A boy cat = un chat A girl cat = une chatte
But what if you don't know the gender of the animal? Is it one gender for all animals? (e.g. If a cat with an unknown gender is referred to as "un chat", say, is it always masculine for other animals too, or does it depend on the animal?) Thanks :)
In French, whenever there is no gender, it always takes the masculine form... so given that the male and neutral are the same, I would certainly say go with the male. Additionally, I remember reading a few months ago that the female version of ''chatte'' actually can have a second taboo meaning that you must be aware of (I'm sure you can figure it out), so to avoid it, for talking about a female cat they sometimes say ''un chat feminin''.
Not 'un chat féminin', that sounds weird. Possibly 'une femelle chat' or 'un chat femelle', but even that is a bit weird (but not uncommon). We generally say 'chat' when we do not know, or even when we know it is a female. Actually, 'chatte' can be used. It is just too hard to know how to use it in a safe way for non natives, so I recommend using 'chat' in all situations, at least for a start.
The name of some animals is actually feminine by default, like 'baleine' (whale) or 'girafe' (only one f in French). 'Une baleine' can be male or female, but the word will always be feminine. Same for 'une girafe'. A baby giraffe is 'un girafon', a masculine word, although the baby can also be male or female. So we have:
- Une girafe mâle (a male giraffe)
- Une girafe femelle (a female giraffe)
- Un girafon mâle (a male baby giraffe)
- Un girafon femelle (a female baby giraffe)
Most animal names only exist in one form, feminine or masculine, which applies to both male and female. The names like 'chat/chatte', 'chien/chienne' and 'lion/lionne', with a different name for the male and the female, are not numerous.
Thank you for replies. All very helpful :) I remember reading the same thing about "chatte", actually, so I'll try to avoid using it! :)
Also, in an exam, would you be able to call a female cat "un chat" or would you have to say "une chatte"? I've just started my GCSE French course so this might come up :)