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I had never actually thought about this before now, probably because I'm a native speaker of English. But once I gave it some thought, I was actually a little surprised that adjectives in English do not have agreements (as far as I know), especially given the numerous intricacies of the English language and its largely French/Latin influences.

Did English have adjective agreements at some point? Are there no adjective agreements because there is no grammatical gender?

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    What nature of agreement are you referring to? – fixer1234 Apr 7 '17 at 5:37
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    Could the argument be made that they do "agree" since there is nothing to disagree about in English (no gender-based forms in that sense)? – fixer1234 Apr 7 '17 at 5:49
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    English is Germanic—there is no “largely French/Latin origin”. There are many loan words from French and Latin, but the language itself is Germanic. Of course, nearly all other Germanic languages have both genders and noun–adjective agreement as well, so it's not the origin of the language that explains it. English used to have extensive agreement as well, but has lost it because unstressed final syllables have been lost—that simple. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 7 '17 at 6:16
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    @Mari-LouA Just in case you don’t already know this (you probably do, but still): the reason problema is masculine is that it comes from an Ancient Greek class of neuter nouns that end in -ma (in Greek, their plural ends in -mata, like stigma/stigmata, but this is of course lost in most cases in the modern languages). Neuter words nearly always became masculine when the neuter gender was lost in the Romance languages. If you have a noun ending in -ma in Italian/Spanish/Portuguese (or -me in French), there’s a very good chance it’s masculine. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 7 '17 at 7:24
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    @EdwinAshworth It's a curious exception though: the form of the adjective depends on the person you're talking about, not necessarily the noun being modified: a boy with blond hair, a girl with blonde hair. – Jacinto Apr 7 '17 at 8:09
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According to the following source, it is not clear why gender agreement (which existed in OE) disappeared. It was probably due to simplify communication between Old English and Old Norse:

  • If you speak another language like Spanish or German, you are familiar with grammatical gender. In Romance languages (and many others), nouns have a gender. In French, a chair is la chaise, a feminine noun, and a hat is le chapeau, a masculine noun. But did you know that English used to have gendered nouns too?

  • Until the 1200s, English had grammatical gender. Instead of using the articles “the” or “a”, Old English had a masculine article “se” and a feminine article “seo”. The sun, for instance, was feminine, so it would be written “sēo sunne”. If you referred to the sun, you would even say “she”.

  • However, in northern England in the 1100s, grammatical gender disappeared. Historical linguists aren’t entirely sure why this happened, but Professor Anne Curzan suggests that genders were lost because of the language mixing that went on in Northern England during that time.

  • Between the 700s and the 1000s, there were Vikings invading northern England where peasants lived. The two groups spoke different languages: Old English and Old Norse. However, it is quite likely that many people were bilingual and fluent in both languages. Both Old English and Old Norse had gender, but sometimes their genders contradicted each other. In order to simplify communication, gendered nouns simply disappeared.

(blog.dictionary.com)

According to the following extract from Quora, the introduction, and usage of the gender-neutral article "þe (the)" is probably responsible for the decline in usage of gender agreement in the English language. I personally think this is an interesting assumption so I add it as additional information on this topic:

  • Unlike most other Indo-European languages which have gender, English introduced an article — þe (the) — that was gender neutral. Since most of England in the 13th-17th centuries was uneducated, it was a great time for language change. The article þe was much easier to learn than arbitrary gendered articles, so it started to be used by everyone.

  • And around the 14th century, Colloquial English started to drop the declensions present in proper Old English, and with it, grammatical gender disappeared.

  • +1 Nice information about the genders. I have always wondered how English would handle grammatical gender. – Dog Lover Apr 7 '17 at 6:22
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    @Mari-LouA - it is clearly a deduction, but a reasonable one (IMO) there is no clear answer to this question, but the introduction of the gender-neutral article for nouns may easily have contributed to the move towards a grammatical genderless agreement. – user66974 Apr 7 '17 at 7:09
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    @lly Probably because it happened first in the north of England where the Scandinavian presence was quite strong and the Norman presence much less so, combined with the fact that Norman French was a very different language, while Old Norse was a closely related one that would have been almost mutually intelligible. It’s not particularly difficult to remember that hūs in your own language is neuter, while meson in NF is feminine; much harder to keep track of almost identical words that have different genders. But even more so, what Curzon argues is based not so much on the gender → – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 7 '17 at 7:43
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    I might be thick here, but how does this relate to one big house vs two big houses. Other Germanic languages have adjective agreement when pluralized. – Chris Wohlert Apr 7 '17 at 7:47
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    → itself, but of the inflectional paradigms that went along with each. Old English and Old Norse were very closely related, but the way they inflected nouns differed a lot. So if you were bilingual(ish), as much of Northern England probably was, for the word ‘day’ you’d have to keep track of two paradigms: OE sg. NA dæġ, G dæġes, D dæġe; pl. NA dagas, G daga, D dagum — vs. ON, sg. N dagr, A dag, G dags, D degi; pl. N dagar, AG daga, D dǫgum. See how that can be tricky? And it was like that for virtually all words. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 7 '17 at 7:47
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During the period when England was under the rule of the Normans, French was the official language. Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, was still spoken by the non-ruling class, but it underwent many changes such as the accent on words being moved to the front. Unaccented syllables dropped off, including most of the inflections. New words (and thousands of French words entered the language during this time) when brought into the language were never given the inflections to begin with. When English finally became the official language again (not until the 1500s), it was vastly different (think Chaucer versus Shakespeare).

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