Grammatical Gender

Nowadays using genders to refer to males and females is not considered common. In this lesson, we will learn about how and what it is.

"Grammatical Gender" in English Grammar

What is Grammatical Gender?

There are many ways to categorize nouns and grammatical gender is one of them. In different languages, there are different categories such as: masculine, feminine, neuter, or animate and inanimate.

What Does Gender Mean?

While some languages categorize nouns based on their meaning or attributes, such as whether they refer to animals or humans, or their biological sex, other languages rely more heavily on morphological distinctions, where grammatical gender is determined by the structure of the word rather than its semantic meaning. For example:

"the house" in Spanish "la casa" is feminine, but "el hogar" (the home) is masculine.

'House' in German (haus) is considered neuter. Yet in French "la maison" (the house) is feminine.

Grammatical Gender in English

Grammatical gender in English can be distinguished into four categories:

  • Masculine
  • Feminine
  • Neuter
  • Inclusive

Masculine Gender

Masculine gender refers to a male figure or a male member of a species. For example: man/brother/dad/ox.

My father spent the whole evening playing with my son.

The rooster protects the flock.

Metaphorical Gender

At times, certain nouns may not inherently possess a feminine or masculine gender, yet they are metaphorically assigned female or male pronouns. This is particularly true for tools, computers, or robots, which are often given masculine gender (although feminine gender is also possible).

My knife was dirty, I took him out and finally cleaned him.

Feminine Gender

Feminine gender refers to a female figure or female member of a species. For example: mother/sister/woman/cow.

His mother has three daughters.

The hen lays over fifteen eggs a week.

"hen" has a feminine gender

Metaphorical Gender

Certain nouns may lack inherent feminine or masculine gender, yet they are metaphorically assigned female pronouns. This is commonly seen with vehicles (especially ships and boats), nations (such as "Mother Russia"), and the earth (referred to as "Mother Earth"), which are often considered feminine.

This is my yacht; she is a special one.

Tip!

Since the direct mention of gender (when irrelevant) and gender stereotypes have become progressively criticized, feminizing and masculinizing inanimate objects are considered outmoded or poetic in English, and nowadays people avoid assigning genders to these objects.

Neuter Gender

Neuter refers to words that are neither feminine nor masculine, like inanimate objects such as rock, table, and comb; animals, like dog, cat, and bear; humans (only a fetus whose gender is not known yet).

The dog had a big belly; its belly was very round.

Animals

It is a rock.

Inanimate objects

It is a boy.

Fetus/baby

Tip!

Please keep in mind that if the “it” pronoun is used for humans (other than a fetus/baby), it will be considered either offensive or humorous.

Inclusive Gender

In modern times, people often prefer to use gender-neutral language that does not specify a particular gender. While certain jobs may historically have been associated with a specific gender, such as "postman" being seen as a male job, there are no jobs that are exclusively designated for one gender. Therefore, people often opt to use gender-neutral terms to refer to such notions. For example:

Male Female Neuter
Man Woman Person
Brother Sister Sibling
Mother Father Parent
Policeman Policewoman Policeofficer
Husband Wife Spouse

Tip!

Certain jobs, such as nurse and secretary, have traditionally been viewed as more suitable for women. However, in modern times, there are no gender limitations on who can take on these roles. As a result, people often prefer to use gender-neutral titles for these jobs. For instance, 'fireman' may be replaced with 'firefighter', and 'secretary' may be replaced with 'personal assistant'.

Personal Pronouns and Possessive Determiners

We should know that the gender of the noun affects the pronouns as well as the possessive determiners used with it.

Now, take a look at some examples:

My mother lost her phone while she was at work.

Sam’s brother ran to get his food, since he loves Indian food so much.

The cat wiggled its tale so quickly; it’s very playful.

Tip!

Some nouns do not show their gender until they are used with a pronoun or possessive determiner. Like:

My friend is very tall; she never wears heels.

Here, we do not know the friend's gender until we see the pronoun "she".

Some genders can change. Let’s see an example:

The cat (neutral) → What color is its tale?

The cat (feminine) → What color is her tale?

The cat (masculine) → What color is his tale?

Singular 'They'

Look at the following examples:

Each person should know where his room is.

Every competitor should know where he must stand.

Traditionally, people used 'he/his' for unknown genders, but this is not very acceptable in modern times.

Each person should know where his/her room is.

Every competitor should know where he/she must stand.

The above is correct, but It is recommended to use they/their as a pronoun to refer to someone whose gender is not specified:

Each person should know where their room is.

Each competitor should know where they must stand.

Everyone should know where their room is.

Anyone competing should know where they must stand.

