Gender neutrality in languages with grammatical gender

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A sign at a feminists' protest in Madrid, Spain, explaining gender-neutral, inclusive language in Spanish.

Gender neutrality in languages with grammatical gender is, in the context of a language having grammatical gender categories, the usage of wording that is balanced in its treatment of the genders in a non-grammatical sense. For example, advocates of gender-neutral language challenge the traditional use of masculine nouns and pronouns (e.g. "he") when referring to two or more genders or to a person or people of an unknown gender in most Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic languages, often inspired by feminist ideas about gender equality. Gender neutrality is also used when one wishes to be inclusive of people who identify as non-binary genders or as genderless.


The situation of gender-neutral language modification in languages that have (at least) masculine and feminine grammatical genders, such as French, German, Greek and Spanish, is very different from that of English, because it is often impossible to construct a gender-neutral sentence as can be done in English. For example, in French, the masculine gender supersedes the feminine; the phrase la femme et l'homme (the woman and the man) is replaced by the pronoun ils (they [masculine]). In German, the plural similar to the feminine singular – sie is the plural form for both masculine and feminine, and the feminine singular article. Furthermore, Sie, with a capital S, is used as the polite, honorific form of you in a formal context.

Accordingly, language modification advocates have focused much of their attention on issues such as job titles. Due to the presence of grammatical gender, their immediate goal in this case is often the exact opposite of that in English: creating feminine job titles rather than eliminating them. As such, "gender-inclusiveness" does not necessarily mean eliminating gender, but rather a use of language which they feel is balanced in its treatment of only two genders. For example, they feel that it is insulting to use the masculine gender for a female professional, for example calling a woman le médecin (the [male] doctor). They feel this would imply that women change gender or became somehow more manly when they go to work. The creation of new job titles for women is often less controversial than language modifications proposed by advocates of gender-neutral language for English, as it is often seen simply as a natural evolution as women have entered more professions—not only having a title for being the "wife of a professional" which often has been the case historically.

At the same time, the newer feminine forms in most such languages are usually derived from the primary masculine term by adding or changing a suffix (such as the German Ingenieurin from Ingenieur, engineer), so some feminists hold that these words are not equivalent to the masculine words because they are secondary forms. Others object to the perceived clumsiness of such neologisms. Citing German as an example, almost all the names for female professionals end in -in, and because of the suffix none can consist of a single syllable as some masculine job titles do (such as Arzt [doctor]). But a few times the female form is employed for both sexes, like in male nurse, male midwife in several languages. And in few cases the male form is derived from the female, as in words for "widow/widower", "whore/manwhore" etc.

A further complication is that the creation of distinctly different job titles for men and women means that in writing about hypothetical people of undetermined gender, both words must be mentioned each time, which can become quite cumbersome, or one of the titles must be accepted as genderless which is inherently unfair. In languages where the gender of a noun also affects the formation of other words in a sentence, such as gender-marked adjectives, pronouns, or verbs, this can lead to repetitive or complicated sentences if both terms are used, as the sentence must essentially be repeated twice.

But in some languages, for example in Spanish, there have also been campaigns against the traditional use of the masculine gender to refer to mixed gender groups. Advocates of these changes feel that they are necessary in order for the language to not further the subordination of women. These modification efforts have been much more controversial. In addition to the sorts of conflict seen in the English-speaking world, some opponents of these changes see them as examples of cultural imperialism, or the exporting of Anglo-Saxon ideas and standards. English had already naturally lost most of its grammatical gender well before the beginning of the feminist movement, making a gender-neutral modification of the language much more feasible. Finnish has no gender markers in the language, but has no more of feminist or LGBTQ activism than Israel (history), with a language where gender is central, thus such mentioned correlation is not seen.


In Hebrew, which has a high degree of grammatical gender, virtually every noun (as well as most verbs and pronouns of the second and third person) is either grammatically masculine or feminine. As a result of campaigns by advocates for employment equality or gender neutral language modification, laws have been passed in Israel that require job ads to be written in a form which explicitly proclaims that the job is offered for both males and females. The separator "/" is often used, for example d(a)rush/a דרוש/ה, mazkir/a מזכיר/ה ("wanted", masculine and feminine, and "secretary" masculine and feminine, respectively.).

Certain 2nd and 3rd person feminine plural verb forms of earlier Hebrew have become archaic in modern Israeli Hebrew, so that the old masculine plural forms are now used for both masculine and feminine.


Modern Greek language maintains three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. First and second person pronouns are genderless, while third person ones in both singular and plural use different endings to distinguish among the three genders. Greek verbs, however, have six endings (three persons, two numbers) and personal pronouns are rarely used, thus ensuring gender neutrality when needed. Difficulties arise with nouns denoting professions. Those ending in -ος (-os) are identical for men and women, but those ending in -ας (-as) or -ης (-is) are masculine with corresponding feminine in -ρια (-ria). Some nouns denoting professions have no feminine form at all. In such cases, the masculine forms are used for women as well using feminine articles. Most have colloquial feminine forms (which were normal during the Byzantine years) using the infix ιν (in) or αιν (ain). Examples, ο / η γιατρός (o / i giatros) with additional colloquial η γιατρίνα / γιάτραινα (i giatrina / giatraina) “the doctor”, ο / η ηθοποιός (o / i ithopios) “the actor / actress” (no colloquial feminine form in Greek), ο αθλητής / η αθλήτρια (o athlitis / i athlitria) “the athlete”, ο / η βουλευτής (o / i vouleftis) with additional colloquial η βουλευτίνα (i vouleftina) “deputy, member of parliament”. The noun άνθρωπος (anthropos) “human being, person” is masculine and when it is not known whether a man or a woman is referenced, masculine profession nouns or adjectives are used, unless it is important to the speaker to differentiate.

