Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Wed May 8 06:27:40 EDT 2002

At 10:56 PM -0400 5/7/02, Robert Dyson wrote:
>I am a new student of Koine Greek.  I am having problems
>understanding the gender. I have been told that masculine does not
>mean male or feminine does not mean female.
>Please explain.
>*Robert Dyson [New subscribers please note that B-Greek protocol
>requires a full-name signature to be appended to messages sent
>to the list.]

You might almost do better to think of "masculine," "feminine" and "neuter"
genders in Greek as "A," "B," and "C" genders--if the adjectives
"masculine," "feminine" and "neuter" are going to confuse you. Gender is
not a matter of biology or cultural roles but rather of grammatical
agreement: "masculine" nouns require "masculine" forms of the article and
of adjectives and have to be represented (normally) by masculine
pronouns--and similarly "feminine" and "neuter" nouns reqire "feminine" and
"neuter" forms respectively.

While masculine and feminine human persons and their names are almost
always distinctly in the "masculine" and "feminine" gender, yet there are
striking exceptions: TEKNON and PAIDION are neuter nouns, each meaning
"child," KORASION is a noun for "little girl" in the Greek NT, and it too
is neuter.

But there are far more nouns in Greek that don't refer to male or female
human persons at all--and they all fall into one of the three gender
categories and require adjectives, articles, and pronouns referring to them
to be in their own appropriate gender. QALASSA ("sea") is feminine, while
PONTOS (also meaning "sea") is masculine: that doesnt mean that THE SEA was
thought of by the Greeks either as a male or as a female.

So: when nouns and names refer to human persons (or animals) they do tend
to take the gender corresponding to the sexual gender of the person (or
animal)--but they don't always do that without exception, and nouns and
names referring to inanimate things do all have masculine, feminine, or
neuter gender--as the case may be--but should NOT be thought of as "male,"
"female," or "sexless."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months:: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at OR cwconrad at

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