12) Gender in nouns and pronouns

Gender in nouns and pronouns

Gender also has some effect on nouns and pronouns

1) Gender in nouns

While gender is less prominent in English than other languages, nouns can still be classified into four different categories based on gender:

Female gender nouns describe an animal or human that is female. Nouns such as ‘mother’, ‘girl’ and ‘ewe’ are part of this group.

Male gender nouns describe an animal or human that is male. Words like ‘dad’, ‘boy’ and ‘ram’ are part of this group.

Common gender nouns are those which can belong to either of the above groups: ‘parent,’ ‘child’ and ‘sheep’ are part of this group.

Neuter gender nouns are all those nouns which don’t have any particular gender. This is essentially all nouns which describes things which aren’t an animal or person. Words such as ‘table’ ‘bin’ and ‘computer’ are part of this group.

When you are learning other languages, such as Spanish, you will notice that every word is either masculine or feminine, and this affects the other words in the sentence. English is more simple in this regard, and usually you will only see changes in spelling, or word, in the first two word classes. This might be via using a completely different word, like ‘ewe’ and ‘ram’, changing the ending of a word such as ‘tribeswoman’ and ‘tribesman’ or adding a word such as ‘bride’ and ‘bridesgroom.’

2) Gender in pronouns

Gender in pronouns can be broken down into male, female and neuter. The main point to make is that the pronoun needs to be the same gender as the antecedent noun which it is referring to. Let’s look at some examples:

Female gender pronouns

An example of a sentence using female gender pronouns is:

Jennifer was great at maths; she could do it with her eyes shut.

Here, the pronouns are the female ‘she’ and ‘her’ and the antecedent noun they are both referring to is the female noun ‘Jennifer’. It would be wrong if it said:

Jennifer was great at maths; he could do it with his eyes shut. (incorrect)

Male gender pronouns

An example of a sentence using male gender pronouns is:

John is winning the race so far; if he wins this race his ranking will go up.

Here the pronouns are the male ‘he’ and ‘his’ and the antecedent noun they are both referring to is the male noun ‘John’. It would be wrong if it said:

John is winning the race so far; if she wins this race her ranking will go up. (incorrect)

Neuter gender pronouns

I am defining neuter gender pronouns as pronouns which aren’t inherently male or female, but can refer to males and females. This is because some pronouns, like ‘they’, ‘them’ and ‘their’ can refer to males, females or inanimate objects. Let’s look at them referring to males and females first:

The group of girls left the house to go hiking. They couldn’t wait to get out into the beautiful green hills of the Lake District where it would only be nature and them.

Here we have the plural pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’ which are referring to the antecedent plural noun phrase ‘The group of girls’. This noun phrase is relating to females, so, in effect, the plural pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’ are also working as female pronouns. However, if we change the antecedent noun phrase to males, the meaning of the pronouns changes too:

The group of boys left the house to go hiking. They couldn’t wait to get out into the beautiful green hills of the Lake District where it would only be nature and them.

Now the plural pronouns are effectively working as male.

These pronouns can also refer to inanimate objects such as:

The hills are beautiful this time of year; they sparkle gloriously in the morning sun and it is hard to not show some reverence towards them.

Here we have the plural pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’ referring to their antecedent neuter gender noun phrase ‘the hills’. They aren’t acting as masculine or feminine here.

A very common pronoun which is used to refer to nouns that aren’t masculine or feminine is ‘it’. For example:

The weather was bad today; it was forecast to get worse.

A poetic use of pronouns which gives the neuter gender nouns a gender is defined as personification. For example, it is common to describe a ship as female, such as:

I prayed she would keep them all safe as he sailed her off into the cold night.

Here the pronouns ‘she’ and ‘her’ are describing the ship.

3) Questions

1) How does gender affect nouns?

2) How does gender affect pronouns?

Let’s look at case in nouns and pronouns next.

NEXT: 13) Case in nouns and pronouns

Posted in English Grammar

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