What gender means in English. It is founded on sex.
21.In Latin, Greek, German, and many other languages, some general rules are given that names of male beings are usually masculine, and names of females are usually feminine. There are exceptions even to this general statement, but not so in English. Male beings are, in English grammar, always masculine; female, always feminine.
When, however, inanimate things are spoken of, these languages are totally unlike our own in determining the gender of words. For instance: in Latin, hortus (garden) is masculine, mensa (table) is feminine, corpus (body) is neuter; in German, das Messer (knife) is neuter, der Tisch (table) is masculine, die Gabel (fork) is feminine.
The great difference is, that in English the gender follows the meaning of the word, in other languages gender follows the form; that is, in English, gender depends onsex: if a thing spoken of is of the male sex, the name of it is masculine; if of the female sex, the name of it is feminine. Hence:
22.Gender is the mode of distinguishing sex by words, or additions to words.
23.It is evident from this that English can have but two genders,—masculine and feminine.
Gender nouns. Neuter nouns.
All nouns, then, must be divided into two principal classes,—gender nouns, those distinguishing the sex of the object; and neuter nouns, those which do not distinguish sex, or names of things without life, and consequently without sex.
Gender nouns include names of persons and some names of animals; neuter nouns include some animals and all inanimate objects.
Some words either gender or neuter nouns, according to use.
24.Some words may be either gender nouns or neuter nouns, according to their use. Thus, the word child is neuter in the sentence, “A little child shall lead them,” but is masculine in the sentence from Wordsworth,—
I have seenA curious child … applying to his earThe convolutions of a smooth-lipped shell.
Of animals, those with which man comes in contact often, or which arouse his interest most, are named by gender nouns, as in these sentences:—
Before the barn door strutted the gallant cock, that pattern of a husband, … clapping his burnished wings.—Irving.
Gunpowder … came to a stand just by the bridge, with a suddenness that had nearly sent his rider sprawling over his head—Id.
Other animals are not distinguished as to sex, but are spoken of as neuter, the sex being of no consequence.
Not a turkey but he [Ichabod] beheld daintily trussed up, with its gizzard under its wing.—Irving.
He next stooped down to feel the pig, if there were any signs of life in it.—Lamb.
No “common gender.
25.According to the definition, there can be no such thing as “common gender:” words either distinguish sex (or the sex is distinguished by the context) or else they do not distinguish sex.
If such words as parent, servant, teacher, ruler, relative, cousin, domestic, etc., do not show the sex to which the persons belong, they are neuter words.
26.Put in convenient form, the division of words according to sex, or the lack of it, is,—
(MASCULINE: Male beings.
Gender nouns
(FEMININE: Female beings.
Neuter nouns: Names of inanimate things, or of living beings whose sex cannot be determined.
27.The inflections for gender belong, of course, only to masculine and feminine nouns. Forms would be a more accurate word than inflections, since inflection applies only to the case of nouns.
There are three ways to distinguish the genders:—
(1) By prefixing a gender word to another word.
(2) By adding a suffix, generally to a masculine word.
(3) By using a different word for each gender.
I. Gender shown by Prefixes.
Very few of class I.
28.Usually the gender words he and she are prefixed to neuter words; as he-goatshe-goat, cock sparrowhen sparrow, he-bearshe-bear.
One feminine, woman, puts a prefix before the masculine man. Woman is a short way of writing wifeman.
II. Gender shown by Suffixes.
29.By far the largest number of gender words are those marked by suffixes. In this particular the native endings have been largely supplanted by foreign suffixes.
Native suffixes.
The native suffixes to indicate the feminine were -en and -ster. These remain in vixen and spinster, though both words have lost their original meanings.
The word vixen was once used as the feminine of fox by the Southern-English. For fox they said vox; for from they said vram; and for the older word fat they saidvat, as in wine vat. Hence vixen is for fyxen, from the masculine fox.
Spinster is a relic of a large class of words that existed in Old and Middle English,[1] but have now lost their original force as feminines. The old masculine answering tospinster was spinner; but spinster has now no connection with it.
The foreign suffixes are of two kinds:—
Foreign suffixes. Unaltered and little used.
(1) Those belonging to borrowed words, as czarina, señorita, executrix, donna. These are attached to foreign words, and are never used for words recognized as English.
Slightly changed and widely used.
(2) That regarded as the standard or regular termination of the feminine, -ess (French esse, Low Latin issa), the one most used. The corresponding masculine may have the ending -er (-or), but in most cases it has not. Whenever we adopt a new masculine word, the feminine is formed by adding this termination -ess.
Sometimes the -ess has been added to a word already feminine by the ending -ster; as seam-str-ess, song-str-ess. The ending -ster had then lost its force as a feminine suffix; it has none now in the words huckster, gamester, trickster, punster.
Ending of masculine not changed.
30.The ending -ess is added to many words without changing the ending of the masculine; as,—
  • baron—baroness
  • count—countess
  • lion—lioness
  • Jew—Jewess
  • heir—heiress
  • host—hostess
  • priest—priestess
  • giant—giantess
Masculine ending dropped.
The masculine ending may be dropped before the feminine -ess is added; as,—
  • abbot—abbess
  • negro—negress
  • murderer—murderess
  • sorcerer—sorceress
Vowel dropped before adding -ess.
The feminine may discard a vowel which appears in the masculine; as in—
  • actor—actress
  • master—mistress
  • benefactor—benefactress
  • emperor—empress
  • tiger—tigress
  • enchanter—enchantress
Empress has been cut down from emperice (twelfth century) and emperesse (thirteenth century), from Latin imperatricem.
Master and mistress were in Middle English maistermaistresse, from the Old French maistremaistresse.
31.When the older -en and -ster went out of use as the distinctive mark of the feminine, the ending -ess, from the French -esse, sprang into a popularity much greater than at present.
Ending -ess less used now than formerly.
Instead of saying doctress, fosteress, wagoness, as was said in the sixteenth century, or servauntesse, teacheresse,neighboresse, frendesse, as in the fourteenth century, we have dispensed with the ending in many cases, and either use a prefix word or leave the masculine to do work for the feminine also.
Thus, we say doctor (masculine and feminine) or woman doctor, teacher or lady teacher, neighbor (masculine and feminine), etc. We frequently use such words asauthor, editor, chairman, to represent persons of either sex.
NOTE.—There is perhaps this distinction observed: when we speak of a female as an active agent merely, we use the masculine termination, as, “George Eliot is theauthor of ‘Adam Bede;'” but when we speak purposely to denote a distinction from a male, we use the feminine, as, “George Eliot is an eminent authoress.”
III. Gender shown by Different Words.
32.In some of these pairs, the feminine and the masculine are entirely different words; others have in their origin the same root. Some of them have an interesting history, and will be noted below:—
  • bachelor—maid
  • boy—girl
  • brother—sister
  • drake—duck
  • earl—countess
  • father—mother
  • gander—goose
  • hart—roe
  • horse—mare
  • husband—wife
  • king—queen
  • lord—lady
  • wizard—witch
  • nephew—niece
  • ram—ewe
  • sir—madam
  • son—daughter
  • uncle—aunt
  • bull—cow
  • boar—sow
Girl originally meant a child of either sex, and was used for male or female until about the fifteenth century.
Drake is peculiar in that it is formed from a corresponding feminine which is no longer used. It is not connected historically with our word duck, but is derived fromened (duck) and an obsolete suffix rake (king). Three letters of ened have fallen away, leaving our word drake.
Gander and goose were originally from the same root word. Goose has various cognate forms in the languages akin to English (German Gans, Icelandic gás, Danishgaas, etc.). The masculine was formed by adding -a, the old sign of the masculine. This gansa was modified into gan-ra, gand-ra, finally gander; the d being inserted to make pronunciation easy, as in many other words.
Mare, in Old English mere, had the masculine mearh (horse), but this has long been obsolete.
Husband and wife are not connected in origin. Husband is a Scandinavian word (Anglo-Saxon hūsbonda from Icelandic hús-bóndi, probably meaning house dweller);wife was used in Old and Middle English to mean woman in general.