Germanic languages[edit]


German has third-person singular pronouns, which include: er (grammatically male), sie (grammatically female), es (grammatically neuter), man (impersonal/indefinite), jemand (impersonal) and irgendjemand (impersonal) in nominative case. Man is frequently used in general statements such as Man darf hier nicht parken ("One is not permitted to park here"), similar to English indefinite "you". The indefinite pronoun man is distinguished from the noun Mann (capitalized and with double "n"), which means "male adult human". However, man cannot easily be used to refer to a specific person of indeterminate gender. In modern times, frau (distinguished from noun/title Frau) is also rarely used to emphasize that the person referred to is female, for effect e.g. in advertisement for products aimed at women, and by feminists as the female counterpart to the pronoun man.

Feminist language-modification advocates feel that the traditional phraseology of the language reflects a domination of the masculine over the feminine, as they feel it does in many other languages. They object to certain set phrases where the masculine form usually comes first, such as "man and woman" (Mann und Frau), and to the differential use of words like Fräulein (which has since dropped out of common use, since the end of the 1980s).

Grammatical gender is a primary topic of contention among gender-neutral language advocates. Der Mensch is a grammatically masculine word which means "human being" or "person", and is the traditional Germanic word used to mean this. Alternatives are, however, fairly widespread. Die Person means the "person", which by itself is not awkward or politically correct, and is grammatically feminine.

Feminine job titles are usually created by adding -in to the grammatically masculine word in question. For example, the general grammatically masculine term for computer scientist is Informatiker (singular or plural). This yields the feminine form Informatikerin (plural: Informatikerinnen). As in other languages, the use of a suffix to mark the feminine form implies that the unmarked grammatically masculine form is the main form of the word.

There is no universally accepted solution to the trade-off between inclusiveness and wordiness. As a result of campaigns by advocates of feminist language modification, many job advertisements are now formulated so as to explicitly include a grammatically male and a female word (Informatiker oder Informatikerin). The option of repeating all terms in two gender forms is considered clumsy, and in the singular requires adjectives, articles, and pronouns to also be stated twice. As an alternative, the use of slashes or parenthesis is commonplace, as in Informatiker/-in, but this is considered visually ungainly and there is no consensus on how it is pronounced.

Recently, another approach is to use a phrase such as Kolleginnen und Kollegen in an introductory paragraph, but use only the simpler masculine form in the rest of the document, often with a disclaimer.

In the 1990s, a form of contraction using a non-standard typographic convention called Binnen-I with capitalization inside the word started to be used (e.g., InformatikerIn; InformatikerInnen). In some circles this is especially used to formulate written openings, such as Liebe KollegInnen (Dear colleagues). One obstacle to this form is that one cannot audibly distinguish between terms (InformatikerIn sounds the same as Informatikerin). This is a non-standard solution for how to economically express a position of gender quality in one German word, with an expression that would otherwise require three words, and is not accepted by the Duden, but has achieved a certain level of penetration among some circles in Germany. Opponents of such modification consider the capitalized I in the middle of a word to be a corruption of the language. It is also not clear which gender declension the -In form is to be used with; sometimes all adjectival endings are likewise capitalized, such as jedeR for "each person" instead of jede (each grammatically female) or jeder (each grammatically male). This form also tends to be associated with the political left, as it is often used by left-leaning newspapers, notably Die Tageszeitung and the Swiss weekly WOZ Die Wochenzeitung,[1] and feminists.

Since the 2010s, a form is sometimes used in academic and feminist circles in which an underscore (_) or an asterisk (*) is inserted just before the gender-specific suffix, as in "liebe_r Student_in" or "liebe*r Student*in" ("dear student"). This form, called Gendergap (not to be confused with the English-language term "gender gap") or Gendersternchen ("gender star") respectively, is meant to convey an "open space" for all gender identities, whether male, female or genderqueer. In spoken language, the underscore or asterisk is indicated by a glottal stop.[2]


This sign, reading "Radfahrer absteigen" (Cyclists, dismount) has been amended with a Gendersternchen to make it gender-neutral.

The following examples show various approaches for how to express "We need an experienced computer scientist" in a gender-neutral manner.

Using only the "generic" masculine form:
Wir brauchen einen erfahrenen Informatiker.
Using both the masculine and the feminine form:
Wir brauchen einen erfahrenen Informatiker oder eine erfahrene Informatikerin.
Wir brauchen eine erfahrene Informatikerin oder einen erfahrenen Informatiker.
Using slashes:
Wir brauchen eine/n erfahrene/n Informatiker/in.
Wir brauchen eine/-n erfahrene/-n Informatiker/-in.
Emphasizing the suffix -in (considered bad style, but sometimes used):
Wir brauchen eine erfahrene InformatikerIn;
sometimes: Wir brauchen eineN erfahreneN InformatikerIn.
Using the masculine form, with an indication that all officially recognised genders (male, female, genderqueer) are meant:
Wir brauchen einen erfahrenen Informatiker (m/w/d).
Using the Gendergap or the asterisk:
Wir brauchen eine_n erfahrene_n Informatiker_in.
Wir brauchen eine*n erfahrene*n Informatiker*in.


To avoid any of these variants, gender-neutral neologisms may be formed. Some university communities are replacing Student (grammatically masculine college student) and Studentin (female college student) with the nominalized participle Studierende(r), meaning "the studying person" (masculine with the "r", masculine or female without), which does not face quite as many problems with declension. Nominalizations of adjectives, participles and numbers do not distinguish gender when used in the plural, so Liebe Studierende! ("Dear studying ones!") is entirely neutral.

Terms like Lehrer (teacher) are increasingly being replaced by abstract or collective nouns such as Lehrkraft (teaching force; faculty) or Lehrperson (teach person). Kellner (waiter) and Kellnerin (waitress) are often transformed into Bedienung (service): "Fragen Sie bitte die Bedienung, falls Sie einen Wunsch haben" ("If you need anything, ask the service/help").


Like other Germanic languages, Swedish used to have three genders, masculine, feminine, and neuter, han, hon, det, which started to change in the 14th century. Then it was expanded with reale to encompass the inanimate den, which is still seen in the 4 personal pronouns in 3rd person singular. Today, Swedish only uses two genders for classification of nouns, neutrum (neuter, "not either"), which uses the pronoun det and indefinite article ett, and another formed from a merger of the masculine, feminine, and other of gender -n, known as utrum (common gender, "not not either"), which uses the pronoun den, article en. Thus, han and hon are in modern Swedish basically used for humans and known animals, when biological gender is of interest, and comprise the natural gender.

Dialectally, the three/four gender system nouns survive to some small extent. For instance, klockan, "the clock" as an object is a common gender word, but when used to ask or tell the time, it is treated as feminine: "Vad är klockan?" "Hon är sex" ("What time is it?" lit. "She is six o'clock"). This is, however, a colloquial/dialectal use of "hon" to refer to the clock—although possibly prevalent in speech, depending on local dialects and speech patterns, this phrase would unlikely appear in formal speech or writing—instead, one would encounter simply "klockan.". There are other similar examples of historical remnants, like hon about ships or in some poetic use, but otherwise it is archaic.

Customarily, feminine pronouns are used when referring to two genders. The word 'person', människa, is feminine, so requires a feminine pronoun and adjectives. For example, a correct phrase is: Den tidiga människan och hennes verktyg ("Early man and her tools"). By extension, when reference is made to an individual without specifying gender, e.g. den som ansöker, 'the one who is applying', later pronouns and adjectives are feminine; the feminine subject människa is understood. The anglicization of Swedish in the late 20th century has made the usage of masculine pronouns to refer to unspecified genders more habitual, but it is still widely deprecated. To use inanimate den ("it") about persons is possible, but generally seen as pejorative, except in gender neutral relative pronoun den som ("the one who"). In official documents, however, this locution has now been replaced with du som, "you who", which requires no specification of the gender of the person addressed

Swedish adjectives are always (when possible) inflected in agreement with number and neutral gender, and they used to be inflected for grammatical case and masculine and feminine gender as well. The latter inflection — den sure chefen (m), den sura mamman (f) —, has not yet fallen completely into disuse, but the extent of its use is dialectual. Some still use it for occupational and kinship words, but the fact remains that it no longer serves any purpose for any other nouns. It is, though, used distinctively with adjectival nouns as in den gamle ("the old man") vs. den gamla ("the old woman"). This has caused some debate as to which gender inflection should be the standard one for all nouns. The feminine inflection has become the one most widely used throughout the country, most likely because it is more distinct before nouns that begin with a vowel than due to any wide sense of gender equality. One point is that the feminine form with -a may be used always without regard to natural gender, while the form with -e is exclusive to masculine in standard Swedish. The case inflection is only found in some archaic idioms, like stå i ljusan låga ("be ablaze")

Hen is a gender-neutral personal pronoun in Swedish intended to replace the gender-specific hon ("she") and han ("he") to some extent: it can be used when the gender of a person is not known, when the person does not identify with a binary gender or when it is not desirable to specify them as either a "she" or "he". The word was first proposed in 1966 and used occasionally in print, and again in 1994, with reference to the Finnish hän, a personal pronoun that is gender-neutral, since Finnish does not have grammatical genders. However, it did not receive really widespread recognition until around 2010, when it began to be used in some books, magazines and newspapers, and provoked some media debates and controversy over feminism, gender neutrality and parenting. Since 2015 hen is included in Svenska Akademiens ordlista, the official glossary of the Swedish Academy. Hen is currently treated as a neologism by Swedish manuals of style. Major newspapers like Dagens Nyheter have recommended against its usage, though some journalists still use it. The Swedish Language Council has not issued any specific proscriptions against the use of hen, but recommends the inflected forms hens ("her(s)/his") as the possessive form and the object form hen ("her/him") over henom, which also occurs. Hen has two basic usages: as a way avoid a stated preference to either gender; or as a way of referring to individuals who identify as neither male nor female or who reject the division of male/female gender roles on ideological grounds.

A subtler strategy of gender-neutralizing pronouns is the replacement of man (which means either man or one, as in: One ought to gender-neutralize pronouns) with en (which, literally translated, means one). The problem with this is that en is already used in some dialects and contexts as a replacement for man, and some native speakers of Swedish would thus consider the word as belonging to regional or low-prestige language.

