What is “Grammatical Gender”?

If you’ve ever studied to learn a foreign-language (meaning, other than English), you might have encountered nouns categorized as being either feminine or masculine, or perhaps feminine, masculine, or neuter. It can get more complex, but for the purposes of this discussion, let’s say that grammatical gender is the system of assigning gender to nouns, and let’s focus particularly on nouns that name inanimate (non-living) things that wouldn’t normally be considered to have the sexual characteristics found in almost all animals and plants. That is, inanimate things like books, clocks, doors, rocks, stars, and so on. In addition to classifying nouns into one of the classes mentioned above, “gendered” languages usually also employ specific definite and indefinite articles, as well as specific adjectives and pronouns, that must agree with the noun’s gender classification; i.e., feminine articles and adjectives go with feminine nouns, and so on. Grammatical gender occurs mostly in Indo-European languages, however, the English language mostly abandoned grammatical gender centuries ago. Therefore the whole concept often seems odd to English-speakers trying to learn a second language, while, conversely, it seems like the most natural thing in the world to someone who grew up speaking that way.

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