In portuguese women say


and men say obrigado

In thai women say

sawadee ka

and men say sawadee krap

Is there a linguistic term for these gender based distinctions?

How many examples and languages do you know of this?

In theory, you will always know the gender (identity, even!) of the person speaking/writing, what are the effects?


I feel the need to clarify some things based on the answers. The observation is that some languages are "gendered", in the sense that you speak or write differently based on your gender/sex (identity) - they have (some) gender specific vocabulary. I'm looking for examples of this and arguments on possible implications.

  • I think the most famous example of this is Yanyuwa (Pama-Nyungan(?)), which has distinct dialects used by men and women. Sep 9, 2015 at 5:45
  • Note that the Portuguese and Thai expressions are both conversational fillers, and therefore idiomatic almost ex officio. They are very poor examples of grammatical phenomena.
    – jlawler
    Sep 9, 2015 at 14:24
  • @jlawler They aren't conversational fillers. It's thank you (portuguese) and hello (thai) - to call that a filler in the linguistic sense is incorrect. But I agree that the examples aren't really the most interesting ones even in portuguese or thai. I just wanted to give two obvious examples, to get answers such as the one Gaston provided.
    – Hitman
    Sep 10, 2015 at 0:07
  • 1
    Sorry, wrong term. What I mean is they have no lexical meaning; they're just formulas used for pragmatic purposes, so they're different from other words.
    – jlawler
    Sep 10, 2015 at 1:43

2 Answers 2


In languages that have grammatical gender a sentence like “I am obliged” will decline the adjective “obliged” for number and gender to agree with the (explicit or implied) subject. (Though there are exceptions, e.g. German). This is how grammatical gender works.

  • I think the exceptions are too many to call this a general rule of languages with grammatical gender? Spanish also doesn't have this as far as I know.
    – Hitman
    Sep 10, 2015 at 0:11
  • This is because Spanish is wishing you grace, while Portuguese say they are obliged to you. When Spanish say "I am grateful" (which could be construed as a form of thanking someone) , it will be also "soy agradecido/agradecida" based on the speaker's gender. In Czech, we say literally "I thank you", which is a finite verb in 1st person singular, thus it does not express gender, but again you can easily say "I am grateful" with pretty much the same meaning and this contains an adjective, which has gender and number agreement so male/female speakers will say "jsem vděčný/vděčná" respectively.
    – Eleshar
    Nov 17, 2016 at 22:32

They are two different phenomenons.

Portuguese. The first one is a regular adjective, inflected according to Grammatical Gender which governs adjective and verb inflections according to the associated noun.
This is also confirmed by presence of plural forms: MASC/PL obrigados, FEM/PL obrigadas and diminutive forms MASC obrigadinho and FEM obrigadinha.
Don't be confused with the fact that the actual noun or pronoun is omitted.

Thai politeness particles are of a different nature. There is no noun/adjective/verb inflections in Thai whatsoever. Instead, the politeness particles, like ครับ [kʰráp], คะ [kʰáʔ] only denote the social relationship between a speaker and a listener.

For example, a Thai mother can address their kid with [kʰráp] to indicate her power over a kid or to stress some request to be fulfilled, and at the same time a father may address his kid (usually, a young daughter) with [kʰáʔ] to indicate his father's feelings.
Also, in military [kʰráp] is widely used, regardless of the gender. Furthermore, it can be even ครับผม [kʰráp pʰǒm], where ผม [pʰǒm] is a masculine 1st person pronoun ("I").

Further reading: Thai Words 'Krap' And 'Ka' - Thai Language.

  • obrigado/a is not a verb.
    – fdb
    Sep 9, 2015 at 9:34
  • Thank you @fdb, I fixed my wording, it was indeed unclear. Sep 9, 2015 at 15:23
  • Stil not quite right. In Indo-European languages gender does not govern verb inflections. Finite verbs are not conjugated for gender.
    – fdb
    Sep 9, 2015 at 15:51
  • @fdb, yes, governance is language-specific. Although we are talking about the OP's example only, finite verbs do conjugate in some IE languages (e.g. many Slavic ones). Sep 9, 2015 at 16:12
  • verbs in Russian can be marked for gender, not governed.
    – Alex B.
    Sep 9, 2015 at 16:22

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