In linguistics, grammatical gender is a system of noun classification present in approximately one fourth of the world's languages. In these languages, every noun inherently carries one value of the grammatical category called gender; the values present in a given language (of which there are usually two or three) are called the genders of that language. According to one definition: "Genders are classes of nouns reflected in the behaviour of associated words."12
Common gender divisions include masculine and feminine; masculine, feminine and neuter; or animate and inanimate. In a few languages, the gender assignation of nouns is solely determined by their meaning or attributes, like biological sex, humanness, animacy. However, in most languages, this semantic division is only partially valid, and many nouns may belong to a gender category that contrasts with their meaning (e.g. the word "manliness" could be of feminine gender).3 In this case, the gender assignation can also be influenced by the morphology or phonology of the noun, or in some cases can be apparently arbitrary.
Grammatical gender manifests itself when words related to a noun like determiners, pronouns or adjectives change their form (inflection) according to the gender of noun they refer to (agreement). The parts of speech affected by gender agreement, the circumstances in which it occurs, and the way words are marked for gender vary cross-linguistically. Gender inflection may interact with other grammatical categories like number or case. In some languages the declension pattern followed by the noun itself may be dependent on its gender.
Grammatical gender is found in many Indo-European languages (including Spanish, German, Hindi and Russian, but not Persian, for example), Semitic languages (Arabic, Amharic, Hebrew, etc.), and in other language families such as Afro-Asiatic, Dravidian and Northeast Caucasian, as well as several Australian aboriginal languages like Dyirbal, and Kalaw Lagaw Ya. Also, most Niger–Congo languages have extensive systems of noun classes, which can be grouped into several grammatical genders. On the other hand, grammatical gender is usually absent from the Altaic, Austronesian, Sino-Tibetan, Uralic and most Native American language families.4 Modern English is not considered to have grammatical gender, although Old English had it, and some remnants of a gender system exist, such as the distinct personal pronouns he, she and it.
In languages with grammatical gender, each noun is assigned to one of the classes called genders, which form a closed set. Most such languages usually have from two to four different genders, but some are attested with up to 20.167
The division into genders usually correlates to some degree, at least for a certain set of nouns (such as those denoting humans), with some property or properties of the things that particular nouns denote. Such properties include animacy or inanimacy, "humanness" or non-humanness, and biological sex. (Related to the correlation between sex and grammatical gender in languages such as Latin is the use of the word gender outside linguistics, as an alternative to "sex" or to denote sexual identity as a social construct. For details, see Gender: Etymology and usage.)
Common systems of gender division include:
- masculine–feminine: here nouns that denote specifically male persons (or animals) are normally of masculine gender; those that denote specifically female persons (or animals) are normally of feminine gender; and nouns that denote something that does not have any sex, or do not specify the sex of their referent, have come to belong to one or other of the genders, in a way that may appear arbitrary.89 Examples of languages with such a system include most of the modern Romance languages, the surviving Celtic languages, Hindustani, and the Afroasiatic languages.
- masculine–feminine–neuter: this is similar to the masculine–feminine system, except that there is a third available gender, so nouns with sexless or unspecified-sex referents may be either masculine, feminine, or neuter. (The same applies to the exceptional nouns whose gender does not follow the denoted sex, such as the German Mädchen, meaning "girl", which is neuter.) Examples of languages with such a system include later forms of Proto-Indo-European (see below), Sanskrit, Ancient Greek, Latin, German, and the Slavic languages.
- animate–inanimate: here nouns that denote animate things (humans and animals) generally belong to one gender, and those that denote inanimate things to another (although there may be some deviation from that principle). Examples include earlier forms of Proto-Indo-European and the earliest family known to have split off from it, the extinct Anatolian languages (see below). Modern examples include, to some extent, Basque, and Ojibwe.10
- common–neuter: here a masculine–feminine–neuter system previously existed, but the distinction between masculine and feminine genders has been lost (they have merged into what is called common gender). Thus nouns denoting people are usually of common gender, while other nouns may be of either gender. Examples include Danish and Swedish, and to some extent Dutch (see Gender in Dutch grammar). The merger of masculine and feminine in these languages can be considered a reversal of the original split in Proto-Indo-European (see below).
Other types of division or subdivision may be found in particular languages. These may sometimes be referred to as classes rather than genders; for some examples, see Noun class. In some of the Slavic languages, for example, within the masculine and sometimes feminine genders, there is a further division between animate and inanimate nouns (or in Polish sometimes between human and non-human nouns) – see Additional gender classifications below.
In Dravidian languages such as Tamil the distinction is often described as being between rational and non-rational nouns, but it is generally the case that masculine nouns fall into one class and feminine into the other, for which reason the Tamil noun class system can be described as a system of "natural gender".11
It is relatively uncommon for a noun to have more than one possible gender.167 When this happens, it may be associated with a difference in the sex of the referent (as with nouns such as comunista in Spanish, which may be either masculine or feminine), or some other difference in the meaning of the word. For example, the German word See meaning "lake" is masculine, while the identical word meaning "sea" is feminine. Sometimes, a noun's gender can change between plural and singular, such as in the French words amour ("love"), délice ("delight") and orgue ("organ" as musical instrument), all three of which are masculine in the singular but feminine in the plural. These anomalies may have a historical explanation (amour used to be feminine in the singular too) or result from slightly different notions (orgue in the singular is usually a barrel organ, while the plural orgues usually refers to the collection of columns in a church organ).
The grammatical gender of a noun manifests itself in two principal ways: in the modifications that the noun itself undergoes, and in modifications of other related words (agreement). These are described in the following sections.
