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Polish nouns of unpredictable gender


Derevon 12 | 172
20 Dec 2009 #1
So far, the best rules I've found are these:

Nouns are of male gender if:

- They end in a consonant (except ć)

- They describe a person who is potentially or by definition male regardless of ending (gość, teść, idiota...)

Nouns are of neuter gender if:

- They end in -o, -e, (okno, morze, niemowlę)

- They end in -um and are of Latin origin (muzeum, gimnazjum, liceum, obserwatorium...)

Nouns are of female gender if:

- They end in -a, or -i (małpa, miłość, mistrzyni)

- They describe a person who is by definition female

Exceptions to these rules:

Female gender words with male endings:

Ending in C: noc, moc, północ, pomoc
Ending in J: kolej
Ending in L: biel, sól, pościel
Ending in Ń: czerwień, czerń, zieleń, broń, gałąź, dłoń, jabłoń, jaźń, przyjaźń jesień, kieszeń, pieczeń, pieśń, pleśń, przestrzeń, przystań
Ending in Ś: gęś, pierś, wieś
Ending in W: brew, krew
Ending in -: gałąź, krawędź, łódź, międź, odpowiedź, spowiedź, wypowiedź, zapowiedź, piędź, powódź, więź, żołądź
Ending in Ż: odzież, podróż, rubież, straż, sprzedaż, wyprzedaż
Ending in CZ: Bydgoszcz, Radogoszcz, poręcz, ciecz, rozpacz, rzecz, słodycz, zdobycz
Ending in SZ: mysz, wesz
Ending in RZ: twarz

Male gender words with female endings:

- liść, łokieć, satelita, Brześć

All in all 62 words/names so far. If you know more words/place names that go against these rules, please feel free to let me know. Or if you know any better rules...

By the way, what about the word "gnu"? Is it neuter (jedno)? Perhaps I should add "-u" to neuter?
Kenji75018 4 | 25
20 Dec 2009 #2
Hi Derevon

Does it mean that words ending by
C J L Ń Ś W - Ż CZ SZ RZ
are either feminine or masculine?
OP Derevon 12 | 172
20 Dec 2009 #3
Well, it means that all exceptions from the rules that I know of end in one of those letters/digraphs. ;) Especially - and Ń tend to have many exceptions.
OP Derevon 12 | 172
20 Dec 2009 #5
I just realised I forgot "paznokieć" (male).

Edit: and Cerkiew (f). From that link also "chorągiew", "marchew" and "młodzież". Thanks.
microwac
20 Dec 2009 #6
there are too many exceptions to these rules,
there HAS TO BE a easier way to learn polish !!!
OP Derevon 12 | 172
20 Dec 2009 #7
It's not that bad actually. Some 60-65 exceptions for many thousands of words. I'd say only somewhere between 1 and 2% are irregular.
Kenji75018 4 | 25
20 Dec 2009 #8
The best is to have a good brain and a bit of passion :-)
Lorenc 4 | 28
20 Dec 2009 #9
Hi Derevon,
as far as I know (or as little as I do) your rules are essentially correct, but some further qualifications can be given...

MASCULINE vs FEMININE
1) Words ending in a hard consonant are always masculine. All the female nouns ending with a consonant end in a soft or functionally soft (aka hardened) consonant (BTW you can add myśl to your list).

2) There are many words ending with the -ść cluster [which corresponds to English -ness], often indicating abstract things: miłość, jasność, wolność and many others. As a rule they are FEMININE. I did a search on the electronic version of the PWN dictionary and I found only 4 masculine nouns ending in -ść, + 3 more which are honorific titles and can be either masculine or feminine (presumably hardly ever used). These are:

gość (guest), liść (leaf), teść (father-in-law), ekspansywność (expansiveness, probably rarely used)
Honorific titles:
mość (~Lordship or something)
jegomość (~Lordship/reverend or something)
przewielebność (most reverend, for bishops etc)

I don't think you can state any rule for the simple ending -ć (/=-ść). Always using the electronic PWN dictionary I counted 23 feminine words with this ending and 21 masculine, so in this case it seems to be a 50% thing.

NEUTER
The regular ending for neuter nouns is -o and this is also the only possible one if the consonant before the final vowel is hard.

There are only ~48 neuter words ending in ę, of which ~25 indicate the youngs of animals and many others are otherwise agriculture-related: e.g. cielę (calf), prosię (piglet), jagnię (lamb/kid), pisklę (chick), źrebię (foal)...