Nouns for occupations in Swedish used to have feminine forms, to show either (1) a female professional, lärarinna, sjuksköterska ("teacher, nurse") or (2) the wife of a male professional/dignitary, överstinna, professorska ("colonel's wife, professor's wife"). The use of titles was abolished mainly in the 1960s through du-reformen, introducing the use of 2nd person singular du for all normal daily address of one person. Since then, women have entered traditionally male professions like military service, and men have increasingly entered lines of work which had been coded as feminine. Thus most professional nouns in today's Swedish are void of real gender markers, yet often in the masculine form, and any special title for a dignitary's wife is seldom used. Female endings are common, however, in professions like aktris/skådespelerska ("actress"), sångerska ("singer"), dansös ("dancer"), servitris ("waitress"), damfrisörska ("women's hair dresser"), while aktör, dansör, servitör sound very male. Many of these nouns have French origins and are long established in both female and male use, but for example chaufför ("driver") exists only in the male form for both sexes, and the same with direktör ("managing director"), while direktris in modern Swedish is used with other meanings (in fashion and mathematics). The use of many female endings may seem archaic and connected with an inferior status, like lärarinna ("female teacher" for "children") compared to lärare ("teacher"). Nowadays the female words sjuksköterska/syster ("nurse/sister"), fröken ("miss" in addressing a school teacher) can be used even for male professionals. For professions/titles ending with -man there are no clear rules; they can be modified to -kvinna or -person, like yrkeskvinna ("female professional"), talesperson ("spokesperson"), or retained as fru talman ("Ms Chairman" of the Parliament), rådman ("district court judge"), ombudsman. "Policewoman" may be found as poliskvinna, kvinnlig polis or kvinnlig polisman if gender is important, otherwise a completely gender neutral form like polis is commonly used, and the only established form in the case of brandman ("fireman"). The titles of high nobility, like hertiginna ("duchess"), grevinna ("countess") may still represent wife of or female bearer of the noble title. Fröken (like "Fräulein") has fallen out of use for unmarried women, but it remains as a title to address a teacher in school and in special contexts, like fröken Sverige ("Miss Sweden").


The policy of gender neutrality in the Icelandic language is that the speaker uses the normal grammatical gender of the word of a public office or another office, no matter the gender of the holder. For example, the masculine words president and minister (forseti and ráðherra) were used when Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was the president of Iceland.

Romance languages[edit]

Historical note[edit]

Ancient Greek and Classical Latin had generic words for "human"/"humanity in general" or "human being", ἄνθρωπος (anthropos) and homo respectively, which are the etyma of such modern terms as "anthropology" or Homo sapiens. For "male human as opposed to female human", there existed the separate words ἀνήρ/ἀνδρός (aner/andros) and vir (the etyma of English "androgen" and "virile", respectively).

Most modern derivatives of the Latin noun homo, however, such as French homme, Italian uomo, Portuguese homem, and Spanish hombre, have acquired a predominantly male denotation, although they are sometimes still used generically, notably in high registers. For example, French Musée de l'homme for an anthropology museum exhibiting human culture, not specifically "male culture". This semantic shift was parallel to the evolution of the word man in English. These languages therefore largely lack a third, neutral option aside from the gender-specific words for "man" and "woman". In Spanish and in Portuguese ser humano is used to say "human being". In Romanian, however, the cognate om retains its original meaning of "any human person", as opposed to the gender-specific words for "man" and "woman" (bărbat and femeie, respectively). In Romansh the word um only refers to a male, whereas "human being" is expressed in different ways in the different dialects: carstgaun or uman.


The use of non-gendered job titles in French is common and generally standard practice among the francophones in Belgium and in Canada. By law in Quebec, the use of gender-inclusive job titles is obligatory if the writer has not opted for gender-free terms. In France, however, the practice of using exclusively masculine job titles is still widespread in educated use and has been upheld by the Académie française.

The most common way of feminizing job titles in French is by adding a feminine suffix to the masculine version of the noun, most commonly -e (l'avocat, l'avocate), -eure (le docteur, la docteure), -euse (le travailleur, la travailleuse), -esse (le maire, la mairesse), -trice (le directeur, la directrice). For job titles ending in epicene suffixes such as -iste (le/la dentiste) or -logue (le/la psychologue), the only change is in the article (le/la) and any associated adjectives. Abbreviated professions only change the article as well (le/la prof).

In some cases, words already had a feminine form which was rarely used, and a new one was created. For instance "docteur" had the feminine "doctoresse" but "docteure" was still created. "Chasseur" had the feminine "chasseresse" (typically used only of the goddess Artemis) but "chasseuse" was still created. Nowadays both feminine forms can be encountered, with the old ones being generally more prevalent in Europe and the new ones in Québec.

To make words or phrases gender-inclusive, French-speakers use two methods:

  1. hyphens, brackets or capital letters to insert feminine endings: étudiant-e-s, , étudiant·e·s, étudiant(e)s or étudiantEs (the brackets method is now often considered sexist, because brackets are used to show something less important) ; most writers avoid this practice in official titles such as Governor General and favor the next process;
  2. hendiadys containing a feminine word and a masculine word: toutes et tous, citoyennes et citoyens.

Words that formerly referred solely to a dignitary's wife (l'ambassadrice) are now used to refer to a woman holding the same dignitary position. Although marriage titles have mainly dropped out of use, many cite the possible confusion as a reason for continuing to use those such as Madame le Président or Madame l'ambassadeur. For this reason, the traditional use remains the most frequent in France. Nonetheless, in France, the husband of a female ambassador would never be known as Monsieur l'ambassadrice. Instead, he would be called literally "the ambassador's husband", le mari de l'ambassadeur. The title mademoiselle has been rejected in public writing by the French government in December 2012, in favour of madame for all adult women, without respect to civil status.

