In English our nouns don't have genders, on the whole.... Exceptionally, when we refer to a ship as a she, we are assigning to it a gender. Incidentally, the Romans also made ship feminine*. English pronouns (in contrast with nouns) do have gender, just like Latin.
Latin has three genders for nouns, pronouns, and adjectives:
- feminine, and
This is the order in which Latin genders are listed for adjectives and pronouns; that is, the form for the masculine comes first, followed by the feminine, and then the neuter.
Why Are Words One Gender Or Another?
For some words gender is terribly obvious and it would take perversity of a language to alter the perceived natural gender. For non-procreative objects in a language that insists objects be one gender or another, there has to be something more, even if it is arbitrary. Most people will dismiss the mystery of noun gender by saying simply that there is no direct relationship between linguistic gender and social gender: there is no particular reason why a ship is feminine. A ship wasn't looked at as a woman. However, not everyone agrees. There are various theories about why words are categorized as falling under one gender or another. One complicated version explains feminine words as residuals of an earlier way of categorizing items as units or collectives.
Basis for Gender
In Latin, the word 'man' is masculine (vir) and the word 'woman' (femina) is feminine. While attributing genders to words based on signification and social conventions works for many words, there are exceptions. Words for rivers, winds, and months are masculine (Rhenus, Notus, Martius); countries, towns, islands, and trees are feminine (Graecia, Massilia, Delos, pinus). In addition, Latin has items of neuter gender. Words that are neuter always end in an -a in the plural for nominative and accusative (subject and object cases). In the singular, the nominative and accusative are the same for each individual word. Often the ending is -um.
To know what the gender is of a word in Latin, it is a good idea to look it up and memorize it. If you don't know the gender of an object, it can be tricky figuring out how to understand a Latin sentence. Verbs don't care whether nouns are masculine or feminine, but adjectives do. An adjective must agree in gender, as well as number and case, with the noun or pronoun it modifies.
(1)magna______________________ cum_ laude
great-abl._sg._f.(adjective) with praise-abl._sg._f.(noun)
magna is in the ablative singular feminine to modify the feminine laude.
bonus is in the nominative singular masculine to modify the masculine vir
longum is nominative or accusative singular neuter to modify iter which is also nominative or accusative singular. Note that just because they are neuters and in the same case does not mean that the endings are the same. What is required is that nominative and accusative neuter endings be the same for each word.
Please let me know if I've made an error.
* I received the following comment about the idea that modern English nouns lack gender and on the gender of the word "ship":
I thought I'd try to look this up, but I haven't had much success -- yet. I did find another word for "ship" that complicates the issue further:
On your blog you said: "In English our nouns don't have genders, on the whole.... Exceptionally, when we refer to a ship as a she, we are assigning to it a gender, and, incidentally, the same gender the Romans assigned, feminine."
Actually I think it is more helpful to think of the vast majority of English nouns to be masculine. The articles that come to English from Anglo-Saxon denoted gender, and "the" tells us that the following noun was masculine. The articles "theo" and "theat" were feminine and neuter, respectively. The example of the ship that you give (an intriguing linguistic fossil) would be in Anglo-Saxon "theo scorpu". What I don't know is whether or not modern English refers to ships as feminine for Latinate or Anglo-Saxon reasons. Sometimes it is tough to tell when words become part of a language exactly where they come from. "Chalice" for example in Latin is "calyx", and in Anglo-Saxon "caelc". It's first recorded use in the British Isles is in the Book of Kells in the phrase "In watres caldes caelc", or "a cup of cold water".
Gender. Every noun was masculine, feminine or neuter, and the gender of a noun did not depend on its "natural" gender. Thus scip ship and wif woman were neuter, wærscipe prudence and wifman woman were masculine, and snotornes wisdom and mægð maiden were feminine.
~Old English Aerobics