The Gender of Nouns

Gender Across Particular International Borders

Some Sexy Stuff

Gender is another word from Latin (genus) which means sort, kind, or class. Nouns in English are classified as masculine, feminine, or neuter. The term has nothing to do with the sexual characteristics, maleness and femaleness. It is an arbitrary classification into which words are conveniently thrust for the purpose of determining which pronoun to use in place of the noun when it is deemed necessary. Gender could just as well be categorized as Group I (for masculine), Group II (for feminine), and Group III (for neuter). They could have also been lettered groups as in A, B, and C. Or each one could have been represented by fruits, vegetables, meats, planets, minerals or atomic elements. Whatever the reason may have been, we have to live with what we have. Nouns are grouped by gender.


man (masculine)

niece (feminine)

woman (feminine)

nephew (masculine)

brick (neuter)

bite (neuter)

indigestion (neuter)

omphaloskepsism (neuter)

god (masculine)

goddess (feminine)

king (masculine)

queen (feminine)

baroness (feminine)

barrenness (neuter)

What determines gender? Some words by their essence suggest gender. Mother, daughter, sister, and all other female relatives are of the feminine gender; father, son, brother, and all other male relatives are inherently of the masculine gender. In the animal kingdom [which includes mankind somewhere near the top], there are males and females so designated by their male or female characteristics. Some nouns seem to fit all three genders in some way.

Some words are just defined as masculine:

dog (seen up close to verify)



Some words are naturally feminine:

bitch (seen up close to verify)

lioness (indicated by suffix)

mare (whole new word)

Some words indicate neuter gender by definition:

dog (too far to determine characteristics of the gender)

cat (general family, genus, and species)

gelding (modified male)

Then, there are those words that have the same spelling for all three genders thus leaving the determination to the description or modifiers.







Some words just leave no clue as to what pronoun would be the appropriate replacement if natural gender [grammatical sex?] were the determining factor.

Ocean: The sprawling ocean churns her (its) waves and splatters her (its) spray along the shore.

Baby: Oh, what a cute baby. What’s its (her? his?) name?

Boat: The sloop I sail has beautiful lines; her (its) sails billow like clouds across the sky.

Sky: The stars in the sky make her (its) beauty far more impressive. [Can sky be plural? According to the song America, we have… for spacious skies… ]

To Be Or Not To Be — What Is the Gender?

English allows great leeway in determining what gender is assigned to a noun and its always corresponding pronoun. Foreign languages are less forgiving, as you will soon see. To determine gender, take a close look at the noun. Does it have characteristics that can be naturally associated with a specific gender? If so, assign it that gender, masculine for male and feminine for female. Everything else is neuter. The need to know is only important when it becomes necessary to use a pronoun in place of the noun.


horse: That horse has won more races than any other. (He… , She… , It… ) is definitely my choice for being included in tonight’s trifecta.

Which pronoun should be used to replace horse as the subject of the second sentence?

He implies that you know the horse is a male.

She makes the assumption that the horse is female.

It disregards either choice and reveals that you know nothing about the gender of the horse.

Any of the three choices would be acceptable and understandable in English. See how easy this language is? Foreign languages require that you know the gender of the horse before substituting a pronoun. In English you could say the horse and substitute any of the three pronouns; in Spanish, the word for horse, caballo, is masculine and requires a masculine pronoun; in German, the same horse is Pferd, a neuter noun, and it requires a neuter pronoun. The indicators in Spanish and German (the leading definite or indefinite articles) indicate the gender that applies.

Foreign application (German):

Foreign romance languages use gender and number to determine which article goes with it. Conversely, the article describes the kind of noun that follows, whether it is singular or plural, masculine, feminine, or neuter. Which comes first, the article or the noun? They should arrive at the same time as inseparable entities.

When a Germans says, “Der… “, it can be inferred that a masculine singular noun will follow.

When a Spaniard begins with, “Las… “, one will expect a feminine plural noun to follow.

When an Englishman says, “The… “, nobody knows what to expect next. It could be masculine, feminine, or neuter, and either singular or plural. The initial word gives no hint of what to anticipate. It’s a toss-up that requires only consistency to make the application understandable.

Observe the conditions in the following section that make German gender so difficult. Compare those conditions to English gender and breathe a deep sigh of relief that English gender is so simple.]

