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Gender of Italian Nouns

Genere del Nome

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In Italian, the gender of a noun can be maschile (masculine) or femminile (feminine). Regarding people and animals, the distinction is in relation to sex; nouns of male living beings are masculine: padre (father), scrittore (writer), infermiere (nurse), gatto (cat), leone (lion), while nouns of female living beings are feminine: madre (mother), scrittrice (writer), infermiera (nurse), gatta (cat), leonessa (lioness).

However there is not always a correspondence between "grammar" gender and "natural" gender. There are, in fact, several nouns of the type that, while considered feminine in grammatical gender, denote men: la guardia (guard), la vedetta (sentry), la sentinella (sentry), la recluta (recruit), la spia (spy).

Conversely there are other nouns that refer to women, even though they are grammatically considered the male gender: il soprano, il mezzosoprano, il contralto.

In these instances, the agreement of words that refer to the noun should take into account the grammatical gender:

La guardia è svelta.
The guard is quick.

La sentinella è attenta.
The sentinel is attentive.

Il soprano è bravo. (not bravo)
The soprano is good.

Le reclute sono arrivate. (not arrivati).
The recruits arrived.

For the nouns of things (both concrete and abstract) the distinction between genere maschile or genere femminile is purely conventional; only with use over time have words such as abito, fiume, and clima been assigned the masculine gender, while others such as cenere, sedia, crisi have been established as feminine.

Masculine Or Feminine?
Besides experience and consulting the dictionary, there are two elements that can help determine the gender of a noun: the significance and the ending of the word.

According to the meaning, the following are masculine:

  • the names of trees: l'abete (fir), l'arancio (orange), il melo (apple), il pino (pine), il pioppo (poplar), l'ulivo (olive); but there are also those that are feminine: la palma (palm), la quercia (oak), la vite (grapevine);
  • the names of metals and chemical elements: l'oro (gold), l'argento (silver), il ferro (iron), il rame (copper), il bronzo (bronze), l'ossigeno (oxygen), l'idrogeno (hydrogen), l'uranio (uranium);
  • the names of the months and days of the week (except Sunday): l'afoso agosto (muggy August), il freddo dicembre (cold December), il lunedì (Monday), il sabato (Saturday);
  • the names of mountains, seas, rivers, and lakes: il Cervino (the Matterhorn), l'Etna (Mount Etna), l'Everest (Mount Everest), i Pirenei (the Pyrenees), l'Atlantico (the Atlantic), il Tirreno (the Tyrrhenian Sea), il Po (the Po), il Tevere (the Tiber), il Tamigi (the Thames), il Danubio (the Danube), il Garda, il Trasimeno. But many names of mountains are feminine: la Maiella, le Alpi (the Alps), le Dolomiti (the Dolomites), le Ande (the Andes); as well as many names of rivers: La Senna (the Seine), la Loira (the Loire), la Garonna (the Garonne);
  • the names of the cardinal points: il Nord (il Settentrione), il Sud (il Mezzogiorno, il Meridione), l'Est (il Levante, l'Oriente), l'Ovest (il Ponente, l'Occidente).

According to the meaning, the following are feminine:

  • the name of fruit: la ciliegia (cherry), la mela (apple), la pera (pear), l'albicocca (apricot), la pesca (peach), la banana (banana). What is remarkable, however, is the number of fruits that are considered masculine: il limone (lemon), il dattero (date), il fico (fig), l'ananas (pineapple);
  • the names of the sciences and in general abstract notions: la matematica (mathematics), la chimica (chemistry), la biologia (biology), la linguistica (linguistics), la bontà (goodness), la giustizia (justice), la fede (faith), la pace (peace);
  • the names of continents, states, regions, cities, and islands: l'Europa (Europe), l'Africa (Africa); l'Italia (Italy), la Francia (France), la Spagna (Spain), l'India (India), l'Argentina (Argentina); la Toscana, la Calabria, l'Umbria, le Marche; la dotta Bologna, la Napoli degli Angioini; la Sicilia, la Sardegna, la Groenlandia (Greenland), le Antille (West Indies). But there are also many names considered masculine, including those of states and regions: il Belgio (Belgium), il Perù (Peru), l'Egitto (Egypt), gli Stati Uniti (United States): il Piemonte, il Lazio; and those of cities and islands: il Cairo, il Madagascar.

Depending on the ending, the following are masculine:

  • nouns ending in -o: il libro, il prezzo, il quadro, il vaso, il muro. There are not many instances in which nouns ending in -o are feminine: la mano, la radio, la dinamo, la moto, l'auto, la foto, la virago, la biro. By convention eco in the singular is feminine (un'eco, una forte eco), but frequently is considered masculine as well; in the plural it is always regarded as masculine (gli echi)
  • nouns ending in a consonant, mainly of foreign origin: lo sport, il bar, il gas, il tram, il film; but there are also foreign words ending in a consonant that are feminine: la gang, la holding.

The following are feminine:

  • nouns ending in -a: la casa, la sedia, la penna, la terra, la pianta. However, many are masculine. Apart from nouns ending in -a that apply to both genders (such as il giornalista / la giornalista), various nouns derived from Greek are masculine, such as those that end in -ma: il poema, il teorema, il problema, il diploma, il dramma; and others such as il vaglia, il pigiama, il nulla;
  • nouns ending in -i: la crisi, l'analisi, la tesi, la diagnosi, l'oasi. But brindisi is masculine;
  • nouns ending in - and in -: la bontà, la civiltà, la verità, l'austerità, la virtù, la gioventù, la servitù.

Nouns ending in -e, unless they belong to certain classes of suffixes (-zione, -tore, -ite), can be either gender: il ponte, l'amore, il fiume, il dente; la mente, la fame, la notte, la chiave.

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