These neuter -ę ending words are notable because they acquire a further syllable in all cases different from nominative. The extra syllable is -eń- (singular) / -on- (plural) for names in -mię, otherwise it's -ęć-/-ęt- (possibly there are exceptions).

e.g.
imię NOM SING
imienia GEN SING
imieniu DAT SING
imię ACC SING
imieniem INST SING
imieniu LOC SING
imię VOC SING

imiona NOM PLUR
imion GEN PLUR
imionom DAT PLUR
imiona ACC PLUR
imionami INST PLUR
imionach LOC PLUR
imiona VOC PLUR

I hope it helps.
OP Derevon 12 | 172
20 Dec 2009 #10
I don't think you can state any rule for the simple ending -ć (/=-ść). Always using the electronic PWN dictionary I counted 23 feminine words with this ending and 21 masculine, so in this case it seems to be a 50% thing.

Thanks. Feel free to let me know what masculine words in -c you found. I only know of nokieć and paznokieć but I know quite a few female words with this ending.
Lyzko
20 Dec 2009 #11
...and then there's feminine 'kość' (bone), declined like masculine 'gość', so far as I can recall:-)

A useful paradigm, Derevon and Lorenc! Like trawling for fish in the ocean however, there'll always be a few that get away. LOL
cinek 2 | 344
21 Dec 2009 #12
I found only 4 masculine nouns ending in -ść, + 3 more which are honorific titles and can be either masculine or feminine (presumably hardly ever used). These are:
gość (guest), liść (leaf), teść (father-in-law), ekspansywność (expansiveness, probably rarely used)
Honorific titles:
mość (~Lordship or something)
jegomość (~Lordship/reverend or something)
przewielebność (most reverend, for bishops etc)

ekspansywność, mość and przewielebność are feminine

Feel free to let me know what masculine words in -ć you found. I only know of nokieć and paznokieć

kmieć, dziegieć, śmieć, Turkuć Podjadek, kapeć, pypeć, berbeć

By the way, what about the word "gnu"? Is it neuter (jedno)? Perhaps I should add "-u" to neuter?

Most speakers would say just 'anylopa gnu' which would be feminine (antylopa). But if you want to say just 'gnu' then yes, it's neuter.

Cinek
OP Derevon 12 | 172
21 Dec 2009 #13
Thanks Cinek! "kmieć", and "berbeć" can describe a person of male gender I understand, but I will add the other ones.

By the way, if a foreign speaker were to say "your" about a foreign word ending in "-u", e.g. a brand name, he/she would say "twoje", right?
cinek 2 | 344
21 Dec 2009 #14
"kmieć", and "berbeć" can describe a person of male gender

"kmieć" yes, but "berbeć" can be either a boy or a girl.

if a foreign speaker were to say "your" about a foreign word ending in "-u", e.g. a brand name, he/she would say "twoje", right?

Yes, but remember that the -u words don't decline in Polish, so people woud tend to use it with a 'declinable' word (like in the 'gnu' - 'antylopa gnu' example). In such cases the auxiliary word would imply the gender.

Cinek
Gaa 2 | 155
21 Dec 2009 #15
kmieć, dziegieć, Turkuć Podjadek, kapeć, pypeć, berbeć

they are veryyyyy low frequency words. i add cieć.
Magdalena 3 | 1,837
21 Dec 2009 #16
kapeć, pypeć, and cieć are used often. Hell, I am wearing kapcie right now! ;-)
p....
21 Dec 2009 #17
Nouns are of female gender if:

* They end in -a, -ć or -i (małpa, miłość, mistrzyni)

* They describe a person who is by definition female

poeta is definately masculine, but with female ending and such declination.
all other stuff concerning this word has to have masculine forms...

kto co szczupła kobieta / szczupły poeta
kogo czego szczupłej kobiety/szczupłego poety
komu czemu szczupłej kobiecie/ szczupłemu poecie
kogo co szczupłą kobietę/szczupłego poetę
z kim z czym ze szczupłą kobietą / ze szczupłym poetą
o kim o czym o szczupłej kobiecie / o szczupłym poecie
OP Derevon 12 | 172
21 Dec 2009 #18
That's why I added the rule:

"Nouns are of male gender if they describe a person who is potentially or by definition male regardless of ending (gość, teść, idiota...)"

I would say "berbeć" qualifies as potentially male, so I don't think it should be listed as an exception.

As for declension, it's a separate chapter since they seem to have more to do with endings than genders (with some exceptions).

