Gender (grammatical)

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Gender is a fundamental concept in grammar. Grammatical gender marks divisions of nouns and other word classes into very large groups. Most languages have only two or three genders. In English, gender is not often important except in the personal pronouns. (But see sexist nouns.)

  • The feminine gender reflects the biological female. In English, her is the objective form of the feminine personal pronoun she, which may be applied to all females.
  • The masculine gender reflects the biological male. In English, him is the objective form of the masculine personal pronoun he, which may be applied to all males.
  • The neuter gender reflects things that have no biological gender - as well as those which do not show it, like plants. In English, the pronoun it is neuter. (OED defines neuter as "Designating the gender to which belong words classified as neither masculine nor feminine.")
    • Epicene is a word that may be applied to nouns denoting either or both sexea, as in many common names of animals, such as 'sheep' (a sheep may be a ewe or a ram), 'pigeon' and 'herring'.

The first two are often (but not always) associated with the biological division of the world into the two groups female and male. The third gender common in European languages, the neuter, reflects inanimate objects, or 'things'. Other languages divide the world into different genders. The two genders in Danish nouns, for example, are the 'common' and 'neuter' - although there are personal pronouns meaning 'he' and 'she'.

In some languages, such as Arabic, verbs have gender - the inflections are different according to the sex of the people in the second and third persons. English verbs do not have gender, although it is indicated by the personal pronouns. For advice on another problem of usage, see gender - sex. Other languages even less often spoken in British academia have genders to express, for example, animate and inanimate classes, mostly of nouns.