Noun Gender

Discussion in 'Grammar & Pronunciation' started by McCracken, Apr 4, 2007.

  1. McCracken

    McCracken Well-Known Member

    I have finally taken the plunge and decided that it is time to tackle the subject of cases - it is driving me mad! I understand the whys and hows of when to use each case (Latin at school!!) but hat is giving me the most difficulty is how to recognise the correct gender of a noun. Local Lingo gives a little help but there seem to be more exceptions and irregularities than "normalities".

    Am I right or am I missing something simple and obvious? Or is it just a case (no pun intended) of just becoming familiar with what is what?

    I use the J Fronek dictionary and, unless I am missing something there to, the identification of gender is not given with any noun.

    Even the multicoloured version of Lida Hola's book does not give many clues as to any set rules to aid identification.

    If anyone can give me some advice, I would be very grateful.
  2. dzurisova

    dzurisova Well-Known Member

    I'm probably wrong most the time but I go with "if it doesn't end in an 'a', 'e', or 'o', then it must be masculine.

    'a' & 'e' being Feminine and 'o' being Neuter.

    I figure that rule makes for a good guess and if I'm wrong, what the heck, the Czechs will get a good laugh, but they will still understand what I'm trying to say/write.
  3. McCracken

    McCracken Well-Known Member

    Thanks, I'll give that a go. I always get my excuses in before I speak or write and no-one seems to mind if I make a pig's ear of it!!!

    However, I did think that the time had come to at least TRY to get things right!
  4. wer

    wer Well-Known Member

    The genders are typically marked with “m” (= masculine), “f” (= feminine) and “n” (= neuters) written after the headword. The Czech analogous shorts are “m.” (= mužský), “ž.” (= ženský) and “s./stř.” (= střední). Unfortunately, this information is ommited in all English-Czech on-line dictionaries I know, but you can use

    Dzurisovak, you’re absolutely right you’re wrong :wink:. Even the model nouns don’t respect your rules.
    Not good rule at all - maybe: “neuters end typically in a vowel” (of course there’re exceptions, some words of foreign origin and the like).

    Animate words ending in “-a” could be masculine or feminine.
    Inanimate words ending in “-a” are most likely feminine (but there’re also neuters of foreign origin ending in “-a”).

    No, such words could be of all genders.

    But masculines ending in “-e” end typically in “-ce” (there’re some masculines which don’t respect this rule, but they’re neuters originally and they’re rare).

    Yes, this works for all words of Czech origin.

    OK, some principles.

    The most trivial one: “Czech nouns tend to respect the real gender”. That means nouns describing females are feminine, words describing males are masculine and words describing the youngs (babies) are neuter (of model “kuře”). Unlike in English, this is right even for animals - i.e. “lev” (= lion) is masculine, “lvice” (= lioness) is feminine and “lvíče” (= lion cub) is neuter. Of course, this is useless for inanimate things.

    Another principle is the determining of genders from the suffixes (it must be really a suffix, not a part of word stem). Some examples:

    -el, ek, ák, -ík, -ec, -áč, -ač -> masculine
    -ka, -yně, -ice, -ost -> feminine
    -ení -> neuter

    This principle is not good to learn, but you can acquire it in practise.
  5. dzurisova

    dzurisova Well-Known Member

    Hmmm... it must be pure luck then because each lesson my tutor has me say the vocabulary words and say TEN, TA, or TO before each word. I use this rule and each week, I get most of them right. :shock: :)

    I only apply this rule to words in pad jedna form so I guess that gives the rule a greater chance of correct answers. :lol:

    However, you are right that even the model nouns don't follow this synthetic rule. Yet, it's been working for me much of the time so far. :lol: :oops:

    Maybe it's not the rule at all. Maybe I have some kind of inner feeling of what gender the word might be! :p
  6. McCracken

    McCracken Well-Known Member

    Thank you for the "pravidla" link - that looks very useful.