Gender Neutral Pronouns for People

Some people consider themselves neither male nor female, and some consider themselves both. Some people would not like to be referred to by the gender assigned to them when they were born. These people might ask you to refer to them as 'they' (singular).

Gender Agreement

Before we go through gender agreement, let's see what agreement is.
In English, agreement refers to the concept that the words in a sentence should be in harmony with one another. Take a look at the examples:

I am a doctor.

She is a nurse.

We can't say 'I is a doctor' or 'she am a nurse'. This is because English grammar demands that the verb and the subject agree in person.

What is Gender Agreement?

In languages with grammatical gender, there should be agreement between nouns and their modifiers; let's see:

Pronoun Agreement

In English, we have the pronoun “they” and its relatives (them/their) which are gender inclusive and can be used with singular and plural meaning and for both male and female. So, the third-person plural pronoun is the same for all genders.

She went home to feed her dog.

He started crying for his lost toy.

It climbed the stairs to drink from its tiny bowl.

In most European languages, the pronouns are gendered like the pronouns in English, we have “él, ella” (he – she) and ellos, ellas (they (masculine) - they (feminine)) in Spanish, il (he), elle (she), ils (they masculine) and elles (they feminine) in French, and so on.
But not all languages have gendered pronouns, there are some languages without grammatical gender and some languages use the same word for “he” and “she” like ő in Hungarian or او (oo) in Persian, this will make the agreement of sentence elements easier.

Noun Agreement

In English, there are some proper nouns/titles/occupation names and some borrowed words which have a specific gender. For example, the names Andrew (masculine), Andrea (feminine), and Chris (neuter), or titles such as lady (feminine) and gentleman (masculine), some occupations like actor (masculine) and actress (feminine). There are also words like fiancé (masculine) and fiancée (feminine) which have entered English from the French language.

Adjective Agreement

In English, almost all adjectives are gender neutral; but there are exceptions like blond (masculine), and blonde (feminine).

Tip!

There are some adjectives that have been assigned to a particular gender inappropriately. For example, mumsy (meaning old-fashioned) which is usually used to describe women, or kingly (like a king) which is usually used to describe men.

Determiners Agreement

English determiners mostly have no gender, except the third person singular of possessive determiners. His/her/Its. For example:

These are his shoes.

We know these are a boy’s shoes.

This is her bag.

We know it’s a girl’s bag.

Its tale is furry.

We are not sure of its gender (whether it's an object like a toy or an animal.)

In other European languages, the determiners are usually gender specific, for example, look at the French determiners:

Elle est ma (feminine) mère.

She is my mother. ("my" is written in its feminine form in French.)

iIl est mon (masculine) père.

He is my father.("my" is written in its masculine form in French.)

C’est ta (feminine) voiture.

This is your car. ("your" is written in its feminine form in French.)

C’est ton (masculine) stylo.

This is your pen. ("your" is written in its masculine form in French.)

Verb Agreement

In English, the verbs do not need to change in order to agree with the gender of the noun, but in some languages the verbs change to agree with the noun. For example, in Russian a male says, ‘Ya kupil knigu,' and a female says, 'Ya kupila knigu,' for ‘I bought a book’.

Neo-pronouns

As you know, pronouns are used to replace nouns, personal pronouns are used so that we do not use the name of the person.

Sara is a student.

She is a student.

Nowadays, the gender of pronouns used for a person should not be assumed or guessed.
If a person's gender is unknown, you can simply use the third person singular “they/them”; it is grammatically correct and also respectful.
Neo-pronouns have not been officially added to the English language, but some dictionaries are including gender-neutral pronouns in their entries.

English Neo-pronouns

The use of neo-pronouns is like any other pronoun. Neo-pronouns can indicate the way someone perceives their gender, or that they just feel more comfortable being referred to using such pronouns.

  • Xe/Xem/Xers
  • Fae/Faer/faers
  • Ze/ hir/hirs
  • E/Em/Ems
  • Ve /Ver/Vers
  • Ae/Aer/Aers
  • Ne/Nem/Nems
  • Thon/Thonself
  • Meow/Meows/Meowself

The last one is called a nounself pronoun. Nounself pronoun users often choose pronouns based on objects or ideas that they have a strong personal connection to. For example:

Kit/Kits/Kitself

In a sentence it would be: “She got the food for herself, which was her friend’s order.” you can now say, Kit got the food for kitself, which was kit’s friend’s food."

Nounself pronouns may also be a reflection of one's gender identity. Non-binary gender identities that are outside of masculinity or femininity are called xenogenders. Like nounself pronouns, xenogenders can use objects or ideas as metaphors to describe how they feel about their gender. For example:

Astralgender

A gender that feels connected to space.

Floragender

A gender that feels connected to plants and flowers.

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