Natural gender

English enjoys an interesting advantage over all other major European languages, having adopted natural in place of grammatical gender. In studying other European languages, students labour under the heavy burden of memorizing not just the meaning of each and every noun, but the gender, too.

In the Romance languages, for example, there are two genders, thus all nouns which would otherwise be neuter are either masculine or feminine. Some help in these languages is afforded by distinctive endings, which generally characterise the two classes. But even this aid is lacking in Germanic languages, where the distribution of these three genders appears to an English speaker to be mostly arbitrary.

Thus in German, Sonne (sun) is feminine, Mond (moon) is masculine, but Kind (child), Mädchen (maiden), and Weib (wife) are neuter. This distinction must be kept in mind constantly, since it affects not only the reference of pronouns, but also determines the rules of inflection and the agreement of adjectives.

In the English language, all of this was stripped away during the Middle English period.

Gender in modern English is determined by meaning. All nouns referring to living creatures are masculine or feminine according to the sex of the individual, and all other forms are seemingly neuter – though with indeclinable definite and indefinite articles and single-termination adjectives, our only clues are the pronouns.

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