    I always assumed the "real gender" suggestion (only as a reasoned guess!) but I am coming to the conclusion that there seem to be no hard and fast rules on this subject as there appear to be as many exceptions as there are words that conform to the rules - is that a fair conclusion?

    It strikes me that if you are a native speaker you just learn what is correct as you grow up and learn the language and understand a particular word's gender because that is just the way it is. For those of us starting at, shall we say, a slightly later stage in life (!) I guess it is just something that will come with familiarity (or not!).

    As I explain to my Czech friends, if their knowledge of the language is represented by a large glass of beer, my knowledge and vocabulary would fit in one of the small bubbles rising up the side of the glass! If I keep within the bubble I am OK but I am lost by anything outside of the bubble. The trouble with that is that I am the only one who knows what is actually inside the bubble!!!!!!!
  7. Polednikova

    Polednikova Well-Known Member

    I love it! That's a very good way of looking at it, McCraken. You're better than I am, though. I usually can't even remember what I know is lurking somewhere in my particular bubble and even when I can, I can't pronounce it properly! Still, I've only been at it for three months so there's hope...
  8. Qcumber

    Qcumber Well-Known Member

    This thread has drawn my attention to the fact that my Czech-French dictionary gives the gender of French terms, but not that of Czech entries.
    e.g. "sazba 1 cátka tarif [tarif] m"

    The corresponding French-Czech dictionary, does the same.
    eg. tarif [tarif] m 1 obch tarif, sazba, stanovená cena, taxa"

    It's obviously a double shortcoming.
  9. scrimshaw

    scrimshaw Well-Known Member

    I really have to agree with you guys, noting the gender in the dictionary would help a lot.
    Otherwise, I am like dzurisovak, go by some pretty general rules that I hope will increase the odds of my guess being right.
  10. Polednikova

    Polednikova Well-Known Member

    I asked my Czech teacher why Czech/English dictionaries don't have noun genders marked. He said that language teachers have often raised it with the publishers but are told that it is such a small market that it would be too expensive to produce.

    Now I can understand that might have been the case before computers but I can't believe that they can't find a language enthusiast who would love such a mind-numbing job!
  11. GlennInFlorida

    GlennInFlorida Well-Known Member

    Nina Trnka's little dictionary has a lot of short-comings but it does have gender
  12. Eleshar

    Eleshar Well-Known Member

    Well, there is no general rule of noun gender according to its form:

    -a ending - generally feminine but not without exception:

    žena - woman: female
    předseda - chairman/president: male
    drama - drama/play: neuter (foreign origin)

    -e ending - generally neuter and feminine, but still exceptions there are!

    růže - rose: female
    kuře - chicken: neuter
    moře - sea: neuter (different declension)
    soudce - judge: male
    kníže - prince: male (but declension as a neuter) or neuter (archaic)

    -o ending - all words of slavic origin are neuters, does not apply for foreign words:

    město - town/city: neuter
    italian names ending -o (e.g.: Montano): male

    consonant ending - either feminine or masculine
    stůl - table: male
    hůl - stick: female

    It is generally logical (except some cases) - the masculine represents males, feminines females. But the problem is: animals, thing, everything else.

    There is also problem with markedness/unmarkedness. Generally, the masculine is considered unmarked, it can mean both males and females. In other words - marked member of the pair says something about the presence of a trait (be the trait positive or negative, in this case the trait is feminity) and the unmarked does not say about it anything at all.
    For example:
    "studenti" (male students) can refer to group of male students, group of students of both sexes and sometimes even female students.
    "studentky" (female students) can refer to nothing but a group of female students.

    "Oni byli" - they (males/males and females/females) were
    "Ony byly" - they (only and only females) were

    This is applicable for humans.

