7

As we know, many languages have grammatical gender for every noun, and the gender of a noun requires agreement from adjectives and sometimes verbs and requires the use of the correct pronoun for its gender.

I don't have any trouble simply learning the gender of words, and if I took a test on the gender I wouldn't have a problem answering correctly, but when I'm in the middle of speaking I tend to inadvertently switch to the default form for inanimate nouns (normally masculine or neuter), especially for pronouns, which often occur in a different sentence from the original noun. So is there a way to internalize the gender of nouns so as to more naturally use the correct forms?

As an example of how gender is internalized for native speakers, from what I understand when native speakers of languages with grammatical gender personify inanimate ideas, they tend to use the gender of the noun in question for the gender of the personification. As a hypothetical example, if they wanted to talk about the best, highest quality type of honey, a French speaker might talk about the "king of honey" (because "miel" is masculine in French), while a Spanish speaker might talk about the "queen of honey" (because "miel" is feminine in Spanish).

Likewise, a French speaker would probably personify the sea as a woman ("la mer"), but an Italian speaker would personify it as a man ("il mare").

How could I learn to internalize the gender of nouns so that it would be natural to see abstract and inanimate nouns as having the correct gender, in the same way that native speakers do?

What if I'm learning several languages, where some words have different genders in different languages? How do native bilingual speakers conceive of abstract or inanimate nouns when the gender of the nouns is different in their native languages?

1
6

I have learned 2 languages that use gender.

First, let me say that native speakers are remarkably patient to non-native speakers for making gender errors. So relax, they will not view you in a bad light for doing so. In fact, they will be pleased that you are making the effort to learn their language.

For my first language, when inflecting the word for masculine/feminine, I created word pictures with either my father or my mother in the picture. This helped cement the proper gender to the inflection until it became natural.

With the 2nd language, I did the same thing but with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meryl Streep instead of my parents. This helped differentiate the genders in the 2nd language from the first language.

I hope this helps.

3

I'm not sure to understand what you mean by "internalize the gender". Do you mean assimilate it to use the correct gender naturally without thinking about it?

This is done using the words again and again in different contexts. It will come naturally with time.

As you remarked with the sea and the honey, it can be different for similar words in different languages. There are many other example. There is no logic. By the way the sea in French is la mer with E and not A.

2

My advice is to not learn the nouns and internalize their genders but to always learn the noun with its definite article as an indivisible unit.

That is, instead of learning the German word Tisch "table" and that the word Tisch is masculine (because of some very likely inconsistent rule that no native speaker is aware of), you learn der Tisch "the table" (where the gender of the article tells you that the noun is masculine).

If in the language that you learn the articles aren't gendered in congruence with the noun, find some other gendered word or phrase that you can learn with the word (noun+adjective, noun+verb, whole example sentence, etc.).

I find that it's generally better not to learn words on their own, but to always learn them in an example of typical usage.

1

It's quite normal in speech to use another pronoun that what the textbook says you "should". For example, if you were talking about a motorbike, it could be das Motorrad, it could be der Töff (dialectal in Switzerland, apparently), and it could even be die Maschine. So it would be quite normal to say "es" at the start of your conversation, and then randomly switch to "sie". That is not important, and it's hardly noticeable that it happens. So don't stress it. Of course people are going to understand if you get one "wrong".

My advice is to try and see what groupings there are. Some examples for German:

  • Nouns beginning with Ge- are almost always Neuter (das Gebet, das Gehirn, ...)
  • Nouns for the young of animals are Neuter (das Kalb, das Ferkel, das Küken)
  • Nouns ending in -e or -el are normally feminine (die Nessel, die Mücke)
  • Nouns that denote plants are masculine (der Lauch, der Apfel, der Roggen)
  • Placenames are never Neuter
  • Nouns made from verbs are masculine if they end in -er or -el (der Würfel, der Nenner)
  • Body parts are often feminine if you've got two (die Schulter, die Niere, die Hand), otherwise masculine (der Finger, der Bauch)
  • If there is an associated pagan deity the grammatical gender will match (der Donner, der Tag, die Nacht, die Sonne, der Mond)

There are lots and lots of these groups for German. Other languages will have other groups. I know that at least some of these groups apply just the same for Norwegian, for example. Knowing these will get you more of a feel for which pronoun to use, even when you don't yet have an antecedent. It will also make memorising genders for new vocab easier.

You could also try seeing if there's anything similar in your own language. I found that learning German genders became much easier when I considered also the genders in my own language.

1

I've been struggling with this in French forever, the advice is to learn the article with the noun which is okay except for the elision which gives you "l'outil" and you have no idea what it is (I made the teacher mad by stating that I only use plurals so everything will be "les"). And for some reason I can't associate "un" or "une", it just doesn't flow as smoothly as "le" and "la" (un outil ! un outil quoi, de quoi vous parlez? Je ne sais pas.), and then your post hit me, use "bon" and "bonne" to give it a little kick, "le bon outil, c'est un bon outil", "la bonne table", "le bon bol", "la bonne boîte", now I can't stop ! And it has the benefit of practicing pronouncing "bon" and "bonne" alot!

3
  • 1
    Hi Patrick, welcome to Language Learning Stack Exchange. Is this contribution intended to answer the question (the first part does not seem to do that) or to provide a comment? On Stack Exchange, answers are for answers only, not for comments.
    – Tsundoku
    Mar 15 at 21:39
  • Yeah you're right, that was a pretty feeble attempt to answer the question, it certainly didn't come out that clear! Mar 15 at 23:29
  • Your contribution is interesting, even from a native-french point of view. Native speakers acquire new words all the time and most of the time they learn the gender from the article (could be also adjectives, or past participles). That's why French people sometimes mess up genders with mostly plural nouns (ex : les rails) or nouns starting with a vowel (ex: l'air) or some uncommon words (ex: tentacule).
    – XouDo
    Apr 5 at 14:27
0

First of all, I want to know which language you are currently learning and there are a host of exercises you can do to achieve your "internalization" process of grammatical gender and if it is a Romance language it is quite known that it contains widely applicable rules such as "-o" for male nouns and "-a" for female nouns with their exceptions to remember. I would like to recommend not to focus on the rules of them and start conversing or reading without particular consideration what endings come at which place, with time you will have internalized the sounds and combinations to fluently use them. For a start try saying "el gato" for about 20 times and the next time you want to convey the meaning of a cat that combination of "el" with "-o" will suddenly pop up in your mind(same goes for an exception like "la mano"- an exception where la comes with o, I am talking about Spanish)

2
  • for insight into evolution of gender refer to : jstor.org/stable/pdf/27699089.pdf Dec 9 '20 at 21:08
  • Right now I'm learning German, but I've studied a lot of languages in the past, including Russian, French, Spanish, Italian, and Greek. As I said in the original question, the problem isn't remembering the gender, for example if you asked me about it directly, as I don't find that particularly difficult, but rather remembering to think of it as a feminine noun and thus to use feminine pronouns and agreement in places that are far removed from the original use of the noun. Dec 12 '20 at 10:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.