Natural/biological gender

(The natural or biological gender in the German language)

Table of contents – natural gender

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Explanation of the term natural gender
  2. Further explanations and exercises

What is the natural gender?

German grammar distinguishes between two types of genders. The grammatical gender refers to a specific category of a noun; the natural gender (in German: Sexus) determines the biological one, which is the sex of a person or an animal. This distinction means that a woman is female (♀) and a man male (♂) and, as a consequence, only nouns that represent living beings can have a biological gender. For the majority of such nouns, the natural gender (sex) coincides with the grammatical gender (German: Genus) although some deviate from this rule. For clarification: Biologically, the German noun ‘die Straße’ (the street) embodying a thing cannot be female although, grammatically, it carries the feminine article ‘die’ (the). For that reason, it is feminine in the sense of grammatical gender.

Compare the following example nouns of persons and living things showing their natural gender:

  • Common nouns where the biological (sex) and grammatical gender coincide:
    • die Frau ♀ (the woman)
    • der Mann ♂ (the man)
    • der Leopard ♂ (the leopard)
    • die Löwin ♀ (the lioness)
    • der Koch ♂ (the cook)
    • die Anwältin ♀ (the lawyer)
    • Information: Note that, in English, nouns often have a generic form for male and female people (for example, ‘lawyer’ may be a man or a woman).
  • Exceptional nouns where the natural (sex) and the grammatical gender are different:
    • das Mädchen (the girl)
      • sex female ♀ but grammatically neutral
    • das Bübchen (the little boy)
      • natural gender male ♂ but neuter grammatical gender
    • das Kind (the child)
      • natural gender male ♂ or female ♀ but with the neuter grammatical gender

Further explanations related to the ‘Natural gender’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘The natural or biological gender in the German language’ and may therefore be interesting too: