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What is Grammatical Gender?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Sara Z. Potter
  • Last Modified Date: 24 March 2014
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Grammatical gender is a system in the grammar of some languages in which nouns are classified as belonging to a certain gender — often masculine, feminine, or neuter — and other parts of speech connected to the noun, such as adjectives or articles, must agree. For example, in English, nouns with natural gender, such as "boy" or "girl," must agree in gender with any pronouns used to represent them. Therefore, "She is a nice boy" is ungrammatical in English. Other languages around the world have much more extensive and complex systems of gender.

In many languages, grammatical gender and natural gender correlate rather loosely, much to the frustration of second language learners. In French and Spanish, every noun is either masculine or feminine, so things that would seem to lack gender to an English speaker are assigned to one or the other class. In such languages, grammatical gender is often more morphological — related to the sound of the word — than semantic — related to its meaning. In Spanish, for example, words ending in -o are typically masculine and words ending in -a are typically feminine. One example of a word with a gender that differs from its natural gender is the German Maedchen, or "maiden," which is grammatically classified as neuter rather than feminine.

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In some grammars, including those of many Native American and African languages, gender may refer to distinctions other than masculine and feminine. Many languages, for example, assign grammatical gender according to the categories animate and inanimate. Languages of the Caucasian family often have four genders - feminine, masculine, animate, and inanimate. Again, non-native speakers often find these grammatical distinctions unexpected; heavenly bodies and plants may be considered "animate" in some languages. Grammatical gender, for the most part, follows enough basic patterns that one can make an educated guess as to the gender of an unknown word, but some degree of memorization is typically necessary.

More unusual systems of grammatical gender can be found around the world. Dyirbal, an Australian Aboriginal language, notoriously includes a gender category for "women, fire, and dangerous things." Some languages have genders based on the physical shapes of objects, and some languages have over ten noun classes.

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Bertie68
Post 2

Though it's really tough for you English speakers to learn grammatical gender in another language, it's really hard for we speakers of other languages to pick up the "a" and "the."

We must remember that the "a" and "an" go in front of nouns that we're not clear which one is being talked about. For example, - an apple on the table, or a pen on the desk. We don't have a clue what apple or what pen is being talked about.

But if the speaker said this - I see the dog in the street.

Or someone said, The tiny cat sat on the rug, or the black dog in the street. Then we know what cat and dog is being talked about. It's definitely "not a walk in the park" to learn a new language, but it can be done.

Misscoco
Post 1

Anyone who's studied French knows what a struggle it is to learn the part about the le and la. Every name of someone or something has to have a le or la in front of them. The le is for masculine things and the la goes in front of feminine nouns. If you are talking about two or more of something, you use les. That's easy.

It might look like an impossible task to learn which noun is feminine and which is masculine. There's a little trick that works pretty well. Some syllables at the end of words go with the masculine le. For example, "age" in nouns like le fromage, le nuage and (eur) le bonheur make the word masculine. A feminine ending is (ade) like in la pronomade and limonade. Now, instead of having to sit down and memorize hundreds of nouns and their genders, you can learn some of them by using ending sounds. I wish I had known this trick when I was studying French.

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