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In Russian, most nouns ending with -a are considered feminine and decline accordingly (with -a considered an ending). But English has no declensions and no -a ending. So I wonder whether you perceive nouns ending with -a (such as "America" for instance) as somewhat feminine?

closed as primarily opinion-based by 200_success, user6951, M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ, ʇolɐǝz ǝɥʇ qoq, user3169 Jan 23 '15 at 19:36

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  • What do you mean by "perceive to be feminine"? Are you talking about proper nouns only, or common nouns too (e.g. ejecta)? – 200_success Jan 23 '15 at 18:05
  • @200_success is not ejects plural? – Anixx Jan 26 '15 at 6:42
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No, we do not. Names for people ending in "a" are more often female than male, but that's only for people. Perhaps some people carry over this psychological bias to other nouns, but I doubt it.

In general, native English speakers do not perceive nouns as having gender and we find grammatical gender in other languages a little weird!

  • So if you to draw a picture of a person named America (as opposed to Uncle Sam) or Antarctica, and personifying the continent, you are equally likely drawing a woman and a bearded man? – Anixx Jan 23 '15 at 11:46
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    A person named America would probably be a woman, since for people's names, ending in "-a" is feminine. So if you say "draw a person named America" I'd draw a woman. If you said "draw someone personifying America" I'd probably draw Uncle Sam. – hunter Jan 23 '15 at 11:48
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    also, nations and abstractions (like Liberty) are often personified as feminine, apart from existing icons like Uncle Sam. – eques Jan 23 '15 at 14:21
  • I think the important thing to see here, is that although concepts may have gender (often feminine for things without natural gender, like America) in English, words do not. Even "male" and "female" themselves don't feel very different at the word level. They simply signify different concepts. – Owen Jan 23 '15 at 17:27
  • @Owen what's difference between words and concepts? – Anixx Jan 23 '15 at 18:01
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Definitely not

For people's names, maybe. For other nouns, no.

I'm a native English speaker, and when I started learning Romance languages, the concept that inanimate objects had gender was maddening to me, because this concept does not exist in English.

When someone says "insert a comma" or "watch out for lava" or "sit on the sofa" or "order a pizza" or "play the tuba", English speakers have no connotation at all that the object in discussion is feminine or masculine.

In fact, although I understand that there are reasons why nouns have gender in some languages, I still kind of resent having to learn and remember arbitrary genders of nouns. In my mind, if it doesn't have genitals, it doesn't have gender.

Mark Twain captured the English-speaker's perspective on gender in German famously:

To continue with the German genders: a tree is male, its buds are female, its leaves are neuter; horses are sexless, dogs are male, cats are female -- tomcats included, of course; a person's mouth, neck, bosom, elbows, fingers, nails, feet, and body are of the male sex, and his head is male or neuter according to the word selected to signify it, and not according to the sex of the individual who wears it -- for in Germany all the women either male heads or sexless ones; a person's nose, lips, shoulders, breast, hands, and toes are of the female sex; and his hair, ears, eyes, chin, legs, knees, heart, and conscience haven't any sex at all. The inventor of the language probably got what he knew about a conscience from hearsay.

Less famously, Dinosaur comics described gender in French like this:

In French, each noun is either a boy or a girl, which means you've got a 50% chance of making a mistake that does not impact the ACTUAL meaning of your sentence, but which still makes you wrong. This is how French says "screw you" to every student of the language.

As others have noted, there are a few exceptions where English speakers personify an object as female - ships and "the motherland" are two examples - but these are very few. I think they are generally a means of expressing affection, such as one might have for a wife or mother. And that gender is associated with the thing itself, not the spelling of the word.

Certainly we don't think of gender just because a word ends in "a".

