Grammatical Gender

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Related to Feminine gender: common gender, Neuter gender

grammatical gender

Modern English is largely an ungendered language. Whereas other languages might have masculine and feminine forms for nouns depending on the verbs, articles, or adjectives they are used with, English nouns by and large remain neutral. However, a personal pronoun can be inflected for gender to correspond to the gender of the person (and, in some cases, an animal) it represents.
Personal pronouns are only inflected for gender when they are in the third person and singular—first-person and second-person pronouns (singular or plural) and third-person plural pronouns remain gender neutral.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Gender, Grammatical


(1) The traditional designation of an agreement class in languages where a system of agreement classes has developed from an originally semantic classification based on the distinction between animate and inanimate and/or between masculine and feminine. By “agreement class” is meant one of the groups into which substantives are divided on the basis of the way adjectives, verbs, and other words capable of agreeing with substantives are made to agree with substantives. The usual gender system comprises masculine gender (names of men and male animals, and names of some things), feminine gender (names of women and female animals, and names of some things), and neuter gender (generally only names of things). This system is represented in most of the ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit, and in some modern languages, including German and certain Dravidian languages. For example, gender distinctions are observable in the Latin meus pater (“my father”), mea mater (“my mother”), and meum caput (“my head”).

There are also two-member gender systems. An opposition between masculine and feminine genders is found in the Semito-Hamitic languages and in many modern Indo-European languages, including the Baltic, Romance, and Celtic languages and some Indic and Iranian languages. A distinction between nonneuter and neuter is found in Hittite, modern Swedish, and other languages.

In addition to these basic gender distinctions, a “common” gender is also possible. Words of common gender require either masculine or feminine agreement, depending on the sex of the person named, as in the French un/une enfant (“a child”) or the Russian etot/eta skriiaga (“this miser”).

In Slavic and other languages, each of the traditionally distinguished genders corresponds—as in Latin—not merely to a specific agreement class but to groups within that class. In Russian, for example, there are animate and inanimate agreement classes within each gender. Some linguists apply the term “gender” to any agreement class.

(2) A category used to grammatically classify nouns and corresponding pronouns on the basis of gender opposition. Gender is also an inflectional grammatical category of adjectives and other words expressing agreement, a category formed by juxtasquoition of the words’ gender forms, as in the Latin meus, mea, meum or the Russian moi, moia, moe (“my”).


Kuznetsov, P. S. O printsipakh izucheniia grammatiki. Moscow, 1961.
Kuryłowicz, J. “K voprosu o genezise grammaticheskogo roda.” In his book Ocherki po lingvistike. Moscow, 1962.
Zalizniak, A. A. Russkoe imennoe slovoizmenenie. Moscow, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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