In some languages, nouns have gender. This means that a noun causes other words such as adjectives to change their spelling according to certain rules. Grammatical gender has little to do with biological gender. English does not have grammatical gender for nouns.On the other hand, the biological gender of the thing or person referred to does affect a few areas of English grammar.
Gender distinctions are relevant where personal pronouns (Personal pronouns) and possessive determiners (Determiners) have to be decided on. These distinctions are only noticeable in singular nouns.
|a cow… she or it||a bull… he or it|
|a girl… she||a boy… he|
There are also special cases, such as the association of neuter gender with babies and small animals, or feminine gender with a vehicle.
- He found his book.
- He had been looking for it.
- She found her book.
- She had been looking for it.
Nouns denoting male persons and animals are masculine in that they are used with the pronouns and possessive determiners he, him, his.Nouns denoting female persons and animals are feminine in that they are used with the pronouns and possessive determiners she, her, hers.
- I just saw a mouse. It was running across the room.
- The spider was spinning its web.
- The beetle crawled into its hole.
- The baby threw down its rattle.
- I’ve got a new boat; she’s a real beauty.
The pronouns and possessive determiners used to refer to common or neuter nouns are: it, its.
- Barry saw Linda. He called out to her that he had found her book.
- Marcia saw Paul. She called out to him that she had found his book.
- Madeleine saw Kim. She said ‘Hello’ to her.
Nouns denoting inanimate objects and abstract notions are also neuter.
- The truth will emerge. It always does.
- Some nouns denoting people have the same form for masculine and feminine. Nouns used for a group, e.g. government or team, have common or neuter gender, even when we know that the group is made up exclusively of male or female members.
With some nouns of common gender it might be possible to specify the gender if we had sufficient information. But if we do not have this knowledge, the choice of pronoun or possessive determiner becomes a problem.
- The government has changed its policy.
- The team has won its first medal at a major championship.
As a way around this problem, in informal and spoken English, their is often used after a singular noun or an indefinite pronoun. See Pronouns. Some people consider this grammatically unacceptable, but it is widely used to avoid repetitions of his or her or him or her.
- a driver…he/she
- the cook…he/she
The specialized terms used to name male, female and neutered animals show a number of gender differences.
- Each student must apply to his or her tutor for an extension.
- Everyone must apply to their tutor for an extension.
- Someone has left their coat in my room.
Gender differences are also shown in the nouns that indicate relationships.
|horse ||mare ||stallion ||gelding |
|parent ||mother ||father |
- Many nouns denoting an occupation have no explicit gender.
Some occupations and professions have a special feminine form for the noun.
|engineer ||doctor ||programmer |
Many people prefer to avoid these forms, regarding the distinction as unnecessary.
- Call your bank manager today.
- Sue is manageress of a hairdressing salon.
- Actors from all over the UK attended the ceremony.
- Here in the studio to talk about her new book is actress Mary Farrell.
The forms authoress and poetess are now considered patronising and are rarely used.Some speakers prefer to use a different form of the word or an entirely different word in order to avoid a gender-marked noun.
- J.K. Rowling is a highly successful author.
- Judi Dench is one of our finest actors.
- Michelle Stewart has been promoted to Branch Manager.
If necessary, the gender of a common noun can be made clear by adding a descriptive term such as woman or male/female.
|the chairman ||the chairperson ||the chair|
- Would you prefer to see a woman doctor?
- Male staff should use locker room B.
If we are discussing a country from an emotional, economic, or political viewpoint we sometimes use feminine gender. PreviousNext
- Poland has made steady progress restructuring her economy.