Nominal gender system

Grammatical gender refers to a nominal classification system that can be identified by agreement displayed on other word classes.[1] Gender-based agreement may appear on verbs, adjectives, determiners, numerals, or focus particles. In some languages, gender is marked on only anaphoric pronouns.[2] To determine the existence of a gender system, nouns referring to inanimate objects should be examined, rather than nouns referring to animate entities of the male or female sex,[3] since the classification of the latter is often determined by actual sex, rather than by formal criteria such as morphological structure, although it is also possible for morphological structure to be determining factor, regardless of biological sex.[4]

Languages assign gender based on one of the three following principles: semantic, formal, and idiosyncratic.

  1. Classification based exclusively on meaning is found in few languages, but a language may have such a limited number of exceptions to this rule that its gender system can be classified as overwhelmingly semantically based. Semantically based classification has three variants: (1) Nouns are primarily classified on the basis of biological sex (or lack thereof).[5] Languages whose gender system belongs to this type differ in the degree to which they use meaning as a basis for gender[6] and where they draw the line between entities whose gender is based on biological sex and those whose is not.[7] Furthermore, gender classification may be determined based on social, rather than biological, categories.[8] (2) Nouns are classified on the basis of an existing animacy hierarchy.[9] (3) Classification of nouns into gender is determined by a different, more complex, semantically based system. Languages of this third type are the least common among meaning-based gender systems.
  2. Classification based on formal criteria occurs with respect to morphological and phonological differences. Since no language has been found to make gender distinctions exclusively on formal criteria, this category can be more accurately described as being overwhelmingly formally based.
  3. In languages with an idiosyncratic gender system, the classification of nouns into genders is not based on a transparent, regular system; instead, each noun is individually classified. This can also be termed a lexically based system.[10] (Inasmuch as the considerations discussed in the above points apply to a given language, they should be described in the commentary section of that language.)


NoGns: The language does not have the category of grammatical gender.

NatGns: Nouns referring to animate (or human) entities are classified into grammatical genders primarily on the basis of biological sex. Nouns referring to inanimate (or non-human) entities are assigned to a different gender.

AnimGns: Nouns are classified into grammatical genders primarily on the basis of an existing animacy hierarchy.

FormGns: Nouns are classified into grammatical genders primarily on the basis of formal (structural) criteria.

IdioGns: Nouns are classified into grammatical genders on the basis of an idiosyncratic system.


[1] While examining morphological structure may offer clues, only agreement offers actual evidence of gender. Without the presence of agreement, not even the existence of male–female word pairs with distinct nominal stems or displaying different morphological behavior serves as evidence of grammatical gender. Grammatical gender should not be confused with classifiers (such as the Indonesian se orang guru [one – person classifier – teacher, ‘a teacher’]), since the latter category does not require agreement.

[2] English is a well-known example of this rare type.

[3] This principle should not be followed if the overwhelming majority of inanimate entities belong to the same gender while animate entities belong to other gender categories. In such cases, gender is assigned based on semantic criteria, rather than structural form.

[4] These criteria should be described in the commentary.

[5] These classes are known as masculine, feminine, and, if applicable, neuter.

Az ilyen rendszerek osztályait hímnemnek (masculinum), nőnemnek (femininum) és – ahol van harmadik osztály – semleges nemnek (neutrum) nevezzük.

[6] In some languages, grammatical gender distinctions are based almost entirely on biological sex. For example, all men and male gods are masculine, and masculine words can only describe these entities. In other languages, the majority of male or female entities are classified as masculine or feminine, respectively, but there are some words of “hybrid gender” and/or describing non-human or inanimate entities that also fall into the masculine and feminine classes.

[7] For example, the distinction may only be made for humans, humans and animals, humans and pets, or humans and animals whose sex is easily identifiable. Sometimes the line is drawn among animals, on the basis of species.

[8] For example, in some dialects, only married women are grammatically feminine; in others, grammatical gender may be determined based on politeness principles.

[9] Languages differ in where they draw the line between these groups. For example, a language may distinguish humans from non-humans, humans and animals from everything else, or humans and some animals from other animals and entities. Animacy hierarchy-based systems may be consistent to varying degrees.

[10] Ha egy nyelvben több típus egyaránt jelen van, két paraméterérték & jellel (egyenlő mérték) vagy / jellel (a hátul álló kisebb mértékben, esetleg nem egyedi, de jól körülhatárolható kivételcsoport formájában van jelen) is összekapcsolható. Ilyenkor a szöveges kommentárban részletezni kell az összetett paraméterérték jelentését.