Although some long-established positions of high prestige, such Governor General of Canada exist in both masculine and feminine variants, honorary titles remain masculine throughout the Francophonie even when the award or honor is bestowed unto a woman. Examples are titles such as Grand Officier, Commandeur, Officier, Chevalier, Compagnon, Immortel used in the Order of Canada, the National Order of Quebec, France's Legion of Honor and the Académie française, or Belgium's and Monaco's Order of the Crown.[3]

In 1984, the French government made a move toward feminization by creating a terminology commission. However, many political groups condemn this movement. L’Académie française does not support the grand feminization of job titles. The Academy believes that this process will simply complicate the balance in the use of gender designation that has developed over the years. In this statement on their website, L’Académie française argues that gender designation does not play a major role in the complex network of jobs, and that the choice of the masculine gender as the neutral gender simply exists as a way to neutralize differences between the sexes:

One of the constraints of the French language is that it only has two genders to describe qualities common to both sexes, so it was necessary to impart only one of these two types with a generic value so it can neutralize the difference between the sexes. The Latin heritage opted for the masculine. Professors Georges Dumézil and Claude Lévi-Strauss, to whom the Company had entrusted the drafting of this text, adopted unanimously in the session of June 14, 1984 and concluded that: “…changes, made deliberately in an area may have other unexpected consequences. They risk putting confusion and disorder in a subtle balance acquired through use, and that it would seem better advised to leave the usage alone without change.…”

In this same statement, L’Académie française expressed that if an individual wishes that her job title reflects her gender, it is her right to name her own identity in personal correspondences.[4]


In Italian, female job titles are easily formed with -a, -essa and other feminine suffixes: a female teacher is a maestra, a female doctor is a dottoressa. However, for jobs that have only recently opened up to women, there is some resistance to using the feminine forms, which are considered ugly or ridiculous.[citation needed] For example, a female lawyer can be called avvocata or avvocatessa (feminine) but some might prefer to use the word avvocato (masculine). Opponents of these feminine forms claim that they're offensive because they overemphasize the gender, or that they're incorrect neologisms. The Accademia della Crusca and the Treccani have spoken in favour of the usage of feminine job titles.[5][6]

Italian job announcements sometimes have a specific expected gender (segretaria, meccanico) but it has become more common to address two genders with a slash (candidato/a). Many adjectives have identical feminine and masculine forms, so they are effectively gender-neutral when used without articles as job titles (dirigente, responsabile di...) and in many other contexts; slashes are often applied to articles (il/la cliente, the customer).

There are full sets of masculine and feminine pronouns and articles (with some coincidences) and some traces of neuter; adjectives are declined, even if many remain the same, and adjective declension is also used in the many verbal tenses involving the past participle. The masculine gender is the default, and most correct form, for isolated adjectives and pronouns, for mixed-gender groups and for generic usage.

Spanish and Portuguese[edit]

In Spanish, the feminine is usually marked with the suffix -a, and it is generally easy to make a feminine noun from a masculine one by changing the ending -o to -a: cirujano, cirujana (surgeon; m./f.); escribano, escribana (notary; m./f.); maestro, maestra (teacher; m./f.) If the masculine version ends with a consonant, the feminine is typically formed by adding an -a to it as well: el doctor, la doctora. With certain endings there can be alternatives with the suffix -a and without it, apóstola/apóstol ("female apostle"), concejala/concejal ("female city counselor"), aprendiza/aprendiz ("female trainee"), while most with such endings do not allow it, like el/la portavoz, el/la capataz, el/la consul ("spokesperson, boss, consul"). Note that not all nouns ending in -o are masculine (la mano, the hand), and not all nouns ending in -a are feminine (el día, the day):

  • Singular nouns ending in -o or -a are invariable in some cases, and thus use always the same article: testigo (witness; either male or female; now can be used with both articles). La persona (the person), las personas (the people), la población (the population) and la víctima (the victim).
  • Nouns with the epicene ending -ista, such as dentista, ciclista, turista, especialista (dentist, cyclist, tourist, specialist; either male or female) are almost always invariable. One exception is modisto (male fashion designer), which was created as a counterpart to modista (fashion designer, or clothes maker).
  • Some words ending in -eta have a female counterpart: profeta, profetisa ("prophet"), poeta, poetisa ("poet"). Others use same for in both masculine and feminine: atleta ("athlete"), terapeuta ("therapist").
  • Some nouns ending in -a refer only to men: cura, that is (catholic) "priest", a word which ends in -a but is grammatically masculine, for a profession traditionally held only by men; la cura means "cure". For "priestess", the female of sacerdote is used, sacerdotisa. Pastora carries both the meanings "female pastor" and "pastor's wife".

Invariable words in Spanish are often derived from the Latin agent participles -antem and -entem (accusative case): representante, comerciante, estudiante, ending in -e. But a female cliente is a clienta, and a female jefe is a jefa. Dependienta is a female parallel form of dependiente ("shop assistant"), likewise asistenta of "asistente".

A few problematic cases remain:

  • Presidenta used to be "the president's wife", but there have been several women presidents in Latin American republics, and in modern usage the word means mainly a female president, with the meaning of "the president's wife" being replaced by the phrase primera dama (first lady). Some feel that presidente can be treated as invariable, given that it ends in -ente, but others prefer to use a different feminine form.
  • El policía (the policeman). Since la policía means "the police force", the only useful feminine counterpart is la mujer policía (the police woman).
  • Juez (judge). Many new judges in Spain are women. Since the ending of juez is uncommon in Spanish, some prefer being called la juez while others have created the neologism jueza. Common nouns ending in -z are usually feminine, as in the cases of vez and paz.