    For animals, it is muchmore complicated.
    "Kráva" (cow) can refer to female (cow) and male (bull)
    "Býk" (bull) can refer only to male (bull) - it is the marked member of the pair

    "Pes" (dog) can refer to male (dog) and female (bitch)
    "Fena! (bitch) can refer only to female (bitch) - it is the marked member of the pair

    These examples are, by accident, similar in Czech and in English, but there are differences:
    liška - can refer to either female fox (vixen) or male fox (fox)
    lišák - can refer only to male fox (fox) - marked member of the pair

    fox - can refer to either male fox (lišák) or female fox (liška)
    vixen - can refer only to female fox (liška) - marked member of the pair
  13. wer

    wer Well-Known Member

    No, only all words of Czech origin (exluding male/female names).

    :eek: :eek: :eek: That isn’t right. Foreign (including Italian) nouns ending in “-o” are typically neuter.
    Only when used as male/female name it is masculine/feminine. But this is right for all names regardless the ending, original gender and original language.

    :eek: :eek: :eek: Maybe in Prague, but not in the country! :twisted:
    Kráva is only female cow. You can use “tur”, “skot”, “dobytek” (all masculine) to refere to both male and female cows.
  14. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member

    :?: :?: :?: Hmm... Never heard that. Is this a colloquiallism, or is this true in proper Czech as well?
  15. wer

    wer Well-Known Member

    I’m not sure of Eleshar’s term “markedness”, maybe “specificity” or “definiteness” is better.

    The feminine form is used only for a group of females and the masculine form is used for a group of males or for a mixed group or for a group of persons of non-specified sex (and in the last case it can happen it’s a group of females only).

    Simply, the masculine is the basic form.
  16. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member

    Okay. Thanks, wer and Eleshar.
  17. McCracken

    McCracken Well-Known Member

    I have found that there are gender indicators in the CZ-ENG section of my dictionary but not in the ENG-CZ section. Thus, with a little extra work I can get the information I need if I am writing Czech.

    However, the lack of any standard rules does make it very difficult when trying to maintain a spoken conversation.

    Nonetheless, thank you all very much for your help.

    Plurals next.............. ;-)
  18. Eleshar

    Eleshar Well-Known Member

    Markedness = Příznakovost
    Marked member = Přiznakový člen
    For further questions in this matter, I recomend to search through some work of Roman Jakobson.

    I should have said "italian proper names"

    Well, that is slightly more complicated. In spoken language, it is completely natural to refer to a group of girls with the pronoun "oni". In written language, it is regarded as incorrect I think. But in my opinion, here it should depend on what you want to say. If you would like to emphasise their feminity (or rather that the group is composed only of females), you use "ony". But if you speak about them in rather general way, then even if you know that there are girls and girls only, you can use masculine form.
    It is a complicated matter and I would say that if you speak about a group that is generally not supposed to be composed solely of females, you should use generic masculine (to put it more generally, if you do not speak about a group of whatever entities that distinguishe between marked and unmarked subgroupes and it is not supposed to be solely composed from the marked members of the group, you should use the unmarked expression).
    If I speak generally about my colleagues at university who are solely girls (I am the only boy in the French class), I can refer to them as "oni" because they are not supposed to be all females, they only happened to be by accident. If I speak of students at girls school, then I would use only "ony" as there are not supposed to study any males.
    More generally, if I see a pack of cattle, I will refer to them as "krávy" (no, not "tuři", that is nonsense; not even "skot" or "dobytek" if I want to speak about particular animals in their very uniqueness and not in some agricultural-torturer-of-animals terms like Wer mentioned) even if it is possible that they are bulls (even if I know they are only bulls, but only in case they are oly bulls accidentaly, not on purpose).
    Did I make myself understood?
  19. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member

    Yes, that makes sense. Thanks, Eleshar!

    Lucky you! :)
  20. wer

    wer Well-Known Member

    I always did know that Lingea Lexicon has marked the genders. I was so stupid of not thinking of its on-line version.

    The dictionary is a little more explanatory than usual for on-line dictionaries, on the other hand - the interface is only in Czech.

    Just click on “Anglicko-český” to enter the English-Czech dictionary and put the headword (regardless the direction of translation) into the textbox.

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