In the English language (or maybe in English-speaking cultures?) it's common to use feminine pronouns to refer to ships (and occasionally to other types of vehicles).

Are there any other languages/cultures where ships have a designated non-grammatical "natural" gender?

Obviously there could be other cases like English where the language has gender-neutral pronouns, but instead uses gendered pronouns for ships. I can also imagine there being cases where a language has grammatical gender, but ignores it for animate nouns, and ships are considered animate.

1 Answer 1


Yes, German

Die Gorch Fock 1

Obviously this stems from the same shared history.

Gender is usual for institutions, where it frequently follows the Gender of the instrumental noun, die Bank, die Deutsche Bank, rarely die Deutsche.

Since ships are frequently female, too, this implies there was a female noun following the name. Possible candidates are Crew, Truppe, Mannschaft, further Flotte. Whereas a female noun for (big) ship escapes me at the moment.

Obviously, a name that has an obvious gender would command it, too.

Die Bloody Mary

Der Fliegende Holländer

But not strictly so. Nominaly male names frequently command the female article, e.g.:

Die John F. Kennedy

  • 5
    Der Fliegende Holländer is rather an exception; it is die Franklin D. Roosevelt, die John F. Kennedy, etc., despite the obviously male names. What is more, at least the German Wikipedia article on the Flying Dutchman says variants of the legend are not consistent about whether "der Fliegende Holländer" is actually the name of the ship, or rather a nickname given to its cursed captain. Commented Jan 26, 2020 at 10:53
  • Same in Italian, I'd use "la" for those first two, but "l'" (equivocal but really masculine in my mind) for the Flying Dutchman. I feel that's because it's harder to consider "flying Dutchman" a mere citation form, while it's easier with a person's name that's clearly just a name for the ship but not related to the ship itself.
    – LjL
    Commented Jan 26, 2020 at 17:20

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