success that is connected with a good job, owning a car, or a house, the women to describe themselves as being successful do not use adjectives, but other expressions, such as … I work hard, own my house and car …(No 10); … I have a great job in advertising and media which I love. I work hard and long hours, …(No 12); or …

I have my own home car and good job so i am looking for the same...(No16). 2.4.2. Men Focusing on men ´s qualities and personalities, the men use approximately the same range of vocabulary as the women. They use more than 40 adjectives for the purpose to describe themselves from the point of personal qualities. Again, the adjectives are divided into several groups according to their meaning (see Appendix 3). The following categories were possible to create: sense of humour; affectionate; intellect; moral qualities; social qualities; success; masculinity; others.

Figure 4: Men ´s description of their qualities and personality

As it is obvious from the Figure 4, the vast majority, even 75% of the men, put emphasis on their success. This category includes not only adjectives, however other expressions, such as mentioning their profession, a successful career, owning a company, a car or a house:.. .i own a small yet busy painting and dec firm. .of which ive been doing for 15years now (No 4); I have a successful professional career that I enjoy (No 7); I own a plumbing and heating company (No 10); I have a couple of jobs - firstly I head up an International Charity…(No 11); I have a fantastic job, I'm financially solvent and I own my home own, which is located within a beautiful part of Wales (No 11). The men put great emphasis not only on their success; however they stress also such qualities that belong to the category ´affectionate´- even 55% of the men, which is very surprising. Six of the men depict themselves as caring, five of them as romantic, or three as hearted. By contrast, personal qualities that are part of the group ´masculinity´ appear only in seven ads, which is 35%.

2.4.3. Differences in self-description of the personal qualities Concerning the qualities, some considerable differences have been found between men and women (see Figure 5). As it was predicted at the beginning of the analysis, women do not stress their success at all. It seems to be unimportant for
them when they try to attract potential partners. Surprisingly, the women attach importance to the personal qualities that are part of the category ´emancipation´. They describe themselves as adventurous, confident, hardworking, down-to-earth, independent, or even strong. The women emphasise also their feminity. It is in 12

contrast with the appearance that the women consider being not so relevant for catching men´s attention. They apparently try to attract more men by typical women´s qualities as they depict themselves as feminine, warm, sensual, passionate, and caring. The women are may be persuaded that men desire to have such a women alongside. Unlike the women, the men put great emphasis on their success. For the men being successful seems to be rather significant for attracting an ideal partner.

On the other hand, they do not stress their masculinity; however emphasise the qualities that soften their personality. Probably, they want to approach a women ´s ideal of the perfect partner. As it was previously discussed in the theoretical part, the authors of personal ads write their text and use such a vocabulary to be in harmony with what is preferred by their readers. The men present elements of their identities that are supposed to be most important to finding partners. It can be an explanation why even 55% of the men stress the qualities belonging to the category ´affectionate´.

2.5. Use of hedges As it was already discussed in the theoretical part of this paper, hedges are markers of hesitation and uncertainty. Miššiková offers another explanations of hedges: “…hedging is the qualification and toning-down of utterances…in order to reduce the riskiness of what one says” ( 13

Wales qtd. in Topics in Linguistics, 2007, p. 76 ), or hedges are “ linguistic expressions that enable the speaker to avoid being too direct in her/his utterance” ( Watts qtd. in Topics in Linguistics, 2007, p. 76 . Mentioned previously, according to gender stereotypes, more frequent use of hedges is typical for woman speech.

Concerning frequency of hedge using, the analysis of the personal ads shows following results: total number of elements in ads 2170 Men ´s ads 3655 Women ´s ads Figure 6: Number of hedges

As it can be seen in the Figure 6, our analysis confirmed the gender stereotype that women use hedges in their utterances more frequently than men. While the women use the hedge expressions in every single advertisement, eight men do not use them at all. Average number of hedges per one women´ s advertisement is 4,95 and per men´s only 1,85. Probably, the women use them not to look very direct or confident. By showing certain degree of uncertainty (with the use of hedges), they try to express their feminine identities.

2.6. Talkativeness The theoretical part of the research paper discussed cultural and linguistic stereotype concerning talkativeness. In many societies, it is taken for granted women talk more than men. The analysis of the chosen personal advertisements reveals that the number of elements per advertisement is 182,75 in the women ´s ads and the total number of elements is 3655, which is more than in the men ´s ads, where the number of elements per advertisement is 108,5 and the overall amount of elements is 2170. The longest woman´s advertisement has 354 elements (No 3), the shortest 76 elements (No 7). Surprisingly, the longest man´s ad has 376 (No 11) elements, which is more by 22 elements than in the longest woman ´s ad. The shortest man´s advertisement has only 33 elements (No 20).

Although the analysis finds out that the women use more words, the number of the advertisements under analysis is not sufficient to be able to prove definitely the general myth that women are more talkative than men.



The aim of this research paper was to analyse men´s and women´s personal advertisements from the sociolinguistic viewpoint and to find out whether there are considerable differences between genders. Because personal advertisements are written by both sexes, the research paper tries to explore how language relates to gender and how stereotyped assumptions and beliefs are reflected in the text of online personal advertisements. The research paper dealt with 40 personal advertisements presented via the medium of the Internet. It concentrated on the issues of talkativeness and use of hedges from the perspective of gender stereotypes. The presumptions stated at the beginning of the analysis were proved as the research explored that the women used hedges more frequently than the men, as well as they were more talkative than the men. The supposition that men emphasise success in their self – description in order to attract potential partners was also proved.

However; they do not stressed the appearance of their partners at all. For the women, neither success nor their appearance and appearance of their partners were important. On the other hand, the women put greater emphasis on their personal qualities. To sum it up, the men and the women differed in their language. Some of the common beliefs and myths were proved, some not. In order to attract attention of a potential partner, both sexes probably varied they language according the expectations of the opposite gender.

The extent of this research paper, as well as the number of the advertisements under the analysis did not allow going deeper into language of men´s and women´s advertisements. It was not possible to explore and analyse all the differences. However; this research paper can serve as an idea or a source for further research of personal advertisements. There is a great amount of issues which could be studied, such as gender differences in sentence structure or structure of  personal ads; differences in using formal, informal language; differences in doing grammar or spelling mistakes; way of self – identification; differences in intended relationships; way of opening and invitation for respond; use of abbreviations, emoticons; idiomatic and collocative expressions; and others.

Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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Decoding Gendered Discourses in Online Personal Ads. (2016, Oct 11). Retrieved from

Decoding Gendered Discourses in Online Personal Ads essay
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