This post is partly inspired by previous posts, such as this one, on non-existence of grammatical gender in English. My question is mainly about what "natural gender" and "grammatical gender" are to an English noun.

There are nouns, such as 'mare', or (debatably) 'ship' whose natural gender is perceived to be feminine by significant number of speakers. Most nouns, however, either are of a neutral natural gender or have got no natural gender. (I wonder whether there is a consensus on which of the two is the case.) Wikipedia also seems to suggest that gender pertains to referents rather than to nouns.

In the linked question, the OP derives "grammatical gender" from "natural gender" for those nouns that have got the latter. This is relevant, because a natural gender seems to be the sole reason to even think about a grammatical gender, or traces thereof, for a word. But then it seems to entail something like a partial grammatical category that only some nouns have. It is not inflectional. It is not a remnant of previously existing grammatical gender in English.

Is there any term for what "natural gender" and the putative "grammatical gender" is to a noun?

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    I would say it's not a category at all. English nouns do not have grammatical gender, full stop. Anaphoric pronouns sometimes reflect grammatical gender, but more commonly they reflect notional gender, i.e., the natural gender of the antecedent or referent, when they can—even in languages that have grammatical gender also. In Spanish, for example, the anaphoric pronoun that would be chosen for un gran gilipollas (‘a real jerk’, grammatically masculine) will be ella ‘she’ if the person being thus described is female. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 15 '15 at 16:46

Grammatical gender is irrelevant to an English noun:


Not connected with or relevant to something:

Imputing grammatical gender to a nound with "natural gender" is a mistake, since there is no mechanism in modern English to classify nouns systematically according to gender.

Natural gender is implicit in a subset of English nouns:

(implicit in) Always to be found in; essentially connected with:

The gender of a referent is woven into the definition of the noun itself:

  • A woman is defined as a female human.
  • A man is defined as a male human.
  • A mare is defined as a female horse.
  • A gander is defined as a male goose.
  • A lioness is defined as a female lion.
  • A boar is defined as a male pig (bear, badger, etc.).
  • A hen is defined as a female bird.

The natural gender of a referent is an essential quality connected to the word, but it has no grammatical impact on the use of that word in English.

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    Except of course when choosing pronouns to act as anaphors, which I would say falls under the use of the word. You could say it's implicit; you could say it's semantic rather than grammatical information; you could probably describe it in at least a dozen different ways. But it does have some level of grammatical impact on how the word is used. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 13 '15 at 1:50
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    Truly @JanusBahsJacquet, that is the conundrum. I will ponder the best way to fold this exception into the answer. On the face, it seems much cleaner to beg the grammatical issue off onto the pronoun, which already sorts the natural gender issue of shared names. Dale: He is Dale Jefferson from Tampa; She is Dale Jones from Tampa. It is Dale 1891 in Tampa. Or we could just bide our time and wait for gender neutrality to erase the essence of gender from all nouns :-) – ScotM Feb 13 '15 at 4:29
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    Some English nouns still show traces of former grammatical gender in forming the plural: man / men, foot - feet, for example. wmich.edu/medieval/resources/IOE/inflnoun.html. – anemone Feb 14 '15 at 22:21
  • Moreover, in sentences such as Evelyn sends her presents, the gender of Evelyn impacts the grammatical structure of the sentence (her can be personal or possesive). Again, only some nouns seem to have this capacity. "Implicit in a subset" is nice, however I was wondering about a term reflecting the some-ness maybe. – anemone Feb 14 '15 at 22:30

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