The gender of a noun may affect the modifications that the noun itself undergoes, particularly the way in which the noun inflects for number and case. For example, a language like Latin, German or Russian has a number of different declension patterns, and which pattern a particular noun follows may depend (among other things) on its gender. For some instances of this, see Latin declension. A concrete example is provided by the German word See mentioned above; when it is masculine (meaning "lake") its genitive singular form is Sees, but when it is feminine (meaning "sea"), the genitive is See, since feminine nouns do not take the genitive -s.
Sometimes, gender is reflected in more subtle ways. In Welsh, gender marking is mostly lost, however, it has the peculiar feature of initial mutation, where the first consonant of a word changes into another in certain conditions. Gender is one of the factors that can cause mutation (soft mutation). For instance, the word merch "girl" changes into ferch after the definite article. This only occurs with feminine singular nouns: mab "son" remains unchanged. Adjectives are affected by gender in a similar way.
|Default||After definite article||With adjective|
|Masculine singular||mab||"son"||y mab||"the son"||y mab mawr||"the big son"|
|Feminine singular||merch||"girl"||y ferch||"the girl"||y ferch fawr||"the big girl"|
Additionally, in many languages, gender is often closely correlated with the basic unmodified form (lemma) of the noun, and sometimes a noun can be modified to produce (for example) masculine and feminine words of similar meaning. See Gender marking on nouns below.
Agreement, or concord, is a grammatical process in which certain words change their form so that values of certain grammatical categories match those of related words. Gender is one of the categories which frequently require agreement. In this case, nouns may be considered the "triggers" of the process, since they have gender inherent in them, while related words that change their form to match the gender of the noun can be considered the "target" of these changes.8
These related words can be, depending on the language: determiners, pronouns, numerals, quantifiers, possessives, adjectives, past and passive participles, verbs, adverbs, complementizers, and adpositions. Gender class may be marked on the noun itself, but will also always be marked on other constituents in a noun phrase or sentence. If the noun is explicitly marked, both trigger and target may feature similar alternations.689
As an example, we consider Spanish, a language with two genders: masculine and feminine.12 Among other lexical items, the definite article changes its form according to the gender of the noun. In the singular, the article is: el (masculine),13 and la (feminine).14 Thus, nouns referring to male beings carry the masculine article, and female beings the feminine article (agreement).15
|Masculine||el abuelo||"the grandfather"|
|Feminine||la abuela||"the grandmother"|
However, every noun must belong to one of the two categories: nouns referring to sexless entities must also be masculine or feminine. In this language, the choice is completely arbitrary.
|Masculine||el plato||"the dish"|
|Feminine||la canción||"the song"|
In the Spanish sentences Él es un buen actor "He is a good actor" and Ella es una buena actriz "She is a good actress", almost every word changes to match the gender of the subject. The noun actor inflects by replacing the masculine suffix -or with the feminine suffix -riz, the personal pronoun él "he" changes to ella "she", and the feminine suffix -a is added to the article (un → una) and to the adjective (buen → buena). Only the verb remains unchanged.
The following "highly contrived" Old English sentence serves as an example of gender agreement.
|Old English||Seo brade lind wæs tilu and ic hire lufode.|
|Modern English gloss||That broad shield was good and I her loved.|
|Modern English translation||That broad shield was good and I loved it.|
The word hire "her" refers to lind "shield". Since this noun was grammatically feminine, the adjectives brade "broad" and tilu "good", as well as the pronouns seo "the/that" and hire "her", which referred to lind, must also appear in their feminine forms. Old English had three genders, masculine, feminine and neuter, but gender inflections were greatly simplified by sound changes, and then completely lost (as well as number inflections, to a lesser extent).
In modern English, by contrast, the noun "shield" takes the neuter pronoun "it", since it designates a sexless object. In a sense, the neuter gender has grown to encompass most nouns, including many that were masculine or feminine in Old English. If one were to replace the phrase "broad shield" with "brave man" or "brave woman", the only change to the rest of the sentence would be in the pronoun at the end, which would become "him" or "her", respectively.
The form of nouns often correlates to a large extent with their gender. For example, in Spanish, nouns ending -o or with a consonant are usually masculine, while those ending -a are usually feminine, although there are many exceptions to this rule (particularly in the case of nouns ending with -a that denote males – for example, comunista is masculine when it does not refer specifically to a female). Particular suffixes are often associated with a particular gender – for example, French nouns ending -tion are generally feminine, and German nouns ending with the diminutive suffixes -chen and -lein are neuter (even when they denote females – see the section on natural gender below).
Nouns can sometimes vary their form to enable the derivation of differently-gendered cognate nouns; for example, to produce nouns with a similar meaning but referring to someone of a different sex. Thus, again in Spanish, niño means "boy", and niña means "girl". This paradigm can be exploited for making new words: from the masculine nouns abogado "lawyer", diputado "member of parliament" and doctor "doctor", it was straightforward to make the feminine equivalents abogada, diputada, and doctora.
In the same way, personal names are frequently constructed with language-specific affixes that identify the sex of the bearer. Common feminine suffixes used in English names are -a, of Latin or Romance origin (cf. Robert and Roberta) and -e, of French origin (cf. Justin and Justine).
Although gender inflection may be used to construct nouns and names for people of opposite sexes in languages that have grammatical gender, this alone does not constitute grammatical gender. Distinct words and names for men and women are also common in languages which do not have a grammatical gender system for nouns in general. English, for example, has feminine suffixes such as -ess (as in actress, poetess, etc.), and also distinguishes male and female personal names as noted above.
