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Which Gender is assumed when referring to something you don't know the Gender of?

Hi everyone. What I mean is: Fred went to the doctor. Fred's friend Sam came over and asked 'Hast du zum Arzt gegangen?'. My question is which Gender would you assume if you don't know? Would you say 'Hast du zum Arzt gegngen?' Or would you say 'Hast du zur Ärztin gegangen?'. Or with other words. If you don't know the Gender of someone's friend would you say 'Hast du dein Freund getroffen?' Or would you say 'Hast du deine Freundin getroffen?'.


January 10, 2018



"Bist du zum Arzt gegangen". The default is usually the male form, not only out of tradition, but also because it's the stem form. The female form is formed by adding the female ending (and in this case the change A-Ä).

But gendering is a huge topic in current times, and in written texts you'll often see the "Binnen-I" form "ArztIn". i don't even know what to do with the A here, it's a mess if you ask me. E.g. you can't really read it out loud without loosing the male form and generally making a jumble of grammar.

another option is of course to write "Arzt oder Ärztin". But that still makes a complicated sentence so in casual conversation you'll usually just use the male form unless you have reason to guess a female referent.

[deactivated user]

    But gendering is a huge topic in current times

    Glad that stupidity hasn't yet arrived here. Language is what it is... I've never heard a woman having a problem with the gender of the words. I think us here in the south Latin countries stick more to our guns regarding that.

    When I hear "Vou ao médico" (Portuguese for "Ich gehe zum Arzt") I don't immediately assume it's a male doctor... could be or not. It's "médico" as health practitioner in general. Pretty much like in German I would assume.


    I know i didn't ask for an answer, but this helps a lot! now i know what to say to my brothers when teasing them in german. (it helps me practice.)


    Nearly all professions have a male basic form, except from some like Krankenschwester, Hebamme, ... and I would not start a discussion about gender correctness here, unless we are talking about formal letters, simply because if I say Ich gehe zum Arzt, I refer to the profession or function, not to the actual person and her or his gender. If my family doctor is female I might say Ich gehe zu meiner Ärztin, but maybe I'm even too lazy to state that I'm going to this specific doctor (my doctor), but just to any doctor and so I use the generic form Ich gehe zum Arzt. With Freund it's more complicated. If I meet a group of male or mixed friends, I use Ich treffe meine Freunde, if the group would be all female, I'd use Ich treffe meine Freundinnen. If you don't know the gender of someone's friend, you would usually use Freund, but he or she would correct you if the friend is female. For some reason, Freund is much more personal and "gendered" than a profession or function like Arzt, Anwalt or Chef....

    [deactivated user]

      Interesting, so what do you call a male nurse? Using online translations I've found männliche Krankenschwester and krankenpfleger though I suspect the first one is sloppy German.

      The doctor situation you've described is pretty much how everyone deals with the issue of gender in professions on gender based languages.

      As for friends the same... if it's a mix of men and women we go with the male version (amigos), if it's only women we then have the female version (amigas). What differs is that the individual terms also work this way, so you'll always know if the friend of they went out was an "amigo" or an "amiga".

      Then again this is not the Portuguese channel so sorry for the offtopic.


      I would never use "männliche Krankenschwester", that doesn't sound very nice (maybe you could use it to tease a friend who is a Krankenpfleger :-)). Krankenpfleger is correct. You can also use Krankenpflegerin instead of Krankenschwester, it is even the more prefered (offical) version. Krankenschwester is more old fashioned, but still often used in colloquial speech.

      [deactivated user]

        I would never use "männliche Krankenschwester

        That was the Google Translate one... but for some reason it sounded really odd to me so I had to dig a bit deeper. :)


        I don't know if I got your point (or if you got mine...) about the singular of friend. If I'm talking about a friend that I met, I use the correct gender - I could never use Freund if I was meeting a female friend. I referred to the original question in which somebody asked about the case that I don't know the gender of a friend that somebody else is meeting - in this case I would use Freund, expecting that I will be corrected by the other one who knows the actual gender of the friend, in case that it's a female friend.... It's a case that occurs rarely in German. I can only imagine this when I forget about the gender of the friend or somebody told me about meeting a friend in English ;-)..... So the usage of genders is the same like in latin languages also for single friends.

