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I have two related questions about the word "naïve" and its relatives. The first is, shouldn't it be "naïf" if the subject is male? I've been told that it's correct to use the correct ending of foreign words when applied to objects in English with determinate gender (i.e. people).

Second, if not, is the diaeresis absolutely necessary? If "naïve" has become an English word, is the accent still compulsory? (I'm sure there are examples of foreign words whose accents have atrophied away as they become English words)

Third, should the noun from "naïve" be "naïvety" or "naïveté"?

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  • Did you mean to write naìve, and naìf?
    – apaderno
    Sep 4, 2010 at 22:52
  • 1
    Just out of curiosity, Seamus, do you write "coöperation" or "cooperation"?
    – RegDwigнt
    Sep 5, 2010 at 16:11
  • 3
    I do write "Motörhead"
    – Seamus
    Sep 5, 2010 at 16:48
  • 2
    We tend not to "decline" foreign words. For example, we say "the skull of Homo sapiens," not "the skull of Hominis sapientis." Mar 15, 2015 at 1:07
  • 1
    Foreign words are declined for gender??? Not most of them. When was the last time you used the word entrepreneuse? Oct 18, 2020 at 17:26

5 Answers 5

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The New Oxford American Dictionary reports that the meaning of the words is the following:

naive /nɑˈiv/ (also naïve)
adjective
(of a person or action) showing a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgment: the rather naive young man had been totally misled.
• (of a person) natural and unaffected; innocent: Andy had a sweet, naive look when he smiled.
• of or denoting art produced in a straightforward style that deliberately rejects sophisticated artistic techniques and has a bold directness resembling a child's work, typically in bright colors with little or no perspective.

naif /naɪˈif/ /nɑˈif/ (also naïf)
adjective
naive or ingenuous.
noun
a naive or ingenuous person.

It is true that the first word derive from the French word that is the feminine word of naïf, but from the dictionary I get they have different meanings.

  • naive is used only as adjective.
  • naif has the same meaning of naive, but it means also ingenuous.
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  • Interesting that naïf can be used as a noun...
    – Seamus
    Sep 5, 2010 at 15:03
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    Naïf is almost exclusively used as a noun, in fact. We used to make a gender distinction in the adjectival form, but it's very rare these days. I suppose the noun form is rare enough now in either gender, but when it is used, it's almost always with the appropriate gender.
    – bye
    Feb 23, 2011 at 2:32
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Since English generally does not have many gender specific words, insisting on them with foreign words may be a lost cause. As for nouns, fiancée and fiancé are used, but many gender specific nouns are being dropped in English. Mailman is replaced with letter carrier, actress with actor etc.

Accents are usually only used when the foreign look is appealing or when mispronunciation would result without one.

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I've been told that it's correct to use the correct ending of foreign words when applied to objects in English with determinate gender (i.e. people).

I'm suspicious about this. It sounds like hypercorrectness or whatever the word is, generally trying to come across as high-falutin'.

Second, if not, is the diaeresis absolutely necessary? If "naive" has become an English word, is the accent still compulsory? (I'm sure there are examples of foreign words whose accents have atrophied away as they become English words)

This is where you need to reach for the reference books. For example, the "Oxford Writers' Dictionary" gives naïve as the correct form. Incidentally it also says not to use "naif".

Third, should the noun from "naive" be "naivety" or "naivete"? (with an accute accent)

According to the Oxford Writers' Dictionary, "naïvety" is right. But then after that it gives naïveté as well.

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Dictionary.com states that naiveness also works.

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Second, if not, is the diaeresis absolutely necessary? If "naïve" has become an English word, is the accent still compulsory? (I'm sure there are examples of foreign words whose accents have atrophied away as they become English words)

I use the diaresis on "naïve" just because I've been studying French off and on since junior high and it just looks better that way (and explains why a word with an "ai" vowel cluster gives you the sound of a long "i" and "e" sound when pronounced). My name is actually supposed to be spelled with a diaresis on the "i" (and it's led to a lot of mispronounciations since people don't readily know that, though, for some reason, people who don't speak English as their first language actually understand how my name is supposed to be pronounced), but it isn't on a lot of legal papers and documents. I would change it, but it's too much paperwork, so I use it in signatures.

Anyway, the diaresis on "naïve" is compulsory if you're speaking/writing French. In English, it isn't, though you can spell it the French way if you so choose.

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