Animal genders

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 :)

September 25, 2017


I believe so. I don't see why it would be different.

September 25, 2017

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''.

September 25, 2017

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.

September 25, 2017

Sounds good. One word in all situations, nice and simple.

September 25, 2017

Thank you for replies. All very helpful :) I remember reading the same thing about "chatte", actually, so I'll try to avoid using it! :)

September 26, 2017

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 :)

September 27, 2017
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