Picture of Mike West
Grammatical gender of an animal vs its biological gender
by Mike West - Friday, 30 July 2010, 09:25 AM

I am having a bit of trouble forming sentences when talking about animals when their biological gender is different from the grammatical gender of the animal.  Is it correct that what is important is purely grammatical gender. 

For example, in the sentence: "My cat is called John and is big" even though this cat is biologically male should the adjective be in the female form (since the word for cat is feminine), so the translation is: "Η γάτα μου ονομάζεται John και είναι μεγάλη."

What about the sentence "My cat is called John and he is big".  Does the extra word "he" mean that the adjective changes to masculine: "Η γάτα μου ονομάζεται John και αυτός είναι μεγάλος".

Thank you for any help.

Picture of Guest User
Re: Grammatical gender of an animal vs its biological gender
by Guest User - Sunday, 1 August 2010, 05:09 PM

I am unfortunately not writing to answer your question, but rather to add to it. I have a very similar question and so figure I will tag along.

I understand that in general, I would say the following such that my pronouns always line up with the grammatical gender of the word:

Αυτό είναι το μωρό μου (instead of αυτός/αυτή)
Αυτό είναι το παιδί μου (instead of αυτός/αυτή)

And so on....

But consider the following sentences...

1-Ο Γιάννης είναι το παιδί μου.
2-Αυτό είναι το παιδί μου. (Referring to Γιάννη)

Even though I am referring to Γιάννη, would I still use "αυτό" instead of "αυτός" to make pronoun gender match the το παιδί? Or maybe this is the area where it gets hazy and doesn't matter too much?

Thank you!


PS- Mike, I'm curious to read answers to your question as well!
Picture of Arshak Davidian
Re: Grammatical gender of an animal vs its biological gender
by Arshak Davidian - Monday, 2 August 2010, 02:28 AM

Hi Mike and Chris,

Adding more salt and pepper to the soup, so stir it well!

I am studying at Livemocha in parallel and have come across similar situations in some exercises and deduced to myself that gender matching in the sentence is what matters. Don't take this as a definite answer, my conclusion may be wrong.

Consider these examples (though in negative, which may be a different case):

Αυτή δεν είναι καρέκλα. Αυτό είναι τραπέζι.

Αυτή δεν είναι λάμπα. Αυτός είναι καναπές.

Where the person knows beforehand that the referred object is not feminine (neuter and masculine respectively), nevertheless he uses Αυτή to negate the feminine noun.

So judging from this, your sentences probably should be

Η γάτα μου ονομάζεται Ζον και αυτή είναι μεγάλη.

Αυτό είναι το μωρό μου/ το παιδί μου.

Ο Γιάννης είναι το παιδί μου. Αυτό είναι το παιδί μου.

regardless of John's and Yanni's gender.

More salt and pepper... consider these sentences:

Αυτή είναι γραμματέας.

Αυτή είναι μηχανικός.

where γραμματέας (secretary) and μηχανικός (mechanic) evidently are masculine while the person is a woman (Αυτή). I assume that this may be an exception, where γραμματέας and μηχανικός have no feminine form???

I like brainstorming!

Να έχετε μια όμορφι μέρα.


Picture of Brenda P
Re: Grammatical gender of an animal vs its biological gender
by Brenda P - Monday, 2 August 2010, 03:32 PM

That's interesting, Arshak.  I really hope a Greek speaking person will come on and clear this up.  I also have been through the Livemocha lessons.  I'm sure you've noticed they make a lot of mistakes! 

I know there are several words like  ο/η γραμματέας and they are in a category of their own.

Picture of Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets
Re: Grammatical gender of an animal vs its biological gender
by Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets - Wednesday, 4 August 2010, 10:30 AM
  I'll try to answer everyone's questions in this reply. I am not Greek, but I've had enough conversations with Greek people to have an idea of how things work.

Basically, grammatical gender agreement is all that matters in Greek sentences. You indeed use the adjective endings and personal pronouns that correspond to the words you've been using, and not necessarily to the biological gender of the referent. Since the same referent can be referred to with words of different genders, it can get complicated. At the same time, words often have alternative forms for different genders, especially when they refer to humans. So if you feel insecure using the word γάτα for tomcats, just say γάτος (but be aware that it's not that common, just like the word "tomcat" is not that common in English).

As for nouns like γραμματέας, those are so-called "common gender nouns", i.e. nouns with a masculine and a feminine form that just happen to be identical in form. Greek has quite a few of those, especially when talking about job functions. In a way, they make things simpler, because with those you can use the actual biological gender and needn't worry about gender mismatches.
Picture of Arshak Davidian
Re: Grammatical gender of an animal vs its biological gender
by Arshak Davidian - Thursday, 5 August 2010, 05:38 PM

Merci beaucoup Christophe!

I thought so, but it is good to have a reaffirmation. I feel standing more solid now... At least in this small matter... There's so many of them...

Thanks again.