A noun may belong to a given class because of characteristic features of its referent, such as sex, animacy, shape, although in some instances a noun can be placed in a particular class based purely on its grammatical behavior. Some authors use the term "grammatical gender" as a synonym of "noun class", but others use different definitions for each.
Many authors prefer "noun classes" when none of the inflections in a language relate to sex, such as when an animate–inanimate distinction is made. Note however that the word "gender" derives from Latin genus (also the root of genre) which originally meant "kind", so it does not necessarily have a sexual meaning.
A classifier, or measure word, is a word or morpheme used in some languages together with a noun, principally to enable numbers and certain other determiners to be applied to the noun. They are not regularly used in English or other European languages, although they parallel the use of words such as piece(s) and head in phrases like "three pieces of paper" or "thirty head of cattle". They are a prominent feature of East Asian languages, where it is common for all nouns to require a classifier when being quantified – for example, the equivalent of "three people" is often "three classifier people". A more general type of classifier (classifier handshapes) can be found in sign languages.
Classifiers can be considered similar to genders or noun classes, in that a language which uses classifiers normally has a number of different ones, used with different sets of nouns. These sets depend largely on properties of the things that the nouns denote (for example, a particular classifier may be used for long thin objects, another for flat objects, another for people, another for abstracts, etc.), although sometimes a noun is associated with a particular classifier more by convention than for any obvious reason. However it is also possible for a given noun to be usable with any of several classifiers; for example, the Mandarin Chinese classifier 个 gè is frequently used as an alternative to various more specific classifiers.
As noted above, pronouns may agree in gender with the noun or noun phrase to which they refer (their antecedent). Sometimes, however, there is no antecedent – the referent of the pronoun is deduced indirectly from the context. In such cases, the pronoun is likely to agree with the natural gender of the referent. Examples of this can be in most European languages, including English (the personal pronouns he, she and it are used depending on whether the referent is male, female, or inanimate or non-human; this is in spite of the fact that English does not generally have grammatical gender). A parallel example is provided by the object suffixes of verbs in Arabic, which correspond to object pronouns, and which also inflect for gender in the second person (though not in the first):
- "I love you", said to a male: uħibbuka (أُحِبُّكَ)
- "I love you", said to a female: uħibbuki (أُحِبُّكِ)
Not all languages have gendered pronouns. In languages that never had grammatical gender, there is normally just one word for "he" and "she", like dia in Indonesian, ő in Hungarian and o in Turkish. These languages might only have different pronouns and inflections in the third person to differentiate between people and inanimate objects, but even this distinction is often absent. (In written Finnish, for example, hän is used for "he" and "she" and se for "it", but in the colloquial language se is usually used for "he" and "she" as well.)
For more on these different types of pronoun, see Gender-specific pronoun and Gender-neutral pronoun. Issues may arise in languages with gender-specific pronouns in cases when the gender of the referent is unknown or not specified; this is discussed under Gender-neutral language, and in relation to English at Singular they.
In some cases the gender of a pronoun is not marked in the form of the pronoun itself, but is marked on other words by way of agreement. Thus the French word for "I" is je, regardless of who is speaking; but this word becomes feminine or masculine depending on the sex of the speaker, as may be reflected through adjective agreement: je suis forte ("I am strong", spoken by a female); je suis fort (the same spoken by a male).
- "[I am] very grateful", said by a male: muito obrigado
- the same, said by a female: muito obrigada
The two sentences above mean literally "much obliged"; the adjective agrees with the natural gender of the speaker, that is, with the gender of the first person pronoun which does not appear explicitly here.
A dummy pronoun is a type of pronoun used when a particular verb argument (such as the subject) is nonexistent, but when a reference to the argument is nevertheless syntactically required. They occur mostly in non-pro-drop languages, such as English (since in pro-drop languages the position of the argument can be left empty). Examples in English are the uses of it in "It's raining" and "It's nice to relax."
When a language has gendered pronouns, the use of a particular word as a dummy pronoun may involve the selection of a particular gender, even though there is no noun to agree with. In languages with a neuter gender, a neuter pronoun is usually used, as in German es regnet ("it rains, it's raining"), where es is the neuter third person singular pronoun. (English behaves similarly, since the word it comes from the Old English neuter gender.) In languages with only masculine and feminine genders, the dummy pronoun may be the masculine third person singular, as in the French for "it's raining": il pleut (where il means "he", or "it" when referring to masculine nouns); although some languages use the feminine, as in the equivalent Welsh sentence: mae hi'n bwrw glaw (where the dummy pronoun is hi, which means "she", or "it" when referring to feminine nouns).
The natural gender of a noun, pronoun or noun phrase is the gender to which it would be expected to belong based on relevant attributes of its referent. This usually means masculine or feminine, depending on the referent's sex (or gender in the sociological sense).
The grammatical gender of a noun does not always coincide with its natural gender. An example of this is the German word Mädchen ("girl"); this is derived from Magd "maidservant" and the diminutive suffix -chen, and this suffix always makes the noun grammatically neuter. Hence the grammatical gender of Mädchen is neuter, although its natural gender is feminine (since it refers to a female person).
Other examples include:
- Old English wīf (neuter) and wīfmann (masculine), meaning "woman"
- German Weib (neuter), meaning "woman" (but the more common word Frau is feminine)
- Irish cailín (masculine) meaning "girl", and stail (feminine) meaning "stallion"
- Scottish Gaelic boireannach (masculine), meaning "woman"
- Slovenian dekle (neuter), meaning "girl"
- Spanish gente (feminine), meaning "people", even if referring to a group of men
Normally, such exceptions are a small minority. However, in some local dialects of German, nouns and proper names for female persons have shifted to the neuter gender (presumably further influenced by the standard word Weibcitation needed), but the feminine gender remains for words denoting objects.
