If a chair can become the chair, can a noun's gender change depend on the article that introduces it? My understanding is that the classifier concentrates on the similar characteristics of the noun that put that noun into a class, and the article concentrates on the definiteness, singular or plural, and the gender of that noun.

In Mong language, tsob is a classifier indicating the characteristic of having roots. Nplej is an unhusked rice grain. Tsob nplej, therefore, is an unhusked rice grain that has roots which would mean the rice stalk. Tug is an article indicating definite, singular, and gender-neutral. Tug nplej is the stem of unhusked rice grain. Lub is a definite article, singular, feminine. Lub nplej is the particular unhusked rice grain. Lub is feminine in that the nouns it introduces bring peace and comfort. Lub nplej, unhusked rice grain, can turn into lub ntsab, husked rice grain, that can be cooked and turn into lub mov, cooked rice grain, which is being used to make you full so you can live to enjoy another day.

Back to a chair and the chair, since nplej can be used with both a gender-neutral article and a feminine article, tug nplej and lub nplej, does the gender of nplej depends on the article that introduces it, just like the definiteness of a noun is dependent of the article that introduces it? Are other languages that their articles identify more than just the definite and indefinite quality, as in English, also have this same issue?

  • 5
    It’s common enough to have two identical words of different gender and meaning in various languages; for example Italian metro (m) ‘metre’ vs metro (f) ‘metro, subway’, or Danish vår (c) ‘spring’ vs vår (n) ‘[pillow]case’. The articles disambiguate between those different words, but it’s not the article that defines the word or its meaning. Each word has its associated article, you just can’t necessarily tell which word you’re dealing with until you actually add that article. Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 14:11
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    Or take German See, a word referring to a body of water. Der See (masculine) means “the lake”. Die See (feminine) means “the sea, the ocean".
    – jlawler
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 15:08
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    There are also examples in French: la poste (feminine) is the post office/ postal service, whereas le poste (masculine) is the position in a company, job.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 8:17
  • I don't think it's really the case that the article confers definiteness on the noun; rather the article helps us understand the definiteness of the noun more rapidly. It's often possible to discern the definiteness or indefiniteness of a noun (or should that be NP?) from the context in languages which do not have articles. Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 15:09

2 Answers 2


First, English has no gender in articles, it cannot be compared.

German has gendered articles, but gender in German is considered an intrinsic property of the noun, and the noun governs the gender of the article. This is also the case where several senses of a noun are just distinguished by different gender as in die Kiefer "pine tree" and der Kiefer "jaw". In German, the gender of a noun can be changed by some affix (usually -in, as in der Schauspieler "the actor" and die Schauspielerin "the actress"), a process named Movierung.

There are some nouns in German that are historically nominalised adjectives that have the same form for both genders, e.g., der/die Abgeordnete "The delegate, the member of a parliament (m/f)", but still, conceptually, gender is ascribed to the noun and the article just follows. EDIT: As a side note, nouns like der Abgeordnete have an interesting behaviour with respect to definiteness: it is ein Abgeordneter / eine Abgeordnete "a delegate (m/f)"; the indefinite forms are different according to the gender.


Across languages, gender is partially a function of a lexical property of a noun, but also semantic properties of the NP. Therefore the diminutive singular of a noun could be one gender and the augmentative plural a different gender. The non-lexical semantic properties of an NP might be abstract, not correlated with a specific morpheme, so "male X" vs. "female X" may be expressed solely via the choice of gender marker (as in Khoekhoe), and the properties "plural", "augmentative" and "diminutive" in Bantu languages are generally indicated only by gender-selection.

So-called classifiers do not have to be treated as articles, so the first thing you have to do is establish that they are grammatically articles. Languages do not typically have an open class of articles, meaning that Hmong classifiers are probably not to be treated as articles. It is also not obvious that Hmong has grammatical gender. A typical test for the existence of gender is formal agreement, as in German or Bantu, where adjectives agree in grammatical gender with the head of the NP. The classifiers of Hmong may be somewhat abstract semantic markers that accomplish what determiners (articles) do in other language, or gender-markers. N. White has a paper "Classifiers in Hmong" which goes into the properties of classifiers in more detail. My impression, from that paper, is that "article" and "gender" are not useful or necessary concepts applied to Hmong classifiers.

  • are you referring to "8 Classifiers in Hmong" by Nathan M. White? While I do not have the full article of that paper, nor Riddle's 1989 paper, I do have Bisang's 1993 "Classifiers, Quantifiers and Class Nouns in Hmong." If White's paper is built upon Bisang's work, then there could be more questions than answers. I am trying to look into angles that past works may not have been aware of. Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 17:36

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