Specifically, I am looking for languages that derive the equivalent word for males from the word for females using some sort of masculine affix. Also, to be clear, they should be words for people, not just grammatical gender.

For context, in English, there is a dearth of such words, but the opposite category, female words derived from male words, has plenty of examples (e.g., actor to actress, bachelor to bachelorette, fiancé to fiancée). Some of these words come from other (Romance) languages, where it's also very common to add a feminine suffix. I looked for any and all male words derived from female words in English and came up with only this list:

  • Bridegroom
  • Widower
  • Man-[noun]/male [noun] ("man crone", "male nurse")

Bridegroom is the only example of a masculine affix (though it has been lost to time), since "er" is not masculine, and the others aren't quite affixes.

The question In romance languages, are there examples of male names that derive from female names? was interesting, but I'm not looking for personal names.

  • 1
    The ‘suffix’ in bridegroom is historically a noun meaning ‘man’, so essentially the same as -man tacked on to another word (as in chairman, etc.). To the extent that that counts as an ‘affix’, it’s not really so very different from man- used before the head (manwhore, etc.). Jan 1 at 12:29
  • Suppose weaving was primarily a female occupation, then weaver would be female derived without giving it away (but this example may be bogus). A clear case of zero-derivation is slut especially in gay lingo, which behaves no different than nurse without the "male" prefix because English has long lost canonical marking of gender. Whether sonabitch or bitch was first may debatable (compare *abuhaz; I'm tempted to say the etymology is opaque).
    – vectory
    Jan 1 at 15:05
  • @vectory "Man-slut" is one of the terms I mentioned in the other Q&A and I don't see the relevance of "weaver". I'm not looking for "zero-derivation"; there must be a female and a male form. As for "son of a bitch", that's neither a regular formation in English (we have only "son of a gun"), nor a real synonym for "bitch".
    – Laurel
    Jan 1 at 18:49
  • but man-sut is zero derivation in the synthetic sense. It's not man-slut-[ending] and man is a simple noun in attributive usage, no different from, say, rain coat, male coat, female coat. "Slut" is not grammatically coded feminine, nor is nurse, coat or skirt. So your question requires implicit assumptions about what it means to be female, which isn't terribly well defined. What you mean to ask is something about the closed class of determiners, I suppose. Otherwise, try as king your question in more technical terms without reference to English, because it contradicts the title
    – vectory
    Jan 1 at 18:57
  • [cont.] since what I understand it to mean is the opposite of German where a) Pfleger is assumed to be male or underspecified and -in marks it specifically feminine b) Schwester "nurse, sister" does not admit a masculine derivation where preference for Pfleger is widely accepted, nor does Bruder admit a feminine derivation c) words like Schlampe "bitch" may be unisex (hence my reference) but, theoretically, -r derivation from the verb is plausible (actually diminutive Schlampi may be more common). Which shows, in essence, that the root is semantically underspecified.
    – vectory
    Jan 1 at 19:03

2 Answers 2



Manambu, native to northern Papua New Guinea, is such a language since the unmarked form is used for females and a suffix is added when referring to males ("-də" or "-d"). A feminine suffix, "-l" does exist, but it's only used in certain contexts, using the rules in Table 5.2 of The Manambu Language of East Sepik, Papua New Guinea. Unlike English, the suffix isn't attached to the noun it refers to:

The language has two genders, masculine and feminine. Gender is covert: it cannot be inferred from the form of the noun. One knows what gender a noun belongs to by the form of an agreeing demonstrative, adjective, possessive pronoun, or verb.

How Gender Shapes the World (HGStW)

It is a system of grammatical gender proper. In contexts where English would use "it" (small children, animals of unknown sex, and objects), Manambu assigns a gender based on shape, size, or some other factors. HGStW says "[c]hoice of gender for humans is always based on their Natural Gender, or sex" but notes there are exceptions, the primary one being that you can reverse the gender as a joke (e.g., masculine to refer to a tall and slender woman).

The article Wo- and Manambu: The Gender of Things in Manambu gives examples with "wuna" ("my" for feminine) and "wunadə" ("my" for masculine):

  • ñaməs = younger sibling

    • wuna ñaməs = my younger sister
    • wunadə ñaməs = my younger brother
  • maam = older sibling

    • wuna maam = my older sister
    • wunadə maam = my older brother

Based on another example featuring adjectives, I would assume that "rakrak ñaməs" would be a grammatical way to refer to "the happy older sister" and "rakrakdə ñaməs" to "the happy older brother".

I found another example in The division of GENDER (quoting Aikhenvald 2012):

"This big man stays in the house":

ke-də numa-də du wiya:m kwa-na-d
this-M.SG big-M.SG man house.LOC stay-PRES-M.SG

"This big woman stays in the house":

ka-∅ numa-∅ ta:kw wiya:m kwa-na-∅
this-F.SG big-F.SG woman house.LOC stay-PRES-F.SG

German has such kind of derivation, but only marginally, for some animals where the default is female and the male form is marked. Examples include

  • Ente, Enterich or Erpel "duck"
  • Gans, Ganter or Gänserich "goose"
  • Katze, Kater "cat"
  • Ziege, Ziegenbock "goat"

Some animals are neuter by default and have marked males, e.g.,

  • Reh, Rehbock "roe"

But this hardly meets the requirement of regularity, although we see the recurring (pseudo-)suffixes -erich for birds and -bock for ungulates.

  • It sounds like the situation is somewhat similar to English in that it doesn't really happen. Can you label the examples and add the etymology for people without knowledge of German? It's a bit suspicious to see words that are etymologically connected to both "drake" and "gander" when in my linked answer I discarded those words because of the OED. Also, it's not clear to me if "Katze/Kater" is an example or are from a common neutral(?) origin.
    – Laurel
    Jan 2 at 18:03
  • Are these defaults actually females (rather than just feminines)? German Wiktionary at least lists the generic sense describing the species before listing the specific sense describing the female of that species (if at all). I would argue that they are species designators that have specifically male (and masculine) counterparts, but which are not in themselves words for females. @Laurel What does the OED say that made you discard them? Gander is formed with the same masculising suffix (PG *-zō) as Kater. Jan 2 at 23:00
  • @JanusBahsJacquet See chat—it's possible that I made a mistake. However, the fact that we have to have this conversation at all makes me think it's not really what I'm looking for, since it looks like it was never regular. I get the feeling that adding these suffixes to other female words would have sounded as unidiomatic as "doe-buck" does in English.
    – Laurel
    Jan 2 at 23:24
  • This is the general -er derivation, which I remarked in comments. Kätzer was likely avoided and replaced by a Low German form. Ziege "tig" is uncertain in origin and in view of semantics maybe influenced by Zofe (MHG "zoffen, zaffen ‘zögern’", DWDS), compare Meckerziege. Since Geiß alone means "he-goat" eg Geißbock shows that -bock does not specify gender but virility, same as Ochse "ox" vs. Zuchtbulle "taurus potens". The -ch ending of Enterich and Gänserich is in origin probably neuter diminutive -ch-en, not sure; certainly not generally valid. Maybe -rex "king"
    – vectory
    Jan 3 at 20:07
  • [p.s.] or rebracketed from something like drake, German Drachen.
    – vectory
    Jan 3 at 20:14

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