Ils and elles
I am guessing that Ils refers to a group of men and elles refers to a group of women. What would you use for a mixed group?
As a intersting note on this, my french teacher at school was male and attended a few seminars where the almost the entirety of the audience was women. The speaker still used masculine forms of addressing the crowd until they asked permission of the men to use the femine form of address..
@bush... that is interesting. I've always wondered if that would change. I've always thought it was a little silly if a group was all men and one woman it's masculine (makes sense logically) but if there are 99 women and one man then the group is masculine... I see why it's masculine for 50/50 splits but a 99-1 split... it's quite misleading.
I think that's a really good question. The way we use English has changed over the years, in many ways to reflect evolving customs. We don't automatically assume or assign a masculine pronoun if the antecedent subject is "a person." While it's acceptable to still use he, most editors and writers would either avoid the choice by changing subjects to plural or vary the gender (which can be confusing) throughout the writing. Additionally, socially conscious writers won't use a word like "mankind" to denote people.
I'm sure French has changed, too, to reflect different times. I'm curious how they handle the masculine/feminine noun assignment?
Notably in English, 'their' and 'they' has been used as a gender-indefinite pronoun since at least the 1400s (see 'Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue' by John McWhorter). You might have heard that it's 'wrong', but the usage is so convenient and unambiguous (or usefully ambiguous) that it won't be stamped out.
Everyone above is right, unfortunately... although feminists have tried to change that... @friendlyfire: I assume you're refering to the assignment of a gender to new nouns, like those derived from foreign languages? If yes, the rules are rather rational. It is easy for 'a PC' for example (personal computer) because the translation for computer actually exists. So you will say 'un PC' because you also say 'un ordinateur'. Similarly, you'll use 'un' for brands that refer to previously masculine words : 'un iPhone' because of 'un téléphone'. But, for all not easy cases, there is a very famous arbitrar body in France called 'l'académie française' specifically in charge of up-dating the dictionnary and they decide (after more or less active debates) which gender should be adopted for new nouns.