When a noun with conflicting natural and grammatical gender is the antecedent of a pronoun, it may not be clear which gender of pronoun to choose. There is a certain tendency to keep the grammatical gender when a close back-reference is made, but to switch to natural gender when the reference is further away. For example in German, the sentence "The girl has come home from school. She is now doing her homework" can be translated in two ways:
- Das Mädchen (n.) ist aus der Schule gekommen. Es (n.) macht jetzt seine (n.) Hausaufgaben.
- Das Mädchen (n.) ist aus der Schule gekommen. Sie (f.) macht jetzt ihre (f.) Hausaufgaben.
Though the second sentence may appear grammatically incorrect, it is commonly heard in speech. With one or more intervening sentences, the second form becomes more likely.
However, no number of adjectives put between the article and the noun (e.g. das schöne, fleißige, langhaarige, blonde, [...] Mädchen) can license a switch from the neutral to the feminine article, so it is always considered wrong to say something like die schöne [...] Mädchen.
In the case of languages which have masculine and feminine genders, the relation between biological sex and grammatical gender tends to be less exact in the case of animals than in the case of people. In Spanish, for instance, a cheetah is always un guepardo (masculine) and a zebra is always una cebra (feminine), regardless of their biological sex. To specify the sex of an animal, an adjective may be added, as in un guepardo hembra ("a female cheetah"), or una cebra macho ("a male zebra"). Different names for the male and the female of a species are more frequent for common pets or farm animals, e.g. English cow and bull, Spanish vaca "cow" and toro "bull".
As regards the pronouns used to refer to animals, these generally agree in gender with the nouns denoting those animals, rather than the animals' sex (natural gender). In a language like English, which does not assign grammatical gender to nouns, the pronoun used for referring to objects (it) is normally used for animals also. However, if the sex of the animal is known, and particularly in the case of house pets, the gendered pronouns (he and she) may be used as they would be for a person.
In Polish, a few general words such as zwierzę ("animal") or bydlę ("animal, one head of cattle") are neuter, but most species names are masculine or feminine. When the sex of an animal is known, it will normally be referred to using gendered pronouns consistent with its sex; otherwise the pronouns will correspond to the gender of the noun denoting its species. If the species name is neuter, the gender of a more generic word might be substituted; for example a kiwi ("kiwi"; neuter) might be referred to using masculine pronouns, being considered as a ptak ("bird"; masculine).
There are certain situations where the assignment of gender to a noun, pronoun or noun phrase may not be straightforward. This includes in particular:
- groups of mixed gender;
- references to people or things of unknown or unspecified gender.
In languages with masculine and feminine gender, the masculine is usually employed by default to refer to persons of unknown gender, and to groups of people of mixed gender. Thus, in French the feminine plural pronoun elles always designates an all-female group of people (or stands for a group of nouns all of feminine gender), but the masculine equivalent ils may refer to a group of males, to a mixed group, or to a group of people of unknown genders. In such cases, one says that the feminine gender is semantically marked, while the masculine gender is unmarked.
In English, the problem of gender determination does not arise with plural pronouns, since they does not have masculine and feminine forms. In the singular, however, the issue frequently arises when a person of unspecified or unknown gender is being referred to. In this case it has been traditional to use the masculine (he), but other solutions are now often preferred – see Gender-neutral language and Singular they.
In languages with a neuter gender, such as Slavic and Germanic languages, the neuter is often used for indeterminate gender reference, particularly when the things referred to are not people. In some cases this my even apply when referring to people, particularly children. For example, in English, one may use it to refer to a child, particularly when speaking generically rather than about a particular child of known sex.
In Icelandic (which preserves a masculine–feminine–neuter distinction in both singular and plural), the neuter is used for indeterminate or mixed gender reference even when talking about people. For example, the greeting velkominn ("welcome") is altered depending on who is being spoken to:
- velkominn (masculine singular) – to one male person
- velkomin (feminine singular) – to one female person
- velkomið (neuter singular) – to someone whose gender is unknown
- velkomnir (masculine plural) – to a group of males
- velkomnar (feminine plural) – to a group of females
- velkomin (neuter plural) – to a mixed or indeterminate group
Nevertheless, even in Icelandic, the feminine is considered somewhat more marked than the masculine.
In Swedish, on the other hand, the feminine and neuter definite (weak) adjective forms have fallen together, and it is the masculine form of an adjective that is marked (with an -e). For example min lillebror "my little brother". This form is reserved for naturally masculine nouns or male human beings in modern Swedish. Even so, the third person singular masculine pronoun han would normally be the default for a person of unknown gender in Swedish, although in practice the indefinite pronoun man and the reflexive sig and/or its possessive forms sin/sitt/sina usually make this unnecessary.
In Polish, where a gender-like distinction is made in the plural between "masculine personal" and all other cases (see below), a group is treated as masculine personal if it contains at least one male person – or more exactly, if it contains at least one person, and something denoted by a masculine noun (so kobieta i rower, "the woman and the bicycle", would be masculine personal, because rower is masculine and kobieta is personal).
In languages which preserve a three-way gender division in the plural, the rules for determining the gender (and sometimes number) of a coordinated noun phrase ("... and ...") may be quite complex. Czech is an example of such a language, with a division (in the plural) between masculine animate, masculine inanimate/feminine, and neuter. The rules17 for gender and number of coordinated phrases in that language are summarized at Czech declension: Gender and number of compound phrases.