I'd still say the "-c" = female rule holds up pretty well. Many common nouns with this ending are female after all, like: postać, śmierć, sieć, rtęć, pamięć, nić, dobroć, chęć along with the countless of -ość and -ść.
Ziemowit 13 | 4,038
21 Dec 2009 #19
"kmieć" yes, but "berbeć" can be either a boy or a girl

Yes, but I would add that you never say "ta berbeć", but always "ten berbeć" describing either of them, so it is always a masculine noun.

As to nouns ending in -u, we have "guru", and it's always "ten guru", never "ta guru" or "to guru", so it's a masculine noun.
SzwedwPolsce 11 | 1,595
21 Dec 2009 #20
There isn't a huge number of "strange-gender-nouns" that are useful in everyday-life for someone learning Polish. I would say < 20.
cinek 2 | 344
21 Dec 2009 #21
you never say "ta berbeć", but always "ten berbeć" describing either of them, so it is always a masculine noun

yes, this is what my reply was about :-)
Lorenc 4 | 28
21 Dec 2009 #22
I had written a very detailed reply yesterday but, *very* irritatingly, it seems to have been lost in transit :-(
Here's a condensed version.

We stated that words ending in -ść are FEMININE, with (essentially) only 3 exceptions: gość, liść, teść.

Words ending in -ć (excluding those in -ść) can be either feminine or masculine.
I counted on the PWN dictionary 23 feminine words ending in -ć and 21 masculine.

In particular, of the 21 masculine 18 end in -eć (also feminine nouns can end in -eć so there's no rule here).
The three that don't are:
zięć -> son-in-law
papuć -> (colloquial) slipper
turkuć [podjadek] -> mole cricket
I think in most contexts we can forget about the last one.

Here are the remaining -eć ending ones I found, more or less in order of google hits on google.pl (I did a quick search to see if these words are used at all):

kapeć ->slipper; flat tyre
łapeć /albo/ papeć /albo/ papuć -> slipper
pypeć [np., na języku] -> pip (medicine) ; also: (colloquial) ->blotch/mole;
śmieć -> scum; piece of rubbish
cieć (colloquial,offensive) ->caretaker, janitor
paznokieć ->nail
wiecheć -> bunch (e.g., of flowers) [can also be a family name]
dziegieć -> wood tar [can also be a family name]
rupieć -> piece of junk
kmieć (dated) ->peasant/yeoman [can also be a family name]
berbeć (colloquial) ->toddler
kłykieć /lub/ knykieć -> knuckle
kopeć -> soot,lampblack [can also be a family name]
urwipołeć (colloquial,humorous) -> imp
spłacheć (dated) ->piece
płacheć (dated or dialectal) ->patch

If I have time I'll make a list of the corresponding -ć ending feminine nouns.
Anyhow, even if it can be fun to make such lists (yes, some people have a very special idea of fun :) I don't think anyone should make an effort to remember these mostly rarely-used words...

...and then there's feminine 'kość' (bone), declined like masculine 'gość', so far as I can recall:-)

you're right, kość is indeed a feminine noun, but it does not decline as gość, which is masculine (and virile). Kość declines near-regularly (*) following the pattern of feminine words ending in a consonant cluster with a final soft consonant (admittedly, a very specific pattern :-).

(*) It's only irregularity is that its instrumental plural is kośćmi and not the expected (wrong) "kościami" (gość does the same, as does a small group of soft-ending words).

BTW, I'll also mention that some online Polish dictionary also provide a full declensor/verb conjugator which is often a real godsend! See e.g.:

Oscar Swan's Polish dictionary polish.slavic.pitt.edu/~swan/beta/
Wiksłownik
pl.wiktionary.org/wiki

Słownik języka polskiego
sjp.pl
I'll also seize the opportunity to ask a related question... Do *all* zero-ending feminine words have the nominative plural in -i (instead of the regular -e)?

Lorenc
Lyzko
21 Dec 2009 #23
........very irritatingly, it seems to have been lost in transit.....

...meaning your mesaage for posting was sent, but not delivered?? Try the Firefox program. I used to have the same problem until I switched last month:-)

Apropos 'kość', could it be that messrs. Swan and the gentleman who wrote 'Języka polskiego dla cudoziemców' (1993) are giving conflicting declension patterns?? Guess I'll have to check out 'kość' again at home. LOL

The chart or outline is, again, quite admirable. I find though, that the paradigms are so irregular, not every single Polish noun could possibly fit into any single category, e.g. feminine 'krew' (blood) vs. masculine 'zalew' (drainage pipe) ad infinitum.