King and queen are said by some (Skeat, among others) to be from the same root word, but the German etymologist Kluge says they are not.
Lord is said to be a worn-down form of the Old English hlāf-weard (loaf keeper), written loverd, lhauerd, or lauerd in Middle English. Lady is from hlœ̄̄fdige(hlœ̄̄f meaning loaf, and dige being of uncertain origin and meaning).
Witch is the Old English wicce, but wizard is from the Old French guiscart (prudent), not immediately connected with witch, though both are ultimately from the same root.
Sir is worn down from the Old French sire (Latin senior). Madam is the French ma dame, from Latin mea domina.
Two masculines from feminines.
33.Besides gander and drake, there are two other masculine words that were formed from the feminine:—
Bridegroom, from Old English brȳd-guma (bride’s man). The r in groom has crept in from confusion with the word groom.
Widower, from the weakening of the ending -a in Old English to -e in Middle English. The older forms, widuwawiduwe, became identical, and a new masculine ending was therefore added to distinguish the masculine from the feminine (compare Middle English widuerwidewe).
34.Just as abstract ideas are personified (Sec. 16), material objects may be spoken of like gender nouns; for example,—
“Now, where the swift Rhone cleaves his way.”—Byron.
The Sun now rose upon the right:Out of the sea came he.—Coleridge.
And haply the Queen Moon is on her throne,Clustered around by all her starry Fays.—Keats.
Britannia needs no bulwarks,No towers along the steep;Her march is o’er the mountain waves,Her home is on the deep.—Campbell.
This is not exclusively a poetic use. In ordinary speech personification is very frequent: the pilot speaks of his boat as feminine; the engineer speaks so of his engine; etc.
Effect of personification.
In such cases the gender is marked by the pronoun, and not by the form of the noun. But the fact that in English the distinction of gender is confined to difference of sex makes these departures more effective.
35.In nouns, number means the mode of indicating whether we are speaking of one thing or of more than one.
36.Our language has two numbers,—singular and plural. The singular number denotes that one thing is spoken of; the plural, more than one.
37.There are three ways of changing the singular form to the plural:—
(1) By adding -en.
(2) By changing the root vowel.
(3) By adding -s (or -es).
The first two methods prevailed, together with the third, in Old English, but in modern English -s or -es has come to be the “standard” ending; that is, whenever we adopt a new word, we make its plural by adding -s or -es.
I. Plurals formed by the Suffix -en.
The -en inflection.
38.This inflection remains only in the word oxen, though it was quite common in Old and Middle English; for instance, eyen (eyes),treen (trees), shoon (shoes), which last is still used in Lowland Scotch. Hosen is found in the King James version of the Bible, andhousen is still common in the provincial speech in England.
39.But other words were inflected afterwards, in imitation of the old words in -en by making a double plural.
-En inflection imitated by other words.
Brethren has passed through three stages. The old plural was brothru, then brothre or brethre, finally brethren. The weakening of inflections led to this addition.
Children has passed through the same history, though the intermediate form childer lasted till the seventeenth century in literary English, and is still found in dialects; as,—
“God bless me! so then, after all, you’ll have a chance to see your childer get up like, and get settled.”—Quoted By De Quincey.
Kine is another double plural, but has now no singular.
In spite of wandering kine and other adverse circumstance.—Thoreau.
II. Plurals formed by Vowel Change.
40.Examples of this inflection are,—
  • man—men
  • foot—feet
  • goose—geese
  • louse—lice
  • mouse—mice
  • tooth—teeth
Some other words—as book, turf, wight, borough—formerly had the same inflection, but they now add the ending -s.
41.Akin to this class are some words, originally neuter, that have the singular and plural alike; such as deer, sheep, swine, etc.
Other words following the same usage are, pair, brace, dozen, after numerals (if not after numerals, or if preceded by the prepositions in, by, etc, they add -s): alsotrout, salmon; head, sail; cannon; heathen, folk, people.
The words horse and foot, when they mean soldiery, retain the same form for plural meaning; as,—
The foot are fourscore thousand,The horse are thousands ten.—Macaulay.
