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The category of gender

Some grammaticians spent a lot of time proving that this category does not exist others define the subcategorization of gender as purely lexical.

The English noun has no markers that help to identify this grammatical category

The category of gender is expressed in English by the obligatory correlation of nouns with the personal pronouns of the third person. The category is strictly oppositional. It is formed by two oppositions related to each other on a hierarchical basis. One opposition functions in the whole set of nouns, dividing them into person (human) nouns and non-person (non-human) nouns. The other opposition functions in the subset of person nouns dividing them into masculine nouns and feminine nouns So, there is the neuter, masculine and feminine gender.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives the following definition: gender is a subclass within a grammatical class (as noun, pronoun, adjective, or verb) of a language that is partly arbitrary but also partly based on distinguishable characteristics (as shape, social rank, manner of existence, or sex) and that determines agreement with and selection of other words or grammatical forms.

As a result of the double oppositional correlation, a specific system of three genders arises, which is somewhat misleadingly represented by the traditional terminology: the neuter (i.e. non-person) gender, the masculine (i.e. masculine person) gender, the feminine (i.e. feminine person) gender.

The strong member of the upper opposition is the human subclass of nouns. The weak member of the opposition comprises both inanimate and animate non-person nouns. E.g. tree, mountain, love, etc.; cat, swallow, etc.; society, crowd, etc.; bull and cow, cock and hen etc.

In cases of oppositional reduction, non-person nouns and their substitute (it) are naturally used in the position of neutralisation.

The strong member of the lower opposition is the feminine subclass of person nouns, its sematic mark being "female sex". Here belong such nouns as woman, girl, mother, bride, etc. The masculine subclass of person nouns comprising such words as man, boy, father, bridegroom, etc. makes up the weak member of the opposition.

Many person nouns in English are capable of expressing both feminine and masculine person genders (the «common gender») such as person, parent, friend, etc.

English nouns can show the sex of their referents lexically, either by means of being combined with certain notional words used as sex indicators, or else by suffixal derivation. Cf.: boy-friend, girl-friend; man-producer, woman-producer; lion, lioness; sultan, sultana; etc.

The category of number is expressed by the opposition of the plural form of the noun to the singular form. The strong member of this binary opposition is plural. Its productive formal mark is suffix s, es. The semantic content of the unmarked form enables grammarians to speak of the zero suffix of the singular. The other non- productive ways of expressing the number opposition are vowel interchange: goose- geese; correlation of individual singular and plural suffixes in some borrowed nouns. Sometimes the plural form can be homonymous with singular form: sheep-sheep. In some cases the meaning of the plural form can differ from the meaning of the singular form a potato (one item of the vegetables) and potatoes (food). As the result of the comparison we conclude that the broader Semantic mark of the plural should be described as the potentially dismembering reflection of the structure of the referent, while the semantic mark of the singular will be understood as the non-dismembering reflection of the structure of the referent, i.e. the presentation of the referent in its indivisible entireness.

It is sometimes stated that the plural form indiscriminately presents both multiplicity of separate objects ("discrete" plural, e.g. three houses) and multiplicity of units of measure for an indivisible object ("plural of measure", e.g. three hours). The difference here lies not in the content of the plural as such, but in the quality of the objects themselves. Actually, the singulars of the respective nouns differ from one another exactly on the same lines as the plurals do (cf. one house one hour).

There are semantic varieties of the plural forms that differ from one another in the plural quality. They may express a define set of objects (eyes of the face), various types of the referent: fruits, peoples, wines; intensity of presentation of the idea: years and years. And the extreme point of this semantic scale is marked by the legalization of the plural form, re. by its serving as a means of rendering not specifications, but purely notional difference in meaning: colours as a 'flag'.

The subclasses of uncountable nouns are referred to, respectively, as singularia tantum and pluralia tantum.

Since the grammatical form of the uncountable nouns of the singularia tantum subclass is not excluded from the category of number, it stands to reason to speak of it as the "absolute" singular, as different from the "correlative" or "common" singular of the countable nouns. The absolute singular excludes the use of the modifying numeral one, as well as the indefinite article.

