The Gender of Nouns
|The gender of nouns plays
an important role in the grammar of some languages. In French, for instance,
a masculine noun can only take the masculine form of an adjective. If the
noun is feminine, then it will take a different form of the same adjective
- its feminine form.
In English, however, nouns are not in themselves masculine or feminine. They do not have grammatical gender, though they may refer to male or female people or animals:
These distinctions in spelling reflect differences in sex, but they have no grammatical implications. For instance, we use the same form of an adjective whether we are referring to a waiter or to a waitress:
Similarly, the natural distinctions reflected in such pairs as brother/sister, nephew/niece, and king/queen have no consequence for grammar. While they refer to specific sexes, these words are not masculine or feminine in themselves.
However, gender is significant in the choice of a personal pronoun to replace a noun:
Here the choice of pronoun is determined by the sex of the person being referred to. However, this distinction is lost in the plural:
Gender differences are also manifested in possessive pronouns (his/hers) and in reflexive pronouns (himself/herself).
When the notion of sex does not apply -- when we refer to inanimate objects, for instance -- we use the pronoun it:
copyright The Survey of English Usage 1996-1998
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