What Is Gender in Grammar? (with Examples)

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What Is Gender in Grammar? (with Examples)

Gender is a category of noun. A noun's gender determines how it behaves with other words. For example:
  • The man takes his coat.
  • (The gender of man is masculine. Therefore, the associated possessive adjective must be masculine too, i.e., his.)
  • The woman lost hers.
  • (The gender of woman is feminine. Therefore, the associated absolute possessive pronoun must be feminine too, i.e., hers.)
  • The dog found its own way home.
  • (The gender of dog is neuter in this example. Therefore, the associated possessive adjective must be neuter too, i.e., its.)
In English, nouns are categorized as masculine, feminine, or neuter depending on their meaning. Most nouns are neuter, unless they obviously refer to something male or female.

Only the third person pronouns (i.e., he, his, she, her, hers, it, and its) reflect gender.

Examples of Gender

Here are some examples of nouns and their genders:

CupNeuterWhere's my cup? I have lost it.
BoyMasculineHas that boy finished his chores?
PrincessFeminineThe princess has eaten hers.

Genders Can Change in English

In many languages (e.g., Russian, Serbo-Croat, and German), the spelling of a noun (as opposed to its meaning) often determines its gender.

For example, if a noun ends -a (in Russian or Serbo-Croat) or ends –heit (in German), then it will be feminine. This is not how it works in English, where gender is directly linked to whether something is male or female. In English, gender can even change. Look at these examples:

DogNeuterWhere's its bone?
DogMasculineWhere's his bone?
DogFeminineWhere's her bone?

Feminine Gender for Ships and Machines

Even though they are not literally female, ships and other machines are sometimes affectionately given a feminine gender.

boatNeuterI have worked on this boat all my life. It is a beauty.
boatFeminineI have worked on this boat all my life. She is a beauty.

Masculine Gender for Men and Women

It is a common practice to use a masculine gender in writing to represent both masculine and feminine. For example:
  • Each actor must read his line when the light by his name illuminates.
The alternative is very unwieldy:
  • Each actor/actress must read his/her line when the light by his/her name illuminates.