The absolute singular is characteristic of the names of abstract notions (peace, love, etc.), the names of the branches of professional activity (chemistry, architecture, etc.), the names of mass-materials (water, snow, etc.), the names of collective inanimate objects (foliage, fruit, etc.). Some of these words can be used in the form of the common singular with the common plural counterpart, but in this case they come to mean either different sorts of materials, or separate concrete manifestations of the qualities denoted by abstract nouns, or concrete objects exhibiting the respective qualities. (Joy is absolutely necessary for normal human life. — It was a joy to see her among us.)

In the sphere of the plural we must recognize the common plural form as the regular feature of the countability and the absolute plural form peculiar to the uncountable subclass of pluralia tantum nouns. The absolute plural is characteristic of the uncountable nouns which denote objects consisting of two halves (trousers, scissors, etc.); the nouns expressing some sort of collective meaning both concrete and abstract (poultry, police); the nouns denoting diseases as well as some abnormal states of the body and mind (hysterics).

The absolute plural, by the way of functional reduction, can be presented in countable nouns having the form of the singular, in uncountable nouns having the form of the plural, and also in countable nouns having the form of the plural.

The category of case

Case is the immanent morphological category of the noun manifested in the forms of noun declension and showing the relations of the nounal referent to other objects and phenomena.

Collins Dictionary gives the following definition: case is a set of grammatical categories of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives, marked by inflection in some languages, indicating the relation of the noun, adjective, or pronoun to other words in the sentence.

This category is expressed in English by the opposition of the form in -'s [-z, -s, -iz], usually called the "possessive" case, or more traditionally, the "genitive" case, to the unfeatured form of the noun, usually called the "common" case. The apostrophised -s serves to distinguish in writing the singular noun in the genitive case from the plural noun in the common case. E.g.: the man's duty, the President's decision, Max's letter; the boy's ball, the clerk's promotion, the Empress's jewels.

The genitive of the bulk of plural nouns remains phonetically unexpressed: the few exceptions concern only some of the irregular plurals. Thereby the apostrophe as the graphic sign of the genitive acquires the force of a sort of grammatical hieroglyph. Cf.: the carpenters' tools, the mates' skates, the actresses' dresses.

Functionally, the forms of the English nouns designated as "case forms" relate to one another in an extremely peculiar way. The peculiarity is, that the common form is absolutely indefinite from the semantic point of view, whereas the genitive form in its productive uses is restricted to the functions which have a parallel expression by prepositional constructions. Thus, the common form is also capable of rendering the genitive semantics (namely, in contact and prepositional collocation), which makes the whole of the genitive case into a kind of subsidiary element in the grammatical system of the English noun. This feature stamps the English noun declension as something utterly different from every conceivable declension in principle.

There are 4 views on the problem of the general case. The first view' is the theory of positional cases, it is connected with the old grammatical tradition. Linguistic formulations of it may be found in the work of J.C. Nesfield, M. Bryant. According to the theory, the unchangeable forms of the noun are differentiated as different cases according to the functional positions occupied by the noun in the sentence. Thus the English noun, like in Latin grammar would distinguish beside the genitive case purely positional cases: nominative, vocative, dative and accusative. The fallacy of the positional case theory is quite obvious. It substitutes the functional characteristics of the part of the sentence for the morphological features of the word class, since the case form is the variable morphological form of the noun. Case forms serve as means of expressing the functions of the noun in the sentence and not vice versa.

The second view is the theory of prepositional cases. According to it, combinations of nouns with prepositions should be understood as morphological case form. To these belong first of all the dative case (to + noun, for + noun) and the genitive case (of + noun). The prepositional cases are generally taken as coexisting with positional cases, together with the classical inflexional genitive completing the case system of the English noun. As is well known from noun-declensional languages, all their prepositions and not only some of them do require definite cases of nouns. Any preposition by virtue of its functional nature stands in the same general grammatical relation to the noun. It should follow from this that all the other prepositional phrases in English must be regarded as analytical cases. As a result of it the total number of additional name of prepositional case will run into dozens upon dozens.

