Picture of Mike West
How to ask for the gender of a word
by Mike West - Monday, 5 April 2010, 10:15 AM

Is there a standard phrase that can be used to ask for the gender of a word? 

Also, I'm interested to know if Greeks ever forget the gender of a word or get it wrong or is this something which just doesn't happen? 

Would I get some strange looks if I accidentally used the wrong gender when speaking?


Picture of Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets
Re: How to ask for the gender of a word
by Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets - Tuesday, 6 April 2010, 05:26 AM
  There is no "standard phrase" I can think of. Is there a "standard phrase" to ask for the past tense of a verb in English? No, you just ask: "what's the past tense of... ?". Same for the gender of nouns in Greek. If you ever need to ask, the term is γένος γραμματικής (grammatical gender), or simply γένος. The possible answers are αρσενικός: masculine, θηλυκός: feminine, and ουδέτερος: neuter (all are adjectives).
However, Greek nouns are usually transparent in terms of gender (as long as you know their nominative singular), so you'll hardly ever need to ask. It can be useful for the few difficult cases, like the feminine and neuter nouns in -ος, or when you're not sure whether a noun ending with the sound /i/ is feminine (ending -η) or neuter (ending -ι). But those cases are few and far between. Modern Greek nouns are very simple in that respect.
Moreover, most nouns in Greek will appear with an article in speech, and the articles make it usually clear which gender the noun has. So, really, you won't have to ask for the gender of a noun that often.

Do Greeks ever get the gender of a noun wrong? Well, probably about as much as English people get the past tense of a verb wrong: it can happen, of course. Everyone makes mistakes, especially if the noun in question is uncommon and its gender doesn't obey the regular rules (just like English people may get the past tense of an irregular verb wrong if they don't use it often).

And as for whether you'll get strange looks if you accidentally used the wrong gender, let me ask you in turn: if a foreigner said "I thinked" instead of "I thought" or "I shaked" instead of "I shook", would you give them strange looks? I guess not (I hope not). At most, I'd expect you'd point out their mistake, if even that. In any case, you'd still understand exactly what was meant, and would know that a foreigner can make such mistakes: their command of the English language is just not perfect. Well, the Greeks won't react any differently if you use the wrong gender. They might laugh a bit if the mistake is funny, but otherwise the worst you could get is someone pointing out your mistake. The Greeks in general hold a belief that their language is extremely difficult for foreigners to learn, and useless for them as it is spoken by only a few million people. So if you show that you've made the effort to learn the language and try to communicate with them in it, they'll be so impressed they will forgive you if you butcher their language. For them, it's the effort that counts.
It's actually something that makes it sometimes very difficult to not make mistakes when speaking Greek: the Greeks themselves will not correct you in any way, even if you explicitly asked them to. They find it so nice of you to have tried to learn their language that they think it would be impolite to point out where you're wrong. And it's so difficult anyway, so why bother smile .
Picture of Mike West
Re: How to ask for the gender of a word
by Mike West - Tuesday, 6 April 2010, 08:29 AM
  Thank you for the reply Christophe