  • "this concept does not exist in English" - well I often encounter ships and countries referred as feminine in English. One impressive example was when a person called Russian ship Admiral Kuznetsov with "her" pronoun. I could not imagine how it was possible. – Anixx Jan 23 '15 at 17:41
  • ...and my question was not about using personal pronouns. I understand the rules for pronouns, but my question was whether you perceive them as somewhat feminine, in the sense that if you personalize them an an allegory or mascot or think of them as animate heroes, what gender you would choose. – Anixx Jan 23 '15 at 17:47
  • By the way, what about proper names of non-animate objects? I often heared Russia called "she" or "her". Is it equally likely for any country regardless of the final phoneme or more likely for -a-ending countries? – Anixx Jan 23 '15 at 17:52
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    America (the country) is feminine. America (the person) is feminine. Cuba (the country) is feminine. Cuba (the person) is masculine. We make no distinction other than trends that get associated with one gender or another. – paqogomez Jan 23 '15 at 17:57
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    Just as it is difficult for english speakers to understand gender in nouns, so also is it difficult for non english speakers to remove gender from the language. – paqogomez Jan 23 '15 at 18:19
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From Gender in English:

Traditionally ships, even ships named after men such as USS Barry, countries, and oceans have been referred to using the feminine pronouns. The origins of this practice are not certain - it is not, as is sometimes postulated, a remnant of Old English's grammatical gender (in Old English, a ship, or "scip", was neuter, and a boat, or "bāt", was masculine).[citation needed]

It is currently in decline (though still more common for ships, particularly in nautical usage, than for countries), and in Modern English, calling objects "she" is an optional figure of speech, while in American English it is advised against by The Chicago Manual of Style.[12]

I have also heard vehicles other than ships personified and feminized, though this is as often as not done derisively – for when a man spends so much time working on or driving a treasured car that it is referred to as his girlfriend or wife, and so is a she.

But in all cases, this is not grammatical gender, it is supposed to be the actual gender of the thing that you're referring to. "Man" isn't a "masculine noun," it's a "noun which refers to a male." Even in cases where she or her are applied to inanimate objects, that is because those are objects are being personified and feminized, not because the nouns themselves are in any way feminine. When, say, "liberty" is referred to with she, the speaker is referring to some "Lady Liberty," liberty incarnate in the form of a woman (and sometimes, Lady Liberty might literally be a woman in a work).

Grammatically, he and she can be swapped at will, and it will not cause a sentence to become ungrammatical – just confusing because it will be difficult to be sure to whom the pronoun refers. English has no grammatical gender.

4

In English, people's names that end with "-a" are usually feminine, like "Anna" and "Katrina" and "Miranda", while masculine names tend to have consonants, like "Robert" and "Carl" and "Roger". Boys' names are often turned into girls' names by adding an "-a", like "Paul", boy, "Paula", girl; or "Alexander", boy, "Alexandra", girl. But that's only a very general pattern and there are lots of exceptions: "Karen" and "Allison" are common girls' names. (I can't think of a common boys' name that ends with an "-a", but I wouldn't rule it out.)

But non-name nouns that end with an -a don't necessarily have any feminine connotations. "Area"? "Camera"? "Cola"? Not particularly feminine to me or most other English-speakers, I don't think.

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    usually, names ending in A are feminine, I suppose.. With exceptions like, Cuba, Joshua, Ezra... Attila the Hun was not very feminine, and Harrison Ford would probably disagree that Indiana is a feminine name. – stephenbayer Jan 23 '15 at 16:57
  • @stephenbayer Hey, I'm told that Attila the Hun had a sweat, caring, feminine side. – Jay Jan 23 '15 at 18:59
  • @stephenbayer "Joshua" is an excellent example of a pretty common boys' name that ends with an "-a". Thanks. – Jay Jan 23 '15 at 19:01
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Americans do have a tendency to think of certain things as female: (Usually things that can be perceived as having their own personalities)

"She's a good, old car."

"She's a temperamental boat."

"She's a heck of a storm."

"She's a sturdy house."

It's considered a quaint and folksy tradition, but it is still very common. It doesn't matter how they are spelled.

  • The difference is that ALL objects that you describe are feminine. Whereas in other languages, some of those things would be thought of as masculine. – paqogomez Jan 23 '15 at 18:01

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