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Gender - Masculine, Feminine, Neuter

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He or She

Our forbears on the Pronoun Committee had a sinister goal in mind: They set out to wreak havoc on people in the late 1900s and early 2000s. They invented one set of pronouns for men and another set for women, for they knew that one day we’d confront the problem of sexism in the written and spoken word and end up stumbling all over ourselves with she-he, her-his, and her-him, and, to be fair, he-she, his-her, and him-her.

Thus, just to be a bunch of old meanies, the Pronoun Committee created the grammatical concept of gender.

Other languages have special endings to show whether nouns, pronouns, or adjectives reveal a masculine, feminine, or neuter entity. Fortunately, in English, the grammatical concept of gender shows up mostly in third-person singular pronouns.* And there it causes a great deal of trouble—clearly foreseen by the heartless Pronoun Committee. We’ll get to the problem a bit later.

*(We used to give female names to hurricanes, but we’ve fixed that. And we must still deal with mailman and workman. But new words are entering the language, so that a mail carrier describes a male or female person who carries the mail and worker describes men and women who work.)

Back in Amber and Igor’s cave, it didn’t take long for the Pronoun Committee to realize that living things consisted of males and females. They figured that the personal pronoun replacing a noun denoting people or other living (or previously living) things should reveal whether that noun is male or female. They also realized that most nouns are simply naming things or ideas, which don’t have any sexual identity. So they decided to break the world down into three groups: masculine, feminine, and neuter.

(Actually, some of the other Pronoun Committees meeting in various countries of the world devised as many as 20 grammatical genders, but most languages settled on three.)

So for third-person singular pronouns, the Pronoun Committee decided that he-him-his-his would reveal the gender of masculine nouns, she-her-her-hers would reveal the gender of feminine nouns, and it-it-its-its would take care of all nouns in the neuter category.

You might want to bookmark the next page: Table of Personal Pronouns.

 

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