Some Slavic languages, including Russian, Czech, Slovak and Polish, while basically using a masculine–feminine–neuter gender system, also make certain grammatical distinctions between animate and inanimate nouns (and in the case of Polish, in the plural, between human and non-human nouns).
In Russian the different treatment of animate nouns involves their accusative case (and that of adjectives qualifying them) being formed identically to the genitive, rather than to the nominative. In the singular this applies to masculine nouns only, but in the plural it applies in all genders. See Russian declension.
A similar system applies in Czech, although the situation is somewhat different in the plural (only masculine nouns are affected, and the distinctive feature is a distinct inflective ending for masculine animate nouns in the nominative plural, and for adjectives and verbs agreeing with those nouns). See Czech declension.
Polish might be said to distinguish five genders: personal masculine (referring to male humans), animate non-personal masculine, inanimate masculine, feminine, and neuter. The animate/inanimate opposition for the masculine gender applies in the singular, while the personal/impersonal opposition – which classes animals along with inanimate objects – applies in the plural. (A few nouns denoting inanimate things are treated grammatically as animate, and vice versa). The manifestations of these differences are as follows:
- In the singular, masculine animates (in the standard declension) have an accusative form identical to the genitive, whereas masculine inanimates have accusative identical to the nominative. The same applies to adjectives qualifying these nouns – this is all the same as in Russian. (Also, Polish masculine animates always form their genitive in -a, while in the case of inanimates some use -a and some -u.) For example:
- animate: dobry klient ("good customer"; nominative); dobrego klienta (accusative and genitive)
- animate: dobry pies ("good dog"; nominative); dobrego psa (accusative and genitive)
- inanimate: dobry ser ("good cheese"; nominative and accusative); dobrego sera (genitive only)
- In the plural, masculine personal nouns (but not other animate nouns) take accusatives that are identical to the genitives; they also typically take different endings (e.g. -i rather than -y) in the nominative – such endings also appear on past tense verbs. These two features are analogous to features of Russian and Czech respectively, except that those languages make an animate/inanimate (not personal/impersonal) distinction. Examples:
- personal: dobrzy klienci ("good customers"; nominative); dobrych klientów (accusative and genitive)
- impersonal: dobre psy ("good dogs"; nominative and accusative); dobrych psów (genitive only)
- impersonal: dobre sery ("good cheeses"; nominative and accusative); dobrych serów (genitive only)
A few nouns have both personal and impersonal forms, depending on meaning (for example, klient may behave as an impersonal noun when it refers to a client in the computing sense). For more information on the above inflection patterns, see Polish morphology.
There are three main ways by which natural languages categorize nouns into genders: according to logical or symbolic similarities in their meaning (semantic), by grouping them with other nouns that have similar form (morphological), and through apparently arbitrary convention (lexical, possibly rooted in the language's history). In most languages that have grammatical gender, a combination of these three types of criteria is found, although one type may be more prevalent.
In some languages, the gender of a noun is directly determined by its physical attributes (sex, animacy, etc.), and there are few or no exceptions to this rule. There are relatively few such languages; however, they include the Dravidian languages, such as Tamil.18
Another example is the Dizi language, which has two asymmetrical genders. The feminine includes all living beings of female sex (e.g. woman, girl, cow...), and diminutives; the masculine encompasses all other nouns (e.g. man, boy, pot, broom...). In this language, feminine nouns are always marked with -e or -in.19
Another African language, Defaka, has three genders: one for all male humans, one for all female humans, and a third for all the remaining nouns. Gender is only marked in personal pronouns. Standard English (see below) is very similar in this respect, although the English gendered pronouns (he, she) are sometimes also used for domestic animals, and for certain objects such as ships.20
In some other languages, the gender of nouns can again mostly be determined by physical (semantic) attributes, although there remain some nouns whose gender is not assigned in this way (Corbett calls this "semantic residue").21 The world view (e.g. mythology) of the speakers may influence the division of categories.22
An example is the Zande language, which has four genders: male human, female human, animal, and inanimate.23 However, there are about 80 nouns representing inanimate entities which are nonetheless animate in gender: heavenly objects (moon, rainbow), metal objects (hammer, ring), edible plants (sweet potato, pea), and non-metallic objects (whistle, ball). Many have a round shape or can be explained by the role they play in mythology.23
The Ket language has three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), and most gender assignment is based on semantics, but there are many inanimate nouns outside the neuter class. Masculine nouns include male animates, most fish, trees, the moon, large wooden objects, most living beings and some religious items. Feminine nouns include female animates, three types of fish, some plants, the sun and other heavenly objects, some body parts and skin diseases, the soul, and some religious items. Words for part of a whole, as well as most other nouns that do not fall into any of the aforementioned classes, are neuter. The gender assignation of non-sex-differentiable animals in masculine and feminine is complex; in general, those of no importance to the Kets are feminine, while objects of importance (e.g. fish, wood) are masculine. Mythology is again a significant factor.24
The Alamblak language has two genders, masculine and feminine. However, the masculine also includes things which are tall or long and slender, or narrow (e.g. fish, snakes, arrows and slender trees), while the feminine gender has things which are short, squat or wide (e.g. turtles, houses, shields and squat trees).22
In many other languages, nouns are assigned to gender largely without any semantic basis – often based on the form of a noun, or on its history, rather than on any feature (such as animacy or sex) of the person or thing that it represents.