        [deactivated user]

          I could never use Freund if I was meeting a female friend.

          I understand a female friend can be called Freundin but that also means girlfriend, right? Then it's a question of being "Eine Freundin" (female friend) or "Meine Freundin" (girlfriend).

          Some English natives (mostly women) also use the word "girlfriend" for female friends... which sounds odd. Well, when you lack gender for words you have to be creative.

          Sorry about the eventual confusion.


          Yes, "Ich gehe mit einer Freundin ins Kino" would mean a female friend who's not your girlfriend*; if she's your girlfriend, you say "mit meiner Freundin". ...

          *(unless you have several girlfriends, but then I'd prefer "mit einer von meinen (or more formal: mit einer meiner) Freundinnen")

          ... But "mit meiner Freundin" can mean "with my [female] friend / with that one [female] friend of mine" as well. If a man says "mit meiner Freundin", I'll hazard, according to the statistical probability, that she's his girlfriend, but either way it's nothing but guesswork, unless that person clarifies or you know whether that person is into women or not.

          Same goes, of course, for women who say "mein Freund": I'll hazard that he's her boyfriend. It's definitely about a man, otherwise you'd use "Freundin" (whatever the phrase will be, e.g. "eine Freundin (von mir)", "meine Freundin", ...).

          The people I know sometimes clarify by (very colloquially!) saying "Kumpel-Freund" (just a friend) or, very clumsily, "(not) Freund-Freund" ((not) boyfriend). "Kumpel" = "buddy"; you can, of course, clarify by simply saying, "Ich gehe heute mit meinem Freund ins Kino. ...also - mit meinem Kumpel."

          [deactivated user]

            Wow, great. Thanks.

            And related... Duolingo also uses the word "Frau" and for wife which is of course one of the first words we learn for "Woman"... being that Google Translate uses "Ehefrau". Are those interchangeable or much like Freundin you prefer the meiner/einer pronouns to make a distinction? Same for Ehemann... Could those be the equivalents of "Spouse" for instance?


            @Nuno275251: I think you don't often come across a context where you'd say "a wife". You refer to your wife as "meine Frau" (or "deine/seine Frau" accordingly), and "eine Frau" means "a woman". So there's not as much confusion as with "Freundin". Same goes for "(Ehe-)Mann".

            In a sentence like "A wife has to obey her husband", "Eine Frau muss ihrem Mann gehorchen" would work as a translation, because "ihr Mann" would be understood to mean "her husband"; and while I would read "eine Frau" as "a woman" here, it doesn't change the meaning, because the sentence says she has a husband, so she must logically be his wife.

            In "A wife has to keep the house clean", you'd have to say "Eine Ehefrau muss das Haus sauberhalten", because the sentence doesn't refer to women in general.

            (Disclaimer: I don't support the messages in the given examples ;-) )

            I don't think it's common to refer to your significant other as "mein Mann / meine Frau" ("my man/woman") when you're not married.

            A gender-neutral word ("spouse") would be "Ehepartner", but it's not common, and you'd always use "mein(e)/dein(e) Frau/Mann" (more formally: "Ehefrau/-mann") if you know that person's gender.

            Just "mein Partner" (without "Ehe-") would be understood to mean "my steady boyfriend" (not "girlfriend" = "Partnerin").


            Can't speak of portuguese, but in spanish i see "nosotrxs" or nosotr@s" in emails.

            regarding Krankenschwester: we also have Feuerwehrmann, Landeshauptmann,.... leading to calling a female governor "Frau Landeshauptmann".

            [deactivated user]

              Thank you stepintime for the detailed explanation.

              (I cannot reply to your last post)

              [deactivated user]

                Obviously in the last century the male pronoun would have been assumed for Doctors Engineers Accountants etc and the female pronoun for nurses midwives housekeepers.

                Yes, with the odd exception or two depending on the language, it's like this.

