What is the grammatical gender in the Gothic language?

The Gothic language makes a distinction between three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine and neuter.

This distinction might be a bit difficult for English speaking people as the English language does not use such a system. English used to have it centuries ago but then gradually gave it up until it completely disappeared in the 14th century. The detailed story of this loss is explained in this Wikipedia articleOpens in a new tab..

So what can you do in order to learn this distinction even if you do not have it in English?

Natural gender versus grammatical gender

Let us first have a look at the two concepts of “natural gender” vs. “grammatical gender”.

Most European languages make a distinction between he, she and it. But there are two ways to do this.

Modern English uses a natural gender. A man is a “he”, a woman is a “she” and a cow is an “it”. A flower, a mountain, water, all things are “it”. In grammar the technical terms for this are masculine (he), feminine (she) and neuter (it).

Other languages like Latin, Greek, German, Russian or Gothic treat nouns differently. They use a grammatical gender. Every noun for a thing is either male, female or neuter without thinking of beards or make-up or bras at all.

In some cases you can have a quick look at a word and you can tell from the ending of a word, whether it is masculine or feminine. In others, concluded from the form, there is more than one option and you might have to learn which gender the noun has. It always has one or the other or the third one. But only one.

The implications of grammatical gender

The grammatical gender has consequences.

When you use an adjective to describe a noun (a beautiful house, a strong man, a big stone) then the adjective has a list (a declension table) with different forms for masculine, feminine and neuter.

When you want to build a Gothic sentence correctly on your own then

  • take a short look at the noun and remember its grammatical gender or if you don’t know or don’t remember
  • take a longer look and look it up in a dictionary
  • then pick the correct table cell in the adjective’s declension table. You preferably know that list by heart, otherwise look it up. And you are done.

For speakers of the English language this might sound a bit complicated or time consuming. But I can assure you that this is something every Russian and every German has to do in their own mother language. They can do it. The ancient Romans could do it. The Goths could do it. And when you are fluent enough then it takes no time at all. You just know the correct form. You don’t have to think about it. And when someone picks the wrong table cell then it just sounds awkward. You just know it, you even feel it, whether it is right or wrong.

When it comes to the Gothic language: as long as you are only reading Gothic texts this is little work for you. The author of the text has already provided that work for you.

When you try and build simple Gothic sentences on your own, then at first this might take some time. But please consider this to be fun. Consider it a riddle (a crossword puzzle, a Sudoku, whatever you like) that you can solve. Feel the satisfaction when you did it. Please don’t consider it to be work. If you consider it to be work, then it becomes a lot less fun.

What parts of speech are subject to grammatical gender in Gothic?

We have already seen that nouns and adjectives need to take gender into account. But there are more “parts of speech” (i.e. “kinds” of words) that know this distinction:

  • personal pronouns
  • some numbers; the numbers from 1 to 3
  • relative pronouns
  • interrogative pronouns
  • and maybe some more that I have just overlooked in this list.

Real Gothic examples for the grammatical gender

Let’s have some quick examples in Gothic. Left is Gothic, right is English:


  • sa guma = the man
  • sa manna = the man
  • sa atta = the father
  • sa wulfs = the wolf (he!)
  • sa bloma = the flower


  • so qino = the woman (think of English “queen”)
  • so ahwa = the water (think of Latin “aqua”)


  • thata barn = the child (it!)

So what does that mean for you?

The takeaway for today is:

  • the Gothic language has the concept of grammatical gender
  • you will encounter this concept in the form of declension tables
  • at first it is enough to recognize the gender
  • but if you consider it to be fun then do learn these tables. Practice them until you are fluent. The more fluent you are, the more fun you will have with the Gothic language.

Image credits: Bild von Free-PhotosOpens in a new tab. auf PixabayOpens in a new tab.

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