The third view of the English noun case recognizes a limited inflexional system of two cases in English. It was formulated by H. Sweet, R. Jesperson and developed by A.I. Smirnitsky and S.G. Barkhudarov.

The fourth view of the English noun cases approaches the English noun as having completely lost the category of case in the course of its historical development. All the nounal cases are considered to be extinct. And what is called the genitive case is in fact a combination of a noun with a postposition. Thus, this view advanced by Vorontsova may be called the postpositional theory. The following two reasons should be considered as the main ones of the postpositional theory substantiating the positional theory:

1) the postpositional element -s is loosely connected with the noun and can be used with the whole word-groups (Somebody else's daughter);

2) parallelism of functions between the possessive postpositional constructions and the prepositional constructions.

The theory of possessive postposition fails to take into account achievements of the limited case theory. The latter has demonstrated that the noun form with -s is systemically contrasted against the unfeatured form of the noun which makes the correlation of the nounal forms into a grammatical category. The solution of the problem is to be thought on the ground of a critical syntax of the positive statements of two theories. A two case declension of nouns should be recognized in English with its common case as a direct case and its genitive case as the only oblique case. The case system in English is founded on a particle expression. The particle nature of apostrophe s is evident from the fact that it is added in postposition both to individual nouns and to nounal word-groupings. Thus, two subtypes of the genitive in English are to be recognized:

1) the word genitive;

2) the phrase genitive.

Both of them are not inflexional but particle case forms.

The English genitive expresses a wide range of relational meanings and the following basic semantic types of the genitive can be pointed out.

1) The genitive of possessor. Its constructional meaning will be defined as inorganic possession (Peter's look);

2) The genitive of integer. The meaning of organic possession (Ivan’s voice). Its subtype expresses a qualification received by the genitive referent through the head-word (the computer reliability);

3) The genitive of agent. This form renders an activity or some broader processual relation with the referent (Lisa's laugh). This type of genitive expresses the recipient of the action or process denoted by the head noun. The subtype expresses the author of the referent of the head-noun (Beethovens sonatas);

4) The genitive of patient expresses the recipient of the action or process denoted by the head-noun (the champion’s sensational defeat);

5) The genitive of adverbial denotes adverbial factors relating to the referent of the head-noun, mostly the time and place of the event (the evening's newspaper);

6) The genitive of quantity denotes the measure or quantity relating to the referent of the head-noun (two months' time).

As a result of the analysis, we have come to the conclusion that the inflexional case of nouns in English has ceased to exist. In its place a new, peculiar two case system has developed based on the particle expression of the genitive falling into two segmental types: the word-genitive and the phrase-genitive.

The undertaken study of the case in the domain of the noun, as the next step, calls upon the observer to reformulate the accepted interpretation of the form-types of the English personal pronouns.

The personal pronouns are commonly interpreted as having a case system of their own, differing in principle from the case system of the noun. The two cases traditionally recognised here are the nominative case (I, you, he, etc.) and the objective case (me, you, him, etc.). To these forms the two series of forms of the possessive pronouns are added — respectively, the conjoint series (my, your, his, etc.) and the absolute series (mine, yours, his, etc.). A question now arises, if it is rational at all to recognise the type of case in the words of substitutional nature, which is absolutely incompatible with the type of case in the correlated notional words? Attempts have been made in linguistics to transfer the accepted view of pronominal cases to the unchangeable forms of the nouns (by way of the logical procedure of back substitution), thereby supporting the positional theory of case (M. Bryant).

An analysis of the pronouns based on more formal considerations can only corroborate the suggested approach proceeding from the principle of functional evaluation. In fact, what is traditionally accepted as case-forms of the pronouns are not the regular forms of productive morphological change implied by the very idea of case declension, but individual forms sustained by suppletivity and given to the speaker as a ready-made set. The set is naturally completed by the possessive forms of pronouns, so that actually we are faced by a lexical paradigmatic series of four subsets of personal pronouns, to which the relative who is also added: I — me — my — mine, you — you — your — yours,... who — whom — whose — whose. Whichever of the former case correlations are still traceable in this system (as, for example, in the subseries he—him—his), they exist as mere relicts, i.e. as a petrified evidence of the old productive system that has long ceased to function in the morphology of English.

