Guide to Noun Inflection: Gender

Today, we’re going to talk about the inflection of nouns and pronouns and how they relate to gender. Knowing how gender inflection works in language isn’t just a grammar thing; Let’s explore this together!

Inflection is how words change to show their grammar connections. In English, we don’t really change word forms of grammar, we mostly just move words around.

♦ Walk becomes walked
♦ Cat becomes cats

Inflecting Nouns

In studying the inflection of nouns and pronouns, we have to consider gender, number, person, and case.

Gender

Gender is how we categorize people based on their sex. We show gender, whether it’s masculine, feminine, or neutral, by the noun’s meaning or by the pronouns we use with it (like ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘they’).

Numbers

Numbers help us know if a word is about one or many things (like one dog, two dogs)

Person

Person tells us if the nouns refer to
1. the speaker,
2. the person being talked to, or
3. the person or thing being talked about.

You can usually figure out who it’s talking about from the context, pronouns, and verb choice.

Case

Nouns change case to show their relationship to verbs, prepositions, or other noun. (like ‘the dog’s bone’ showing possession).

We’re talking about Gender in this blog, but I’ll save number, person, and case for later.

What is Gender Inflection?

Gender inflection in nouns refers to how nouns change form based on gender.

Nouns and pronouns can be masculine, feminine, gender neutral, neuter gender or common general.

Masculine

The masculine gender refers to a male noun or pronoun.

♦ Joseph
♦ boy
♦ buck
♦ brother
♦ uncle
♦ he

Feminine

The female gender refers to a male noun or pronoun.

♦ girl
♦ Julia
♦ hen
♦ doe
♦ aunt
♦ she

Non-Binary/Gender Neutral

As our understanding of gender grows, so does our language. Non-binary and gender-neutral pronouns like

♦ They/Them
♦ Ze/Hir
♦ Ze/Zi
♦ Xe/Xem
♦ Xe/Xyr

Adding these to your writing is a great way to support non-binary people and celebrate diversity.

Trying to be gender-inclusive in languages with strict gender binaries is tricky. Some people say it messes with language traditions, but others think it’s a necessary evolution. Our challenge as writers is to be mindful when treading these waters, respecting language and promoting inclusivity.

Neuter Gender

A noun or pronoun denoting a thing without animal life is of the neuter gender. Examples:

♦ pencil
♦ light
♦ water
♦ star
♦ book
♦ dust
♦ leaf
♦ it

Common Gender

When a noun or pronoun can be both masculine and feminine, it’s known as common gender.

♦ bird
♦ speaker
♦ artist
♦ cat
♦ European
♦ musician
♦ operator

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Pronouns and Gender

It’s important to make sure the pronoun agrees with the noun’s gender. Gender limits each of these pronouns.

♦ Masculine: he, his, him
♦ Feminine: she, her, hers
♦ Neutral: they, them
♦ Neuter: it, its

All other pronouns vary in gender.

♦ Robert greeted his employer. [Masculine]
♦ A mother passed with her child. [Feminine]
♦ This tree has lost its foliage. [Neuter]
♦ They laughed? [Neutral]

Neuter Nouns and Personification

A neuter noun may become masculine or feminine by personification. Personification is when you treat something non-human, like an object, animal, or even an emotion, as if it were a human.

♦ Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe.—John Milton. Paradise Lost

Languages Changes

Like everything else, language evolves and there have been changes.

Masculine and Feminine

English used to have endings (like ess, trix, or a) to make masculine nouns feminine.

♦ host to hostess
♦ waiter to waitress

Because of our increasing understanding and appreciation of gender equality, this practice has become less frequent with gender-neutral counterparts replacing these terms nowadays.

♦ For instance, ‘waiter’ and ‘waitress’ are often simply referred to as ‘server’, a term that doesn’t specify gender.

This shift reflects a broader move towards more inclusive and nondiscriminatory language in our society.