Activists against perceived sexism in language are also concerned about words where the feminine form has a different (usually less prestigious) meaning:

  • An ambiguous case is "secretary": a secretaria is an attendant for her boss or a typist, usually female, while a secretario is a high-rank position (as in secretario general del partido comunista), usually held by males. With the access of women to positions labelled as "secretary general" or similar, some have chosen to use the masculine gendered la secretario and others have to clarify that secretaria is a decision position, not a subordinate one.
  • An offensive example is hombre público ("public man", a politician) and mujer pública ("public woman", a prostitute).

As in other Romance languages, it is traditional to use the masculine form of nouns and pronouns when referring to males and females collectively. Advocates of gender neutral languages modification consider this to be sexist and favor new ways of writing and speaking. Two methods have begun to come into use. One of them, seen most often in Spain, Mexico and Argentina, is to use the at-sign (@), the anarchist circled A (Ⓐ) or the letter x to replace -o or -a, especially in radical political writing (¡Ciudadan@s! or Compañerxs), but use of the slash (/) as in (el/la candidato/a) is more common. The ligature æ can be used in the same way (escritoræs for writers of two genders, although escritores/as is more common). Opponents of such language modification feel that they are degrading to the language. Many also raise the question of how these new words are to be pronounced. See also Alternative political spellings.

Some politicians have begun to avoid perceived sexism in their speeches; the Mexican president Vicente Fox Quesada, for example, was famous for repeating gendered nouns in their masculine and feminine versions (ciudadanos y ciudadanas). This way of speaking is subject to parodies where new words with the opposite ending are created for the sole purpose of contrasting with the gendered word traditionally used for the common case (like *felizas and *especialistos in *felices y felizas or *las y los especialistas y especialistos).

Being very similar to Spanish, all considerations and almost all the examples above apply also to Portuguese. Minority languages of this group can probably use expressions with at-sign (biólog@ in Galician), ligature æ (outoræs in Mirandese language and autor/a in Aragonese language).

Slavic languages[edit]


Like most other Slavic languages, Serbo-Croatian has more obstacles to gender-neutral language modification than English. The Serbian language has different forms for masculine and feminine past tense: он је радио on je radio (he was working), она је радила ona je radila (she was working). Only the rare aorist (in Serbian the aorist is a tense, not an aspect) makes no distinction between genders. Also, all nouns in Serbian have grammatical gender: masculine, feminine or neuter. Almost all nouns which end with a consonant are masculine, almost all which end with a are feminine and almost all that end with o or e are neuter. Adjectives and verb aspects (but not in all tenses) inflect for gender, too.

Gender-neutral language advocates are also unhappy with Serbian's use of noun gender. Some masculine nouns signify an occupation, while the corresponding feminine nouns refer to objects: the masculine noun говорник govornik means "male speaker", while the cognate feminine noun говорница govornica means "female speaker", but also "podium", or a "speaker's platform"; masculine тренер trener means male coach, while the feminine word тренерка trenerka means "female coach", but also "warm-up suit".

Many feminists argue that in the Serbian language it is natural to differentiate the gender of job titles, as opposed to just using the masculine grammatical gender. Some of the language which they consider sexist includes: министар ministar for (male) minister and министарка ministarka for the wife of a minister, and професорка profesorka for the wife of professor instead of a female professor, etc. For example, they favor using учитељица učiteljica for "female teacher" (учитељ učitelj is "male teacher") and професорка profesorka for "female professor" (професор profesor is "male professor").

Advocates of gender-neutral language find it difficult to avoid specifying gender in Serbian, since it is so built into the language. But one area where they have a bit more flexibility is the word "person," in its various forms: a person can be referred to as човек čovek ("human"; masculine gender), особа osoba ("person"; feminine gender) or људско биће ljudsko biće ("human being"; neuter gender).

Only plural forms have clear general meaning: професори profesori means both "male professors" and "female and male professors", but професорке profesorke means only "female professors". Many feminists prefer to say професори и професорке profesori i profesorke (male professors and female professors) and to write професори/ке profesori/ke.


Russian intrinsically shares many of the same non-gender-neutral characteristics with other European languages.

Certain words are understood to refer to either men or women regardless of their grammatical gender, such as человек (čelovék, "human"; grammatically masculine), as opposed to мужчина (mužčína, "man"; masculine with respect to agreement, but morphologically feminine) and женщина (žénščina, "woman"; feminine), and are in fact traditionally used in cases where gender-specific terms would be used in English. Several terms that roughly mean "person" are grammatically neuter or feminine, and can similarly be used to refer to either men or women: лицо (licó, neuter, lit. "face"), персона (persóna, feminine), личность (líčnost, feminine). All such terms have bureaucratic and other (not necessarily negative) connotations and are seldom used colloquially. Note also that as a general rule Russian does not use neuter terms for people, just as English does not use "it" as gender-neutral pronoun.