Thus, what should finally be meant by the suggested terminological name "particle case" in English, is that the former system of the English inflexional declension has completely and irrevocably disintegrated, both in the sphere of nouns and their substitute pronouns; in its place a new, limited case system has arisen based on a particle oppositional feature and subsidiary to the prepositional expression of the syntactic relations of the noun.



1. Give the definition of "gender".

2. How the category of gender is formed?

3. Name the three types of gender and give your examples of each one?

4. What is singularia tantum (the absolute singular)? Give your examples.

5. What is pluralia tantum (the absolute plural)? Give your examples.

6. How the category of number is expressed? Give your examples.

7. Give the definition of "case".

8. How the category of case is formed?

9. What basic semantic types of the English genitive do you know?

10. Read about four main theoretical views on the problem of the general case. Prepare a report on one of them of your choice.



1. What is the correct plural of the word?

· These (person) ___ are protesting against the president.

· The (woman) ___ over there want to meet the manager.

· My (child) ___ hate eating pasta.

· I am ill. My (foot) ___ hurt.

· Muslims kill (sheep) ___ in a religious celebration.

· I clean my (tooth) ___ three times a day.

· The (schoolchild) ___ are doing the exercise right now.

· The (fish) ___ I bought is in the fridge.

· The (passer-by) ___ looked curiously at the little scene

· They are sending some (man) ___ to fix the roof.

· Most (housewife) ___ work more than ten hours a day at home.

· Where did you put the (knife) ­­­___?

· Why (mother-in-law) ___ are so protective of their sons?

· On the (shelf) ___.

· (Goose) ___ like water.

· (Piano) ___ are expensive

· Some (policeman) ___ came to arrest him.

2. Give the masculine of the noun.

· Sister – (brother)

· Vixen – (fox)

· Hen – (rooster)

· Maid/spinster – (bachelor)

· Nun – (monk)

· Hostess– (host)

· Stewardess – (steward)

· Duchess – (duke)

· Land-lady – (land-lord)

3. Fill the gaps with the possessive case of nouns. Decide whether you have to use 's or an of phrase.

· The boy has a toy. → It's the____.

· Peter has a book. → It's____.

· The magazine has my picture on its cover. → My picture is on____.

· Our friends live in this house. → It's____.

· There is milk in the glass. → It's____.

· This house has a number. → What is____?

· The walk lasts two hours. → It's____.

· John has a sister, Jane. → Jane is____.

· The film has a name, "Scream". → "Scream" is____.

· This school is for girls only. → It's a____.



the category of number – категория числа

the category of gender – категория рода

the obligatory correlation – обязательная взаимосвязь

partly arbitrary – отчасти произвольно

to comprise – содержать, включать

suffixal derivation – суффиксальное словообразование

immanent morphological category – постоянная морфологическая категория

noun declension – склонение существительных

inflection – окончание, флексия

the "possessive" / "genitive" case – притяжательный / родительный падеж

common case – общий падеж (в английском языке соответствует основной форме существительного и не имеет никакого показателя)

vocative case – звательный падеж, вокатив

dative case – дательный падеж, датив

accusative case – винительный падеж

peculiarity – особенность, своеобразие, специфика

prepositional constructions – предложная конструкция

subsidiary element – вспомогательный элемент

postposition – постпозиция, энклитика

substantiating – обосновывающий/подтверждающий

oblique case / objective case – косвенный падеж

nominative case – именительный падеж, номинатив

integer – целое

incompatible – несовместимый/несочетающийся

to corroborate – подтверждать

suppletivity – cупплетивность



1. Блох М.Я. – Теоретическая грамматика английского языка

2. Головачева А.Н. – Concise Theoretical Grammar (краткий курс лекций и практических заданий по теоретической грамматике английского языка)

3. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

4. Collins Online Dictionary


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