Before addressing the subject of gender in the English language, we must first define gender… grammatical gender that is. A bit less controversial that way. According to dictionary.com, grammatical gender is defined as “gender based on arbitrary assignment, without regard to the referent of a noun, as in French le livre (masculine), ‘the book,’ and German das Mädchen (neuter), ‘the girl.'” So, grammatical gender may not have anything to do with the gender of the object described. In English, however, grammatical gender does often reflect the person it is describing.
English is Strange
When it comes to languages, English is very strange. Its evolution from German and Latin is very unique. It could even be deemed the strange child of Latin and German. Latin and German are riddled with grammatical gender in their nouns, adjectives, articles, etc. Grammatical gender in English is almost nonexistent. Whether you consider its Germanic or Romantic (Latin-based) origins, English is a very strange creature.
Grammatical Gender in English
The grammatical genders you will find in the English language if you look hard enough are masculine and feminine. It is important to remember that grammatical gender is assigned to the words or word roots that they describe. Grammatical gender is not in reference to physical gender. In English, however, the two do tend to coincide. If you were to study grammatical gender in Romance or Germanic languages, you would see more examples of where the grammatical gender has nothing to do with physical gender. For example, the word pen in Spanish can be either masculine or feminine depending on which term you use to describe it. That does not mean the pen is changing genders. It means that the word used to name the pen is changing genders.
Examples of Grammatical Gender in English
Words in English with grammatical gender do exist, though most native English speakers have likely not even aware of it. Grammatical gender in English can be found much more often in nouns. An example that most English speakers will likely recognize are nouns that end in “ess.” This ending implies that the person or animal named is female. Examples are waitress, lioness, princess are the masculine forms of waiter, lion, and prince. Other examples of suffixes that imply the femininity of the referenced person are “ette” (bachelorette vs. bachelor) and “trix” (dominatrix vs. dominator).
Adjectives with affixes indicating the gender of the person or animal being described are extremely rare in the English language. In fact, there is only one gendered adjective commonly used in English today: blond vs. blonde. Many native English speakers do not realize that these two different spellings actually indicate a difference in gender of the person being described. “Blond” should be used when referring to a male, whereas “blonde” should be used when the person being described is female. Don’t believe it? Look it up.
So, in summary, does grammatical gender exist in the English language? Yes, it exists, although it takes a different form than any other Germanic or Romantic languages. You will have to look much harder to find examples of grammatical gender than you would for Spanish, French, or German. English has always had a mind of its own.