Job Titles

In the past, job titles were often gender specific such as:

♦ salesman, saleswoman
♦ steward, stewardess

Gender-neutral terms like salesperson or flight attendant has largely replaced these terms as the awareness of gender inclusivity in language expands.

By using this updated term, we can avoid unnecessary gender distinctions and promote equality and inclusivity.

Nouns and Pronouns

A pronoun or another accompanying part of speech can often signal the gender of a noun.

♦ My cat is always washing his face.
♦ The intruder shook her head.
♦ A pitiful creature, haggard and unshaven confronted me.

Derivation

Derivation, or noun-formation, is a fascinating part of language where we create new words from existing ones.

It’s like a word-building game where we add prefixes or suffixes to a base word, changing its meaning or creating a completely new word.

For example, adding

♦ ‘un-‘ to ‘happy’ gives us ‘unhappy’,
♦ ‘beauty’ becomes ‘beautiful’ with the addition of ‘-ful’

This isn’t just about tweaking a word a bit; it’s about crafting entirely new words that can express different ideas or things

Exercises for Gender Inflected Nouns

Try identifying the abstract, collective and compound nouns in the following sentence, then hit the toggle for the answers.

1. Her brother is an accomplished writer.
2. His uncle is coming to visit next week.
3. The queen addressed her subjects.
4. The prince and princess were crowned in a grand ceremony.
5. Her aunt is an expert in French cuisine.
6. His nephew is as tall as his niece.
7. My sister’s son and daughter are coming over.
8. The lion and lioness roamed the savanna.
9. A server brought our meal to the table at the restaurant.
10. The actor received an award

Click on the + button for the answers

1. Her brother is an accomplished writer.
Gender-inflected noun: brother (masculine)
2. His uncle is coming to visit next week.
Gender-inflected noun: uncle (masculine)
3. The queen addressed her subjects.
Gender-inflected noun: queen (feminine)
4. The prince and princess were crowned in a grand ceremony.
Gender-inflected nouns: prince (masculine), princess (feminine)
5. Her aunt is an expert in French cuisine.
Gender-inflected noun: aunt (feminine)
6. His nephew is as tall as his niece.
Gender-inflected nouns: nephew (masculine), niece (feminine)
7. My sister’s son and daughter are coming over.
Gender-inflected nouns: son (masculine), daughter (feminine)
8. The lion and lioness roamed the savanna.
Gender-inflected nouns: lion (masculine), lioness (feminine)
9. A server brought our meal to the table at the restaurant.
Gender-inflected nouns: server (gender neutral)
10. The actor received an award.
Gender-inflected nouns: actor (gender neutral)

10 Tips for Gender-Inflected Nouns

Tips for Using Abstract Nouns

1. Context Matters: Use gender-inflected nouns that accurately reflect the context and subject.
2. Avoid Stereotypes: Use gender-inflected nouns in a way that avoids reinforcing stereotypes.
3. Use Neutral Terms When Unsure: If in doubt, opt for gender-neutral terms (like ‘server’ instead of ‘waiter/waitress’).

4. Check for Alternatives: Sometimes, a non-gendered alternative might be more appropriate or modern (like ‘firefighter’ instead of ‘fireman’).
5. Be Consistent: Maintain consistency in using gender-inflected forms throughout your writing.
6. Consider Your Audience: Adapt your use of gender-inflected nouns according to the audience’s understanding and expectations.
7. Diversify Your Reading: Read works by diverse authors to see examples of different uses of gender-inflected nouns.
8. Cultural Sensitivity: Be aware of cultural nuances in gender inflections in different languages.
9. Proofread for Gender Accuracy: Ensure that the gender inflection matches the subject or character being referred to.
10. Update Your Knowledge: Languages grow; stay informed about changes in gender inflections.

Last Words on Gender-Inflected Nouns

The way we use gender in language is changing, and as writers, we have the power to shape and influence this change. By understanding and thoughtfully using gender inflection in nouns, we can create more inclusive, realistic, and engaging narratives.

Happy writing!

Linda

 

Feature Image by Peter H from Pixabay.

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