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Google ngram shows 'lion mating' word, but not lioness mating, and so goes with most of the species of animals. Why?

Do native speakers prefer males for describing 'mating'? Will it be incorrect if we describe females mating? Is there any such grammar rule?

I want to learn the use of the verb 'mating'. Is it used only with masculine gender?

  • This is an interesting question! +1 Also, we often say 'lions mating' without mentioning the poor female gender! :) – Maulik V Jan 7 '15 at 12:52
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    Usually it takes one of each. – The Photon Jan 7 '15 at 23:26
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The main idea is that lions does not mean male lions. It means lions.

Chickens also mate, and indeed cats.
I rarely, if ever, have seen mention of roosters or tomcats mating.
Or bulls, stallions or for that matter, bitches, sows or hens.

So the assumption that the male word is used is incorrect — the general term for the animal species is used, and in many cases that just happens to be the same as for the male member of the species, but certainly not always!

The use of an exclusive single-gender term would be confusing if mating is used to describe the actual producing of offspring — this would, at least in case of most animals, take a male and a female of the species. So using either an exclusive male or an exclusive female designation would be wrong!

When same-sex individuals of a species do engage in a mating ritual (and that is certainly not unheard of) I think it is usually referred to as sex or sexual activity, or indeed mimicking of the mating ritual. I may be completely wrong here, but in my experience, mating is usually (maybe always?) used to refer to the actual reproductive rituals, not any other (social) bonding (sexual or otherwise) between individuals.

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    To your point, "bulls mating" would get strange looks from a farm-hand, trying to figure out how an all-male group would mate. – Cort Ammon Jan 9 '15 at 2:34
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Actually, most of the time it's a male and a female mating…

But as far as the grammar is considered:

In mixed groups, the gender term is chosen that would be used to talk about the species in general. Therefore you would say:

  • lions mating in Africa
  • cats mating in the alley
  • cattle mating in the field
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    And "ducks mating" for an example of the case where the word used for the species is the same as that used for the female, but not the male (drakes). – Jon Hanna Jan 7 '15 at 16:39
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    Also, "deer mating" when you have "doe" and "buck" for the female and male, respectively. – fluffy Jan 7 '15 at 18:17
  • @JonHanna in fact "duck" is even used of a famous incident involving 2 drakes, one already deceased. – Chris H Jan 8 '15 at 17:21
  • @ChrisH yes, though in that case (and the much more common case of drakes engaging in homosexual mating with living drakes) because both ducks were drakes one can indeed freely choose between ducks and drakes in how one decides to describe the incident. – Jon Hanna Jan 8 '15 at 17:25
  • @JonHanna, I don't know if you meant to make anyone think of this or similar cases, but once the thought was there... You are of course right about the choice of words. – Chris H Jan 8 '15 at 17:28
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"Mating" by definition normally requires that both sexes participate.

Perhaps your confusion comes from thinking that "lion" refers exclusively to males. It doesn't. While a "lioness" is exclusively female, a "lion" can be either male or female. Traditionally in English, feminine words referred exclusively to females, but masculine words could refer either specifically to males, or generally to both males and females. For example, if you say, "Man is an intelligent being", "man" there is normally understood to mean human beings in general, not just males. We've had discussions on this forum about the use of the pronoun "he" to refer to either a male or a female: that used to be the common usage, though today many object to it as sexist and potentially misleading.

You could talk about a male creature mating if you were talking about one specific individual. Like, "The biologists decided to follow one lion in the wild to use him as a case study of the behavior of lions. They studied how he hunted, mated, etc" Presumably the mating would involve females, but in this case you are looking at it from the perspective of that one male. Of course you could do the same from the perspective of an individual female.

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  • +1, ... but as with almost everything in English, there are some exceptions to the "feminine words refer exclusively to females" tendency. – Glen_b Jan 8 '15 at 22:31
  • @Glen_b, could you give a few examples? I can't think of any. – James Jan 9 '15 at 17:39
  • @DJMcMayhem "cow" is one example. – Dan Getz Jan 9 '15 at 17:51
  • @DJMcMayhem: "Ducks" is another. – Stephie Jan 9 '15 at 20:23
  • @DJMcMayhem "goose" is a third. – Glen_b Jan 9 '15 at 23:29

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