Job titles have a masculine and a feminine version in Russian, though in most cases the feminine version is only used in colloquial speech. The masculine form is typically treated as "unmarked", i.e. it does not necessarily imply that the person is male, while the feminine form is "marked" and can only be used when referring to a woman. In some cases, the feminine title is used, on occasion, as derogatory or with connotation of a suboptimal performance. In other cases, it is only used as slang, e.g. врачиха (vračícha, female doctor), директорша direktórša or sometimes директриса direktrísa (female director). Sometimes, this is not the case: актриса (aktrísa, actress), поэтесса (poetéssa, poetess; e.g. Anna Akhmatova insisted on being called поэт (poét, masculine) instead). Even in cases where the feminine term is not seen as derogatory, however, there is a growing tendency[citation needed] to use masculine terms in more formal contexts that stress the individual's membership in a profession: "В 15 лет она стала учителем фортепиано" (V 15 let oná stála učítelem fortepiáno, "At age 15 she became a piano teacher/m", formal register). The feminine form may be used in less formal context to stress a personal description of the individual: "Настя стала учительницей" (Nástja stála učítel'nicej, "Nastia became a teacher/f", informal register).[7] Military ranks and formal offices may also have a feminine term (e.g. генеральша generál'ša, советница sovétnica), which usually means that the referred person is the wife of the appropriate office holder. However, this use is somewhat archaic.

For this reason, use of the masculine occupation terms when referring to women, is in fact seen as more politically correct and constitutes a growing trend. The actual gender of the person can still be indicated through the verb: for example, in the phrase врач посоветовала (vrač posovétovala, the doctor/m advised/f), the gender of the verb shows that the doctor was female, even as the masculine (more respectful) occupation term is used. Note, however, that there are also some grammatically feminine terms with positive connotations that are routinely used for both men and women, for example, знаменитость (znamenítost, celebrity, feminine because it is an abstract noun).

Russian adjectives are inflected for grammatical gender and so are verbs in the past tense. When a masculine term is used to refer to a woman, the verb usually remains in the feminine, while adjectives and possessive pronouns may take either masculine or feminine form: наш новый врач посоветовала (naš nóvyj vrač posovétovala, our/m new/m doctor/m recommended/f) or наша новая врач посоветовала (naša nóvaja vrač posovétovala, our/f new/f doctor/m recommended/f). The former usage is more formal, while the latter is more colloquial.

The third-person pronoun typically reflects the actual gender of the person when this is known, врач сказала, что она... (vrač skazála, čto oná..., the doctor/m said/f that she...), but typically agrees with the grammatical gender of its antecedent when an abstract person is discussed: Каждый врач должен помнить, что он... (Káždyj vrač dólžen pómnit', čto on..., Every/m doctor/m must/m remember that he...)

Celtic languages[edit]

Nouns in the six modern Celtic languages belong to either one of two groups, masculine or feminine. There are only two singular third person personal prounouns which correspond to the grammatical gender of the noun to which they refer,[8][9][10][11][12][13] for example the Scottish Gaelic for "It is big" is Tha e mòr when referring to leabhar "a book" (masculine) but Tha i mòr when talking about deoch "a drink" (feminine).[12]

A very small number of nouns in some languages can be either masculine or feminine.[8][9] When referring to these mixed-gender nouns, a decision has to be made, based on factors such as meaning, dialect or sometimes even personal preference, whether to use a masculine or feminine pronoun. There are no neutral or mixed-gender singular third person pronouns.

The result of how having two grammatical genders manifests itself in each individual language is detailed below.


In Welsh, the third person singular personal pronouns are ef, (f)e, (f)o "he, it" and hi "she, it". Hi "she" is the traditional used as a dummy pronoun,[14] for example, when talking about the weather, Mae hi'n wyntog "It is windy" or time, Mae hi'n ddeg o'r gloch "It is ten o'clock".

The singular possessive pronoun ei is the same word for both masculine and feminine referents, but the gender difference is seen in the sound changes it effects on the following word. When masculine, ei the subsequent word will take a soft mutation, but when feminine, ei causes an aspirate mutation or prefixes an h to a vowel and the semivowel [j]. An example of this is the word cath "cat" becoming either ei gath "his cat" or ei chath "her cat".

Grammatical gender is sometimes shown in other parts of speech by means of mutations, vowel changes and specific word choices. Examples of this include:

  • y mwyaf "the biggest" (masculine) without mutation vs y fwyaf "the biggest" (feminine) with soft mutation[8]
  • Cafodd Sam ei weld "Sam was seen" (masculine) with soft mutation of gweld vs Cafodd Sam ei gweld "Sam was seen" (feminine) with no mutation[8]
  • cochyn "a redhead" (masculine) vs cochen "a redhead" (feminine)[15]
  • un gwyn "a white one" (masculine) vs un wen "a white one" (feminine) with mutation and vowel change[8]
  • pedwar cariad "four lovers/boyfriends" with masculine pedwar vs pedair cariad "four lovers/girlfriends" with feminine pedair[8]

A few job titles have gendered terms, for example dyn busnes "businessman" and dynes fusnes "businesswoman". In other instances a feminine job title may derive from a masculine one such as feminine gofalwraig "carer, caretaker" from masculine gofalwr, or ysgrifenyddes "secretary" from ysgrifennydd. Occasionally only one meaning of a masculine word can be made feminine, for example, when "secretary" refers to a personal assistant, there are masculine and feminine forms, ysgrifennydd and ysgrifenyddes respectively, however when "secretary" is used as a title for people in leadership, the only valid form is ysgrifennydd.[15] This means, in her job as Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams is always Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Addysg despite being a woman. The same is true of athro and athrawes, which are the masculine and feminine words for "teacher", but when used to mean "professor", only athro can be used.[15]