"soft-ending nouns"

such as ludzie - ludźmi (NOT 'ludziami'), przyjaciele - przyjaciółmi etc.....
Lorenc 4 | 28
23 Dec 2009 #24
Spurred by our previous discussion and having some free time in my hands I persused my PWN-Oxford dictionary with the aim of drawing up a definite list of feminine nouns ending with a consonant. For your joy, here's a detailed summary of my findings :-)

PRELIMINARY NOTE
Polish consonant sounds are customary labelled as hard or soft. Soft sounds are further classified as historical soft (also known as hardened or functionally soft) and phonetically (or "true") soft. "Softness" is the name traditional used in the Slavic grammatical tradition for "palatalisation".

I'll use this classification (slightly different ones are also in use, especially for l,j and ł, but for our purposes let's stick to this one):

Hard sounds are m, b, p, w, f, n, d, t, z, s, r, k, g, ch/h, ł
Historical soft sounds are c, dz, sz, rz/ż, cz, dż
True soft sounds are ź, ś, ć, dź, ń, j, l

Hard sounds (a part from ł) automatically soften if followed by "i". For s, z, n this gives the sounds ś,ź,ń. For the hard sounds m, b, p, w, f, d, t, r, k, g, ch/h there's no single symbol to write their corresponding soft sound and they cannot occur in word-final position. For our purposes we can write them as m', b' etc.

MAIN RULE 1
The final consonant of feminine, zero-ending words is ALWAYS a soft consonant, either historical or true soft (see note 1 and 2 below for some minor qualifications).

MAIN RULE 2
By far, the largest group of zero-ending feminine word is constituted by those ending in -ość, as already discussed. There are probably more than 3000 feminine words of this kind.

LIST OF WORDS
Excluding words ending in -ość, the total number of zero-ending feminine nouns I found is 171. Of these, I estimate only some 30-40 are actually worth remembering. All the others look very obscure and are probably hardly-ever used in most normal contexts.

Warning: there may be mistakes!

: 34 / przestrzeń, broń, pieśń, kieszeń, zieleń, pieczeń, dłoń, przyjaźń, czerń, jesień, jabłoń, otchłań, pogoń, przystań, bojaźń, pilśń, pleśń, czerwień, grań, podczerwień, woń, baśń, czasoprzestrzeń, dań, darń, goleń, jaźń, kaźń, krtań, sień, skroń, szreń, toń, waśń

: 23 (excluding those ending in -ść) sieć, nić, płeć, chęć, ćwierć, pieczęć, mać, kibić, żółć, płacheć [can also be masculine], połać, barć, chuć, nać, paproć, perć, płoć, rtęć, staroć, troć, wilgoć, zamieć, wić

-l : 21 / myśl, stal, sól, kąpiel, biel, dal, faul, zgorzel, latorośl, narośl, odrośl, piszczel [can also be masculine], pościel, torbiel, twardziel, diesel, gardziel, kądziel, kipiel, topiel, winorośl

-dź : 21 / The 10 listed by Derevon [BTW it's miedź, not międź and żołądź can also be masculine] + gładź, gołoledź, kadź, podpowiedź, czeladź, gawiedź, sadź, szadź, spadź, śniedź, żerdź

-ść : 20 (excluding those ending in -ość) / I won't list them as it makes more sense to cosider the -ść ending as feminine, as discussed in my previous post

: 16 / The 6 listed by Derevon + kradzież, młodzież, odwilż, podaż, uprząż, grabież, odsprzedaż, przedsprzedaż, rozprzedaż, trzebież
-cz : 15 / rzecz, słodycz, obręcz, ciecz, gorycz, odsiecz, zdobycz, klacz, dzicz, poręcz, rozpacz, smycz, tucz, przełęcz, swołocz
-w' : 13 (see note1) / krew, półkrew, brew, marchew, konew, chorągiew, brukiew, cerkiew, krokiew, rzodkiew, stągiew, warząchew, żagiew
-c : 11 / moc, noc, pomoc + 8 compound words of these: dobranoc, północ, równoc, Wielkanoc; samopomoc; niemoc, przemoc, wszechmoc
: 5 / maź, rzeź, gałąź, uwięź, więź
: 5 / pierś, oś, gęś, wieś, Białoruś
-sz : 3 / mysz, wesz, rozkosz
-rz: 3 / twarz, potwarz, macierz
-j: 1 / kolej

There are no feminine words ending in either -dz or -dż, which are the only soft consonant endings not represented in the list.