Lee marched over the mountain wall,—Over the mountains winding down,Horse and foot, into Frederick town.—Whittier.
III. Plurals formed by Adding -s or -es.
42.Instead of -s, the ending -es is added—
(1) If a word ends in a letter which cannot add -s and be pronounced. Such are box, cross, ditch, glass, lens, quartz, etc.
-Es added in certain cases.
If the word ends in a sound which cannot add -s, a new syllable is made; as, niche—niches, race—races, house—houses, prize—prizes, chaise—chaises, etc.
-Es is also added to a few words ending in -o, though this sound combines readily with -s, and does not make an extra syllable: cargo—cargoes, negro—negroes, hero—heroes, volcano—volcanoes, etc.
Usage differs somewhat in other words of this class, some adding -s, and some -es.
(2) If a word ends in -y preceded by a consonant (the y being then changed to i); e.g., fancies, allies, daisies, fairies.
Words in -ies.
Formerly, however, these words ended in -ie, and the real ending is therefore -s. Notice these from Chaucer (fourteenth century):—
Their old form.
The lilie on hir stalke grene.Of maladie the which he hadde endured.
And these from Spenser (sixteenth century):—
Be well aware, quoth then that ladie milde.At last fair Hesperus in highest skieHad spent his lampe.
(3) In the case of some words ending in –f or –fe, which have the plural in -ves: calfcalves, halfhalves, knifeknives, shelfshelves, etc.
Special Lists.
43.Material nouns and abstract nouns are always singular. When such words take a plural ending, they lose their identity, and go over to other classes (Secs. 15 and 17).
44.Proper nouns are regularly singular, but may be made plural when we wish to speak of several persons or things bearing the same name; e.g., the Washingtons, the Americas.
45.Some words are usually singular, though they are plural in form. Examples of these are, optics, economics, physics, mathematics, politics, and many branches of learning; also news, pains (care), molasses, summons, means: as,—
Politics, in its widest extent, is both the science and the art of government.—Century Dictionary.
So live, that when thy summons comes, etc.—Bryant.
It served simply as a means of sight.—Prof. Dana.
Means plural.
Two words, means and politics, may be plural in their construction with verbs and adjectives:—
Words, by strongly conveying the passions, by those means which we have already mentioned, fully compensate for their weakness in other respects.—Burke.
With great dexterity these means were now applied.—Motley.
By these means, I say, riches will accumulate.—Goldsmith.
Politics plural.
Cultivating a feeling that politics are tiresome.—G. W. Curtis.
The politics in which he took the keenest interest were politics scarcely deserving of the name.—Macaulay.
Now I read all the politics that come out.—Goldsmith.
46.Some words have no corresponding singular.
  • aborigines
  • amends
  • annals
  • assets
  • antipodes
  • scissors
  • thanks
  • spectacles
  • vespers
  • victuals
  • matins
  • nuptials
  • oats
  • obsequies
  • premises
  • bellows
  • billiards
  • dregs
  • gallows
  • tongs
Occasionally singular words.
Sometimes, however, a few of these words have the construction of singular nouns. Notice the following:—
They cannot get on without each other any more than one blade of a scissors can cut without the other.—J. L. Laughlin.
A relic which, if I recollect right, he pronounced to have been a tongs.—Irving.
Besides this, it is furnished with a forceps.—Goldsmith.
The air,—was it subdued when…the wind was trained only to turn a windmill, carry off chaff, or work in a bellows?—Prof. Dana.
In Early Modern English thank is found.
What thank have ye?—Bible
47.Three words were originally singular, the present ending -s not being really a plural inflection, but they are regularly construed as plural: alms, eaves, riches.
two plurals.
48.A few nouns have two plurals differing in meaning.
  • brother—brothers (by blood), brethren (of a society or church).
  • cloth—cloths (kinds of cloth), clothes (garments).
  • die—dies (stamps for coins, etc.), dice (for gaming).
  • fish—fish (collectively), fishes (individuals or kinds).
  • genius—geniuses (men of genius), genii (spirits).
  • index—indexes (to books), indices (signs in algebra).
  • pea—peas (separately), pease (collectively).