In Portuguese and Spanish, grammatical gender generally correlates with the noun's ending. Since nouns that refer to male persons usually end in -o or a consonant and nouns that refer to female persons usually end in -a, most other nouns that end in -o or a consonant are also treated as masculine, and most nouns that end in -a are treated as feminine, whatever their meaning. (Nouns that end in some other vowel are assigned a gender either according to etymology, by analogy, or by some other convention.) These rules may override meaning, in some cases: for example, the noun membro/miembro "member" is always masculine, even when it refers to a woman, while pessoa/persona "person" is always feminine, even when it refers to a man. (In other cases, though, meaning takes precedence: the noun comunista "communist" is masculine when it refers or could refer to a man, even though it ends with -a.) It can also be stated that nouns in Spanish and Portuguese (as in the other Romance languages such as Italian and French) generally follow the gender of the Latin words from which they are derived. When nouns deviate from the rules for gender, there is usually an etymological explanation: problema "problem" is masculine in Spanish because it was derived from a Greek noun of the neuter gender, while radio "radio station" is feminine, because it is a shortening of estación de radio, a phrase whose head is the feminine noun estación (Spanish nouns in -ión are feminine; they derive from Latin feminines in -o).
Suffixes often carry a specific gender. For example, in German, diminutives with the suffixes -chen and -lein (cognates of English -kin and -ling, meaning "little, young") are always neuter, even if they refer to people, as with Mädchen ("girl") and Fräulein ("young woman") (see above). Similarly, the suffix -ling, which makes countable nouns from uncountable nouns (Teig "dough" → Teigling "piece of dough"), or personal nouns from abstract nouns (Lehre "teaching", Strafe "punishment" → Lehrling "apprentice", Sträfling "convict") or adjectives (feige "cowardly" → Feigling "coward"), always produces masculine nouns.
In Irish, nouns ending in -óir/-eoir and -ín are always masculine, while those ending -óg/-eog or -lann are always feminine.
In Arabic, gender is often indicated by the form of the noun. Nouns whose singular form ends in a tāʾ marbūṭa (traditionally t that becomes h in pausa) are of feminine gender, the only significant exceptions being the word خليفة khalīfah (Caliph) and certain masculine personal names (e.g. أسامة ʾUsāmah). However, many masculine nouns take a tāʾ marbūṭa in their plural; for example أستاذ ustaath ("male professor") has the plural أساتذة usaatatha, which might be confused for a feminine singular noun. Gender may also be associated with the type of derivation: for instance, the verbal nouns of Stem II (e.g. التفعيل al-tafʿīl, from فعّل، يفعّل faʿʿala, yufaʿʿil) are always masculine.
In French, nouns ending in -e tend to be feminine, while others tend to be masculine, but there are many exceptions to this. Certain suffixes are quite reliable indicators though, such as the suffix -age, which when added to a verb (e.g. garer ("to park") -> garage; nettoyer ("to clean") -> nettoyage ("cleaning")), indicates a masculine noun; however, when -age is part of the root of the word, it can be feminine, as in plage ("beach") or image. On the other hand, nouns ending in -tion, -sion and -aison are all feminine.
In some languages, any gender markers have been so eroded over time (possibly through deflexion) that they are no longer recognizable. Many German nouns, for example, do not indicate their gender through either meaning or form – in this case it must simply be memorized, and gender can be regarded as an integral part of each noun taken as an entry in the speaker's lexicon (this is reflected in dictionaries, which typically indicate the gender of noun headwords where applicable). Second-language learners are often encouraged to memorize a modifier, usually a definite article, in conjunction with each noun – for example, a learner of French may learn the word for "chair" as la chaise (meaning "the chair"); this carries the information that the noun is chaise, and that it is feminine (because la is the feminine singular form of the definite article).
The conventional aspect of grammatical gender is also clear when one considers that there is nothing objective about a table which makes it feminine, as French table, masculine as German Tisch, or neuter, as Norwegian bord.
Since all nouns must belong to some noun class, many end up with genders which are purely conventional. For instance, the Romance languages have inherited sol (m.) "sun" and luna (f.) "moon" from Latin but in German and other Germanic languages the words are Sonne (f.) "sun" and Mond (m.) "moon". Two nouns denoting the same concept can also differ in gender in closely related languages, or within a single language. For instance, arte (art) is feminine in Italian, like the Latin word ars from which it stems, but the corresponding word art is masculine in French. Also, there are two different words for "car" in German: Wagen (m.) is masculine and Auto (n.). Meanwhile Spanish has auto (m.), French has voiture (f.), and Czech has auto (n.). In all cases, the meaning is the same.
There is nothing inherent about the moon which makes it objectively "male" or "female". In these cases, gender is quite independent of meaning, and a property of the nouns themselves, rather than of their referents.
Ibrihim identifies several processes by which a language assigns a gender to a newly borrowed word; these processes follow patterns by which even children, through their subconscious recognition of patterns, can often correctly predict a noun's gender.27
- If the noun is animate, natural gender tends to dictate grammatical gender.
- The borrowed word tends to take the gender of the native word it replaces.
- If the borrowed word happens to have a suffix that the borrowing language uses as a gender marker, the suffix tends to dictate gender.
- If the borrowed word rhymes with one or more native words, the latter tend to dictate gender.
- The default assignment is the borrowing language's unmarked gender.
- Rarely, the word retains the gender it had in the donor language.
Ibrihim identified three possible useful roles of grammatical gender:28
- In a language with explicit inflections for gender, it is easy to express the natural gender of animate beings.
- Grammatical gender "can be a valuable tool of disambiguation", rendering clarity about antecedents.
- In literature, gender can be used to "animate and personify inanimate nouns".
According to research by Lera Boroditsky, grammatical genders are among the aspects of languages that shape how people think (a hypothesis called "linguistic relativity"). In one study by Boroditsky, in which native speakers of German and Spanish were asked to describe everyday objects in English, she found that they were more likely to use attributes conventionally associated with the genders of the objects in their native languages.
