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Hebrew Nouns` Gender: How to Distinguish Feminine from Masculine Posted by on Jan 31, 2016 in Grammar

Unlike English, Hebrew belongs to the group of languages that have grammatical gender. The predicate in Hebrew conjugate according to the gender of the subject, which makes the gender of the nouns matters as much as the gender of the pronouns. The subject in Hebrew is divided into masculine and feminine. There is nothing male or female about objects, but when talking about them the verbs and adjectives should conjugate corresponding to their gender.

Photo by Ayana

Photo by Ayana

 

It`s easy to distinguish feminine nouns from masculine nouns, since most of the feminine nouns end with the letters ה or ת. For example:

 

Feminine nouns end with ה
Girl יַלְדָּה
Aunt דּוֹדָה
Family מִשְׁפָּחָה
Dress שִׂמְלָה
Experience חֲוָיָה
List רְשִׁימָה

Notice: not every noun that ends with ה is necessarily a feminine. For example: dustpan (=יָעֶה) is masculine, its ה is not the feminine ה but a part of its root.

 

Feminine nouns end with ת
Daughter בַּת
Notebook מַחְבֶּרֶת
Frying pan מַחֲבַת
Car מְכוֹנִית
Truth אֱמֶת
Friendship חֲבֵרוּת

Notice: not every noun that ends with ת is necessarily a feminine. For example: junction (=צֹמֶת) is a masculine, its ת is not the feminine ת, but a part of its root.

 

There’s a saying in Hebrew that says: לְכָל כְּלָל יֵשׁ יוֹצֵא מִן הַכְּלָל. This means that every rule has its exceptions. So one can’t always rely on that main principle of ה and ת endings of the feminine nouns. There are quite a few nouns in Hebrew that end with other letters that are feminine as well. Unfortunately there is no way to distinguish them without memorize them.

For example:

Mother  אִמָּא
Grandmother סָבְתָא
Goat עֵז
Country אֶרֶץ
Chasm תְּהוֹם
Road דֶּרֶךְ
Wind רוּחַ
Sun שֶׁמֶשׁ
Glass כּוֹס
City square כִּכָּר
Shoe נַעַל
Jenny אָתוֹן
Grapevine גֶּפֶן

 

Most of these words have some history beyond them. כּוֹס, for example, is referred to in the bible as feminine, but in the Talmud as masculine. Nowadays it has fixed firmly as feminine by the language speakers. The word face (=פָּנִים) has similar history, though vice versa. The bible refers to it as masculine, but the Talmud as feminine. Today Hebrew speakers use freely both feminine and masculine gender when speaking about faces.

רוּחַ and שֶׁמֶשׁ both appeared in the bible as words without specific gender. Sometimes the bible refers to them as masculine and sometimes as feminine. Nowadays the spoken language firmly refers to them as feminine. If you visit Israel and try to describe the sun with masculine adjectives, people will insistently correct your alleged mistake. But as long as the bible can, so can you. And a lot of writers utilize this fact. Hence we can find songs with a feminine sun. Like the song אוֹר with the line:

עוֹצֶמֶת אֶת עֵינַי
אֲבָל הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ הִיא בִּפְנִים

In the song לִי וְלָךְ, though, the sun is masculine:

בַּיָּם הָרוֹגֵעַ
הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ שׁוֹקֵעַ

 

It’s very liberating to think of an object as sexless, don’t you think? 🙂

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Comments:

  1. larry goldberg:

    Just saw you site as I’m trying to improve my basic Hebrew.

    I also want my 6 yr old daughter to learn.

    I like what I’ve seen so far, but my reading is horrible.

    It would be really really helpful if you had written out the

    word in English.

    • Ayana:

      @larry goldberg Hi Larry, thanks for your comment! I’m glad you like our blog. No problem, from now on I’ll definitely write down the words in English. Good luck with your Hebrew learning. Practice makes perfect 🙂

  2. Marcus:

    Interesting article. I have a question though: How does one distinguish between genders in definitions with multiple words? For example, lawnmower is מכסחת דשא. Would the gender be dictated by the first or second word? And if the former, that would be feminine? Any help most appreciated.

    • Ayana:

      @Marcus Hi Marcus, that’s a great question! Hebrew grammar includes construct states: noun combined with second noun to describe and classify the first noun. We called it סְמִיכוּת. The first noun called נִסְמָךְ and the phrase gender is dictated by its gender. מַכְסֵחַת דֶּשֶׁא is feminine because the first noun is feminine: מַכְסֵחָה.The second noun דֶּשֶׁא is indeed masculine, but since it is not the first noun – the נִסְמָךְ – it doesn’t affect the phrase gender.

  3. Helene Norin:

    Is the Hebrew word for turtle,tsav , masculine or feminine? How would you say beautiful turtle?

    • Ayana:

      @Helene Norin Hi Helene, the Hebrew word for turtle – צָב is masculine. Beautiful turtle therefore will be – צָב יָפֶה. And not – יָפָה. 🙂

  4. Hana:

    Is there a feminine way of saying “tagid chiz?”

    • Ayana:

      @Hana Of course 🙂
      Tagid chiz – when speaking to a man
      Tagidi chiz – when speaking to a woman
      Tagido chiz – when taking a picture of a group (men, women or both)

  5. ed:

    What are the female and male letters of the alphabet as one.There is a combination of both male and female letters as one letter.
    Does anyone know these letters?

    • Ayana:

      @ed Hey Ed 🙂 The word letter in Hebrew – אות – is female. Hence all the Hebrew letters are female. For example, if you say האות פ, then פ is referred to as female.

  6. Bob Katz:

    This was helpful. Thanks

  7. Suzanne/ שושנה:

    אני התחילה לדבר בעברית, ברמה בסיס. הדף באתר שלך זה נהדר! תודה רבה. אני רוצה לראות מילים זכרים עם סיומות נקבי? אני תנישה לעשות רשימת של אלה מילים מיחודים.

    • Ayana:

      @Suzanne/ שושנה Hi Suzanne, Thank you for your comment! I’m here to help 🙂 Good luck with your Hebrew studies. You are maybe a beginner now, but with your enthusiasm and a bit of practice you will get fluency in no time 😉

      היי שושנה, תודה על התגובה! אני כאן לעזור 🙂 בהצלחה בלימודי העברית. את אולי ברמה בסיסית כרגע, אבל עם ההתלהבות שלך וקצת תרגול את תשיגי שליטה בעברית במהרה 🙂

    • Ayana:

      @Suzanne/ שושנה Here are some masculine words in Hebrew, that end like feminine words (with ה).
      הנה כמה מילים בעברית שמינם זכר אך הם נגמרים בסיומת נקבית:
      יעה – dustpan
      שה – lamb
      עלה – leaf
      מבנה – structure
      מתוה – layout
      מתלה – hook, hunger
      קנה – stalk, reed
      כשאזכר בעוד אכתוב כאן 🙂


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