NOTE 1
In my list there appear 13 words ending in -ew, and w is apparently a hard consonant. This seems to contradict MAIN RULE 1 above. However, there's a way out. This kind of situation is rationalised in Ron F. Feldstein's free Polish grammar (he's talking about the masculine word "paw" =peacock):

QUOTE
Notice that the stem-final of paw is structurally soft, palatalized [w'], but that it hardens in final position, which happens to be the dictionary and usual citation form. It would be more accurate to represent the stem as paw'-.

UNQUOTE

I find though, that the paradigms are so irregular, not every single Polish noun could possibly fit into any single category, e.g. feminine 'krew' (blood) vs. masculine 'zalew' (drainage pipe) ad infinitum.

This discussion also helps in making some sense of the different behaviour of the words you quote. Krew is feminine and thus must ends in -w' and we expect -wi- to appear in other cases, -wi- being the only way to write w'. On the other hand zalew is masculine and ends in a hard w, so no "intrusive" i ever appears.

Compare:
NOM SING/PLUR krew/krwie | zalew/zalewy
GEN SING/PLUR krwi/krwi | zalwu/zalewów
DAT SING/PLUR krwi/krwiom | zalwowi/zalewom
ACC SING/PLUR krew/krwie | zalew/zalewy
INST SING/PLUR krwią/krwiami | zalewem/zalewami
LOC SING/PLUR krwi/krwiach | zalewie/zalewach
VOC SING/PLUR krwi/krwie | zalewie/zalewy

There doesn't seem to be any femine word ending in other softened hard sounds like m', b', p' etc.
I do not know if there are masculine nouns ending in softened sounds like -w'.

NOTE 2
It may be possible to come across semi-assimilated feminine foreign words which may end in a hard consonant: e.g., Wenus (planet and goddess), biznesswoman, call girl. These are invariable for all cases, so they arise no problems.

Okay, this is all. I guess many hoped the situation to be a bit simpler, but that's the way it is... Anyway, all in all, it's not too bad. In other languages such as French or Italian for many words there's just no way to tell if they're feminine or masculine, so Polish isn't doing too bad after all.

I guess it would make sense to create a compact list containing only useful words and excluding derivate words (if noc is feminine, so should be północ, ect.)

Lorenc

P.S.
The PWN dictionary reports "defekt", "tapir (fryzura)","babiniec" as feminine but I think they're mistakes (I cross-checked on wikisłownik). Who knows how many other mistakes there are in this dictionary...
Ziemowit 13 | 4,038
23 Dec 2009 #25
The PWN dictionary reports "defekt", "tapir (fryzura)","babiniec" as feminine but I think they're mistakes (I cross-checked on wikisłownik).

It's unbeliveble they make such mistakes. Can you quote the exact source (PWN does a lot of dictionaries)? They must have been drunk when compilying this one.
Lorenc 4 | 28
23 Dec 2009 #26
It's the CD-ROM version of the PWN-OXFORD Wielki słownik angielsko-polski i polsko-angielski which is advertised as The most comprehensive Polish and English dictionary available

pwn-oxford.pwn.pl
ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/academic/language/reference/dictionaries/bilingual/polish/9780198610755.do

It should be the biggest Polish<->English dictionary, perhaps together with the Kościuszko Foundation's one, but I'm not particularly impressed with it. Despite it's bulk it is certainly below par when compared with the best English<->Italian dictionaries. I was talking with a Polish NS and she didn't know many of the Polish proverbs and idioms listed, so I suppose they were either very old-fashioned or perhaps regional.
cinek 2 | 344
24 Dec 2009 #27
There doesn't seem to be any femine word ending in other softened hard sounds like m', b', p' etc.

I found one: Gołdap. There may be also other names of towns or villages.
Guest
24 Dec 2009 #28
Thanks Lorenc.

Perhaps some additional more specific rules could be formulated, like "źń"-ending always being female? Anything to make the list of exceptions shorter. ;)
OP Derevon 12 | 172
24 Dec 2009 #29
The above post was written by me by the way. I thought I was logged in.

By the way, what about "źń" and "iew"? Are there any male words ending in any of those?Thanks for the correction of "miedź". ;)
Lyzko
24 Dec 2009 #30
Re: masculine place name endings, for example, into which paradigm does "Przemyśł" fit?? Obviously it follows a declension pattern!

Thanks by the way, Lorenc, for correcting my information regarding 'gość' vs. 'kość'. The former declines according to the masculine, the latter according to the feminine pattern:-)

Oh, I mistranslated 'zalew'. It means 'flood' (synonym for 'powiedź') not 'drainage pipe'.
WESO£YCH ŚWIĄT I SZCZĘŚLIWEGO NOWEGO ROKU!!!


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