For instance, German-speakers more often described German: Brücke, (f.) "bridge" with words like 'beautiful', 'elegant', 'fragile', 'peaceful', 'pretty', and 'slender', whereas Spanish-speakers, which use puente (m.) used terms like 'big', 'dangerous', 'long', 'strong', 'sturdy', and 'towering'.
Also according to Boroditsky, the gender in which concepts are anthropomorphized in art is dependent, in 85% of all cases, on the grammatical gender of the concept in the artist's language. Therefore, in German art Tod (m.) "death" is generally portrayed as male, but in Russian Смерть (f.) "death" is generally portrayed as a female.29
Grammatical gender is quite common phenomenon in the world's languages.31 A typological survey of 174 languages revealed that over one fourth of them had grammatical gender.32 Gender systems rarely overlap with numerical classifier systems. Gender and noun class systems are usually found in fusional or agglutinating languages, while classifiers are more typical of isolating languages.33 Thus, the main characteristincs of gendered languages are:33
- Location in an area with languages featuring noun classes.
- Preference for head-marking morphology.
- Moderate to high morphological complexity.
- Non-accusative alignment.
Many Indo-European languages, though not English, provide archetypical examples of grammatical gender.
Research indicates that the earliest stages of Proto-Indo-European had two genders (animate and inanimate), as did Hittite. However, the animate gender, which, in contrast to the inanimate gender, had an independent accusative form, later split into masculine and feminine; thus originating the three-way classification into masculine, feminine, and neuter.3435citation needed
Many Indo-European languages kept these three genders, like most Slavic languages, Latin, Sanskrit, Greek, and German. In these languages, there is a high but not absolute correlation between grammatical gender and declensional class. Many linguists believe this to be true of the middle and late stages of Proto-Indo-European.
However, many languages reduced the number of genders to two. Some lost the neuter, leaving masculine and feminine; like most Romance languages, Hindustani, and the Celtic languages. Others merged feminine and the masculine into a common gender but have retained neuter, such as Swedish. Finally, a few languages, such as English and Afrikaans, have nearly completely lost grammatical gender; while Bengali, Persian, Armenian, Assamese, Oriya, Khowar, and Kalasha have completely lost it.
On the other hand, a few Slavic languages have arguably added new genders to the classical three. For example, Polish has 5 genders, since it has split the masculine into: animate personal (people), animate non-personal (mostly animals), and inanimate (things).
However, even in those languages where the original three genders have been mostly lost or reduced, there is sometimes a trace of them in a few words.
- English, personal pronouns: he, she, it
- Italian, nouns with masculine singular and feminine plural: l'uovo fresco, le uova fresche ("the fresh egg(s)")
- Spanish, direct objects: le, la, lo
While grammatical gender was a fully productive inflectional category in Old English, Modern English has a much less pervasive gender system, primarily based on natural gender.
There are a few traces of gender marking in Modern English:
- Some loanwords inflect according to gender, such as actor/actress, or blond/blonde.
- The third person singular pronouns (and their possessive forms) are gender specific: "he/his" (masculine gender, overall used for males), "she/her(s)" (feminine gender, for females), "it/its" (neuter gender, mainly for objects and abstractions), "one/one's" (common gender, for anyone or anything).
But these are insignificant features compared to a typical language with grammatical gender:
- English has no live productive gender markers. An example is the suffix -ette (of French provenance), but it is seldom used today, surviving mostly in either historical contexts or with disparaging or humorous intent.
- The English nouns that inflect for gender are a very small minority, typically loanwords from non-Germanic languages (the suffix -ress in the word "actress", for instance, derives from Latin -rix via French -rice). Feminine forms of Latin-derived words may also use -rix, as in aviatrix.
- The third-person singular forms of the personal pronouns are the only modifiers that inflect according to gender.
It is also noteworthy that, with few exceptions, the gender of an English pronoun coincides with the sex (ie the "real" gender) of its referent, rather than with the grammatical gender of its antecedent, frequently different from the former in languages with true grammatical gender. The choice between "he", "she" and "it" invariably comes down to whether they designate a male or female human or animal of a known sex, or something else.
- Some animals such as cattle and chickens have different words for male and female animals (bull and cow, rooster and hen, for example). He and she may therefore be used correspondingly, though it remains acceptable. The gender of other animals such as rabbits, insects, etc. is not usually obvious and so these animals are usually referred to as it except in some veterinarian or literary contexts. Alternatively, the use of it may imply the speaker lacks or disdains emotional connection with the animal.
- The pronoun "she" is sometimes used to refer to things which can contain people, such as countries, ships, or vehicles, or when referring to certain other machines. This, however, is considered an optional figure of speech. This usage is furthermore in decline and advised against by most journalistic style guides.36
In Basque there are two classes, animate and inanimate; however, the only difference is in the declension of locative cases (inessive, locative genitive, adlative, terminal adlative, ablative and directional ablative). There are a few words with both masculine and feminine forms, generally words for relatives (cousin: lehengusu (m)/lehengusina (f)) or words borrowed from Latin ("king": errege, from the Latin word regem; "queen": erregina, from reginam). In names for familiar relatives, where both genders are taken into account, either the words for each gender are put together ("son": seme; "daughter": alaba; "children"(meaning son(s) and daughter(s)): seme-alaba(k)) or there is a noun that includes both: "father": aita; "mother": ama; "father" (both genders): guraso.
Many constructed languages have natural gender systems similar to that of English. Animate nouns can have distinct forms reflecting natural gender, and personal pronouns are selected according to natural gender. There is no gender agreement on modifiers. The first three languages below fall into this category.