  • penny—pennies (separately), pence (collectively).
  • shot—shot (collective balls), shots (number of times fired).
In speaking of coins, twopence, sixpence, etc., may add -s, making a double plural, as two sixpences.
One plural, two meanings.
49.Other words have one plural form with two meanings,—one corresponding to the singular, the other unlike it.
  • custom—customs: (1) habits, ways; (2) revenue duties.
  • letter—letters: (1) the alphabet, or epistles; (2) literature.
  • number—numbers: (1) figures; (2) poetry, as in the lines,—
I lisped in numbers, for the numbers came.—Pope.
Tell me not, in mournful numbers.—Longfellow.
Numbers also means issues, or copies, of a periodical.
  • pain—pains: (1) suffering; (2) care, trouble,
  • part—parts: (1) divisions; (2) abilities, faculties.
Two classes of compound words.
50.Compound words may be divided into two classes:—
(1) Those whose parts are so closely joined as to constitute one word. These make the last part plural.
  • courtyard
  • dormouse
  • Englishman
  • fellow-servant
  • fisherman
  • Frenchman
  • forget-me-not
  • goosequill
  • handful
  • mouthful
  • cupful
  • maidservant
  • pianoforte
  • stepson
  • spoonful
  • titmouse
(2) Those groups in which the first part is the principal one, followed by a word or phrase making a modifier. The chief member adds -s in the plural.
  • aid-de-camp
  • attorney at law
  • billet-doux
  • commander in chief
  • court-martial
  • cousin-german
  • father-in-law
  • knight-errant
  • hanger-on
NOTE.—Some words ending in -man are not compounds of the English word man, but add -s; such as talisman, firman, Brahman, German, Norman, Mussulman,Ottoman.
51.Some groups pluralize both parts of the group; as man singer, manservant, woman servant, woman singer.
Two methods in use for names with titles.
52.As to plurals of names with titles, there is some disagreement among English writers. The title may be plural, as the Messrs. Allen, the Drs. Brown, the Misses Rich; or the name may be pluralized.
The former is perhaps more common in present-day use, though the latter is often found; for example,—
Then came Mr. and Mrs. Briggs, and then the three Miss Spinneys, then Silas Peckham.—Dr. Holmes.
Our immortal Fielding was of the younger branch of the Earls of Denbigh, who drew their origin from the Counts of Hapsburgh.—Gibbon.
The Miss Flamboroughs were reckoned the best dancers in the parish.—Goldsmith.
The Misses Nettengall’s young ladies come to the Cathedral too.—Dickens.
The Messrs. Harper have done the more than generous thing by Mr. Du Maurier.—The Critic.
53.A number of foreign words have been adopted into English without change of form. These are said to be domesticated, and retain their foreign plurals.
Others have been adopted, and by long use have altered their power so as to conform to English words. They are then said to be naturalized, or Anglicized, orEnglished.
Domesticated words.
The domesticated words may retain the original plural. Some of them have a secondary English plural in -s or -es.
Find in the dictionary the plurals of these words:—
  • apparatus
  • appendix
  • axis
  • datum
  • erratum
  • focus
  • formula
  • genus
  • larva
  • medium
  • memorandum
  • nebula
  • radius
  • series
  • species
  • stratum
  • terminus
  • vertex
  • analysis
  • antithesis
  • automaton
  • basis
  • crisis
  • ellipsis
  • hypothesis
  • parenthesis
  • phenomenon
  • thesis
Anglicized words.
When the foreign words are fully naturalized, they form their plurals in the regular way; as,—
  • bandits
  • cherubs
  • dogmas
  • encomiums
  • enigmas
  • focuses
  • formulas
  • geniuses
  • herbariums
  • indexes
  • seraphs
  • apexes
Usage varies in plurals of letters, figures, etc.
54.Letters, figures, etc., form their plurals by adding -s or ‘s. Words quoted merely as words, without reference to their meaning, also add -s or ‘s; as, “His 9’s (or 9s) look like 7’s (or 7s),” “Avoid using too many and’s (or ands),” “Change the +’s (or +s) to -‘s(or -s).”
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