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  1. kilroy65's Avatar
    English Teacher
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      • Bulgarian
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      • Bulgaria
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      • Bulgaria

    • Join Date: Jan 2016
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    Personification of inanimate objects: gender

    How do native English speakers decide which gender to use when they want to personify inanimate objects and abstract nouns? It can be seen every now and then in modern English, as a literary device or for giving special significance to an object/abstract noun.

    For example, I’ve occasionally seen ships/boats, rivers, cars and airplanes being referred to as “she”. The sun is traditionally male in the English literature, whereas the moon is female (e.g. in Lewis Carroll's “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, Sting’s song “Sister Moon”). However, in Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings“, it is the other way round.

    It seems that the issue is similar with abstract nouns:

    • · “Mother Nature”: there are quite a few examples.
    • · “(Old) Father Time”: several famous statues and paintings bear that name (but: “Old lady Time, she’s no friend to me, I feel her change, and she holds the key…”- from the song “Free Me”,“McVicar” soundtrack, performed by Roger Daltrey).
    • · Death/ the grim reaper: “Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – …” (Emily Dickinson).
    • · Life: some may refer to the commonly used expression that “Life is a b*tch” but I think it wouldn’t work here.

    As a person whose native language has a strict system of grammatical gender for every single noun, I am really interested in the way native English speakers regard that. I came across a rather far-fetched explanation that, roughly said, “good” things are feminine gender words and “bad” things are masculine gender words (Quite discriminating, isn’t it :) ).

    Are there any rules or is it a subjective feeling relying heavily on preference, or is it a remnant of the time when all nouns used to have gender?

  2. VIP Member
    Interested in Language
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      • Native Language:
      • American English
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      • United States
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    • Join Date: Dec 2015
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    Re: Personification of inanimate objects: gender

    I'd say it's pretty strictly subjective. Men tend to consider machines female if they apply a gender. Now that gadgets may have a voice, people assign whichever gender they think the voice has to the device.
    I am not a teacher.

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