- Esperanto features the female suffix -in-. While it differentiates a small number of male and female nouns such as patro (father) and patrino (mother), most nouns are gender-neutral and the use of it is not necessary. For instance, hundo means either a male or female dog, virhundo means a male dog, and hundino means a female dog. The personal pronouns li (he) and ŝi (she) and their possessive forms lia (his) and ŝia (her) are used for male and female antecedents, while ĝi (it) and its possessive form ĝia (its) are used to refer to a non-personal antecedent, or as an epicene pronoun.
- Ido has the masculine infix -ul and the feminine infix -in for animate beings. Both are optional and are used only if it is necessary to avoid ambiguity. Thus: kato "a cat", katulo "a male cat", katino "a female cat". There are third person singular and plural pronouns for all three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter, but also gender-free pronouns.
- Interlingua has no grammatical gender. It indicates only natural gender, as in matre "mother" and patre "father". Interlingua speakers may use feminine endings. For example, -a may be used in place of -o in catto, producing catta "female cat". Professora may be used to denote a professor who is female, and actrice may be used to mean "actress". As in Ido, inflections marking gender are optional, although some gender-specific nouns such as femina, "woman", happen to end in -a or -o. Interlingua has feminine pronouns, and its general pronoun forms are also used as masculine pronouns.
- The fictional Klingon language has three classes: capable of speaking, body part and other.
- The Dothraki language divides nouns into two broad classes referred to as animate and inanimate.
- Generic antecedents
- Gender-neutrality in languages with grammatical gender
- Gender-neutrality in languages without grammatical gender
- Gender-neutral pronoun
- Gender-neutral language in English
- Gender-specific job title
- Gender-specific pronoun
- Hockett, Charles (1958). A course in modern linguistics. Macmillan. p. 231.
- Corbett 1991, p. 4.
- It is in Spanish (hombría, virilidad, masculinidad), Latin (virtūs), German (Männlichkeit, Virilität), Russian (мужественность – múžestvennost’) or Hindi (मर्दानगी – mardânegi), among others
- Corbett 1991, p. 2.
- Bradley 2004, p. 27, 52.
- Dixon, Robert (1968). Noun Classes. Lingua. pp. 105–111.
- SIL: Glossary of Linguistic Terms: What is grammatical gender?
- Franceschina 2005, p. 72.
- Franceschina 2005, p. 78.
- Corbett 1991, pp. 20–21.
- Corbett 1991, pp. 8–11.
- Bradley 2004, p. 18.
- Exception: Feminine nouns beginning with stressed a-, like águila "eagle", also take the article el despite their feminine gender (el águila "the eagle"). This does not happen if the noun is preceded by an adjective (la bella águila "the beautiful eagle"), or in the plural (las aguilas "the eagles").
- Bradley 2004, p. 27.
- These examples are based on an example in French from Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. Merriam-Webster Inc. 1994. p. 474. ISBN 0-87779-132-5.
- López-Arias, Julio (1996). "10". Test Yourself: Spanish Grammar (1 ed.). McGraw-Hill. p. 85. ISBN 0844223743 , 978-0844223742 Check
- Shoda přísudku s podmětem několikanásobným, Institute of the Czech Language of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
- Corbett 1991, p. 8.
- Corbett 1991, p. 11.
- Corbett 1991, p. 12.
- Corbett 1991, p. 13.
- Corbett 1991, p. 32.
- Corbett 1991, p. 14.
- Corbett 1991, p. 19.
- In a translation of Jack London stories, 1915
- In a song of Alexander Vertinsky, 1920s or 1930s
- Ibrihim 1973, p. 61.
- Ibrihim 1973, pp. 27–28.
- Boroditsky, Lera (6.12.2009). "How does our language shape the way we think?". Edge. Retrieved 29 October 2010.
- (see Mercier 2002, pp. 498-500.
- Foley & Van Valin 1984, p. 326.
- Nichols 1992.
- Franceschina 2005, p. 77.
- How did genders and cases develop in Indo-European?
- The Original Nominal System of Proto-Indoeuropean – Case and Gender
- The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, p. 356. 2003. ISBN 0-226-10403-6.
- Craig, Colette G. (1986). Noun classes and categorization: Proceedings of a symposium on categorization and noun classification, Eugene, Oregon, October 1983. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins.
- Corbett, Greville G. (1991). Gender. Cambridge University Press.
- Corbett, Greville (1994) "Gender and gender systems". In R. Asher (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Oxford: Pergamon Press, pp. 1347–1353.
- Greenberg, J. H. (1978) "How does a language acquire gender markers?" In J. H. Greenberg et al. (eds.) Universals of Human Language, Vol. 4, pp. 47 – 82.
- Hockett, Charles F. (1958) A Course in Modern Linguistics, Macmillan.
- Iturrioz, J. L. (1986) "Structure, meaning and function: a functional analysis of gender and other classificatory techniques". Función 1. 1–3.
- Mercier, Adele (2002) "L'homme et la factrice: sur la logique du genre en français". "Dialogue", Volume 41, Issue 03, 2002
- Pinker, Steven (1994) The Language Instinct, William Morrow and Company.
- Roscoe, W. (ed.) (1988) Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology. New York: St. Martin's Griffin
- Franceschina, Florencia (2005). Fossilized Second Language Grammars: The Acquisition of Grammatical Gender. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 299. ISBN 90 272 5298 X.
- Bradley, Peter (2004). Spanish: An Essential Grammar (1 ed.). ISBN 0415286433, 978-0415286435 Check
- Ibrihim, Muhammad Hasan (1973). Grammatical gender: Its Origin and Development. Mouton.