Theoretically any job title can be made feminine but in practice most job titles without a feminine suffix are used as a gender-neutral term.[15] Some authorities emphasize that a distinction needs to be made between biological sex and grammatical gender. The Welsh Academy English–Welsh Dictionary explains "it must be reiterated, gender is a grammatical classification, not an indicator of sex; it is misleading and unfortunate that the labels masculine and feminine have to be used, according to tradition. (...) There is no reason why nouns ending in -wr, -ydd should not refer equally well to a woman as to a man."[15] This is why the Welsh Government's Translation Service recommends translating such phrases as "If a parent sends his or her child to school" is translated as "Os bydd rhiant yn anfon ei blentyn i’r ysgol", literally "If a parent sends his child to school" as rhiant "parent" is a masculine noun.[16]

Some consider the agent suffix -ydd to be more gender neutral than -wr[8] however the Translation Service advises against the use of words ending in -ydd in job titles unless it is natural to do so.[16] This means that established words such as cyfieithydd "translator" are readily used whereas terms such as rheolydd for "manager" instead of rheolwr or cyfarwyddwraig "(specifically feminine) director" instead of cyfarwyddwr are proscribed by the Service. It does however allow for their use in personal contexts such as email signatures and business cards.

A distinction in gender is also found in some other classes of words, for instance, those referring to nationality. This becomes is more apparent in Welsh, which prefers to use a noun,[15] than in English, which tends to use an adjective of nationality, for example, "He is Irish" is more often Gwyddel yw e "He is an Irishman" and "She is Irish" becomes Gwyddeles yw hi "She is an Irishwoman". With countries that do not have such a close connection with Wales, usually those further away, only one form of the noun is found, for example, Rwsiad "a Russian" (both masculine and feminine).[15] Phrases can also be used rather than a single word and these can be gender specific, e.g., dyn o Angola "a man from Angola, an Angolan" and merch o Angola "a woman from Angola, an Angolan", or have one form for both referents, e.g., un o Angola "one from Angola, an Angolan".[15]

In the plural, there is a single third person plural pronoun, nhw "they", and no distinction is made for grammatical gender.[8] With nouns, the tendency is to use the form of the grammatically masculine nouns when referring to groups of mixed sex, so athrawon "teachers" (from masculine athro) is used when describing male and female teachers together.[17] The plural athrawesau "teachers" (from feminine athrawes) exists is used rarely and in contexts where the speaker desires to emphasize the fact that the teacher are female.


The Cornish third person singular pronouns are ev "he, it" and hi "she, it".[9]

Job titles usually have both a masculine and feminine version, the latter usually derived from the former by means of the suffix -es, for example, negesydh "businessman" and negesydhes "businesswoman", skrifennyas "(male) secretary" and skrifenyades "(female) secretary", sodhek "(male) officer" and sodhoges "(female) officer".[18] In the last example, compare Welsh swyddog which uses the grammatically masculine term for both males and females. Occasionally, nouns of have only one gender despite referring to either males or females, for example kannas "messenger" is always feminine.[18][19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ WOZ Die Wochenzeitung
  2. ^ "Gendergap und Gendersternchen in der gesprochenen Sprache". Sprachlog (in German). 9 June 2018. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  3. ^ See also the French version of this article.
  4. ^ "La féminisation des noms de métiers, fonctions, grades ou titres - Mise au point de l'Académie française | Académie française".
  5. ^ "La Crusca risponde: Il ministro o la ministra? | Accademia della Crusca".
  6. ^ "La ministro è priva di grammatica".
  7. ^ Olga Gurevich, Julia McAnallen, Elena Morabito, Renee Perelmutter, Jonathan Platt, Johanna Nichols and Alan Timberlake (August 2006). "Lexicon and Context in Feminization in Russian". Russian Linguistics. 30 (2): 175–211. doi:10.1007/s11185-006-0702-x.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Thomas, Peter Wynn (1996). Gramadeg y Gymraeg. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. p. 148. ISBN 0-7083-1345-0.
  9. ^ a b c Brown, Wella (2001). A Grammar of Modern Cornish. Kesva an Taves Kernewek / The Cornish Language Board. p. 49. ISBN 1-902917-00-6.
  10. ^ Press, Ian (2004). Colloquial Breton. London: Routledge. p. 214. ISBN 0-415-22451-9.
  11. ^ Mac Mathúna, Séamus (1995). Collins Gem Irish Dictionary. Harper Collins. p. 170. ISBN 0-00-470753-2.
  12. ^ a b Ó Maolalaigh, Roibeard (2008). Scottish Gaelic in Twelve Weeks. Edinburgh: Birlinn. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-84158-643-4.
  13. ^ Goodwin, Edmund (1966). First Lessons in Manx. Douglas: Yn Çheshaght Ghailckagh. p. 9.
  14. ^ King, Gareth (1993). Modern Welsh. A Comprehensive Grammar. (Routledge Grammars). London and New York: Routledge. p. 94. ISBN 0-415-09269-8.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h "Geiriadur yr Academi - The Welsh Academy English-Welsh Dictionary Online". Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  16. ^ a b "Arddulliadur Gwasanaeth Cyfieithu Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru" (PDF). Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  17. ^ "BydTermCymru". 2015-07-12. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  18. ^ a b "MAGA Cornish dictionary / Gerlyver kernewek MAGA". Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  19. ^ Gendall, Richard (2000). Tavas a Ragadazow. Menheniot: Teer ha Tavas. p. 2. ISBN 0-9537710-0-8.

External links[edit]