Foreign application, German Gender:

There are specific conditions that govern the gender of German nouns.

1. The natural and grammatical gender are identical:

a) Family relationships: male members are masculine; female members are feminine.

b) Professions: those done by males are masculine; those done by females are feminine. [Those performed by both have their own nouns and genders.]

2. Grammatical gender sometimes contradicts natural gender:

a) Girl, and miss (expected to be feminine) are neuter

b) Victim and child (which should be m or f only) are neuter.

c) Diminutives, no matter what the natural gender, are neuter.

d) Animals follow their natural gender unless the reference is to the species. Then, the reference is neuter.

3. Compound nouns have gender determined by the ultimate (last) part of the word.

4. Gender that is determined by rules that govern groups [again, the powers that be]:

a) Months, days of the week, and compass points are masculine.

But, Spring is neuter.

b) Nouns derived from strong verbs and mountains are masculine.

But, The Matterhorn is neuter.

c) Nouns ending in: -ig, -ling, -ant, -er, -ismus, -or are masculine.

But, restaurant is neuter.

d) nouns of derived Latinate endings: -ion, -anz, -enz, -ie, -ik, -ur, -age, -ette are feminine.

e) Nouns ending in: –keit, -heit, -ei, -schaft, -ung, -t,_t, -nis are feminine.

f) Nouns that name airplanes and ships are feminine.

g) Place names from continents to cafés, chemicals that end in -in or -ol, letters of the alphabet, and diminutives are neuter.

I) Nouns taken from infinitives or ending in: -um, -ment, -ett, -icht are neuter.

5. Some nouns are spelled the same way and have the same meaning but different genders.

a) Liter, meter (m / n) can be either.. But, kilometer is only masculine.

b) Crystal (m / n) can be either when it refers to the mineral.

Some nouns change meaning when the gender changes:

a) der Alp – ghost; die Alp – pastureland on a mountain [How afraid could one be on Halloween upon seeing die Alp.]

b) der Band – volume; das Band – ribbon, ligament, conveyor belt, bond

c) der Laster – truck; das Laster – vice [Imagine watching das Miami Laster.]

d) der Otter – otter; die Otter – viper

e) der See – lake; die See – sea

Foreign Application, Spanish

All nouns in Spanish are either masculine or feminine as indicated by the definite or indefinite article that precedes them. But, if you don’t know which article precedes the noun, there must be some other system for determining gender. There is. Note the following:

1. Masculine nouns end in -o, with some exceptions.

book – el libro, los libros

overcoat – el abrigo, los abrigos

agreement – el acuerdo, los acuerdos

2. Feminine nouns end in -a, -ción, -sión, -dad, -tad, -tud, -umbre, -ez.

perch – la percha, las perchas

family – la familia, las familias

generation – la gereración, las generaciónes

3. Nouns ending in -ente, -ista, -cida, -ante, etc. are masculine or feminine dependent upon the reference, but the ending does not change gender; only the article does.

the dentist – la dentista, las dentistas; el dentista, los dentistas

the artist – la artista, las artistas; el artista, los artistas

the student – la estudiante, las estudiantes; el estudiante, los estudiantes

4. Some masculine nouns and some feminine nouns end in -e.

el aire

el coche

la gente

la leche

5. Some nouns that end in -o are feminine.

la mano

6. Some nouns that end in -a are masculine.

el dia

el mapa

7. Some nouns usually considered masculine but have feminine form.

la guardia

la centinela

8. Nouns of Greek origin ending in -a are masculine though they appear feminine.

el drama

el tema

9. Abstract nouns formed from adjectives are neuter and take the article lo.

lo bonito

lo largo

10. Abstract nouns ending in –ón are feminine, unless there is a suffix augmentation; then, they are feminine.

11. Letters of the alphabet, phonetic sounds, and symbols are feminine.

12. Some nouns are masculine or feminine with no change in meaning.

el or la azúcar

el or la mer

13. Some nouns change their meanings dependent upon their apparent gender.

el guía – the guide

la guía – the directory

el capital – money

la capital – the capital (government)

Spanish grammar involves the same correlation of articles, gender, number, and case as English and German, but it is less restrictive than German and more constrained than English. The alphabets in all three languages are similar for the most part, with German and Spanish throwing in a few extra letter combinations for some special sound effects. It is still a wedding of horror.

Source by Larry Lynn

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