                As a gender-based language speaker I sometimes have to question myself when someone says in English "I went out with a friend"... I have to look for context, await for a pronoun later in the conversation or, easier still, ask it was a man or a woman.


                It depends. Usually you do not have too necessary a connotation of male / female in occupation use. "Sie ist Arzt" is just as fine as "Sie ist Ärztin", the first version adding prominence to her profession and the second one predominantly stating her sex and thereby blurring the claim of medical proficiency a bit. But as Germans tend to be as precise as can be they would most likely say "Ich bin zur Ärztin gegangen" if it were a female anyway. Little cost, little harm, but the potentially great benefit of semantic clarification.

                It is a different story though with groups made up of both sexes. Then, as traditionally in Latin and most languages, you would go for the masculine grammatical gender to include all. If you didn't only the subset of female physicists would be assumed.


                Sorry, but I really don't think that "Sie ist Ärztin" makes her sound any less competent! If it does, then it's purely because of the mindset of the persons who are talking.

                My dentist is a woman. I'd preferably say, "Sie ist Zahnärztin". "Sie ist Zahnarzt" wouldn't be wrong, I guess, but since "Arzt" is one of those words that traditionally has a female version ("Ärztin"), I'd prefer to use the correct gender. Calling her "Arzt" wouldn't by far be as bad as calling your aunt "uncle", but you get the picture: if "Ärztin" is a common word, why not use it?

                But I'll definitely say, "Ich muss zum Zahnarzt" / "Ich war beim Zahnarzt", because then it doesn't matter which dentist I go to. It's only about going to a dentist (the profession). You can say "Zahnärztin" here, but personally I never do.

                If the mayor of a town is a woman, you'd always say "die Bürgermeisterin" / "Ich war bei der Bürgermeisterin", because there's only the one and thus you always talk about that specific mayor who is female, never about a general profession.

                I think it's basically the same with other professions, especially those like Bäcker / Schneider / Taxifahrer, where the "-er" could be seen as a distinct masculine ending (similarly: Friseur / Masseur from French). And, of course, "Sie ist (Einzelhandels-)Kaufmann" just doesn't sound right, I'd always say "Kauffrau".

                (As for "Friseur / Masseur": people used to call a female hairdresser "Friseuse", but apparently the hairdressers found that to sound belittling, and the more common word now is "Friseurin".)

                With professions like Manager and Ingenieur, I think you'd find the masculine form more often than with craftsy professions like Bäckerin.


                I did not question the competencies of "Ärztinnen". I only said that there may be an additional focus on their being female with this expression, one which may result in a focus shift. In no way did I comment on actual performance based on sex or gender or whatever general criterion you think of.

                Etymologically it is a bit weird with "Studentin". It all comes from Latin studens (studying), which was made the noun "Student" (studying person). Somehow it came to occupy male-only students in the eyes of some people (certainly not etymologists), maybe partly due to the fact that female students were relatively rare in history. Anyway, this initially neutral term was at some day found to be insufficient for it allegedly did not take into account female students. And since "Studentinnen and Studenten" (by convention you always address females first, no sexism here) is a bit long, people came to coin the term "Studierende" (pl.). The point now is: Is it "der Studierende" or "die Studierende" in sg.? If it is the former, the Germans might soon be in need of yet another neutral ending. And even now learners have to be aware of a new plural paradigm: ...ent / ...entin => ...ierende.

                By the way: I know a German lady who is a hairdresser and feels insulted by "Friseurin". She still wants to be addressed "Friseuse" and sometimes gets furious otherwise.


                To me the sentence "Sie ist Arzt" sounds a little off. I personally would always say "Sie ist Ärztin" and I doubt if people would use the male form to put emphasis on the profession. To the Studierenden-point: If I did not know the person's gender I would say der Studierende as a default. But if I was referring to a female student I would say die Studierende. So it can be both. Anyway, the point of this change was not about the singular form (because in the singular we already have one form for each gender with Student and Studentin, which were not changed) but about having a neutral plural form. As you correctly said "Studenten" was thought to imply there were only male students and therefore the "Studierende" was introduced for use in official texts etc. As I am working at a university I can tell you that outside of official speech most everybody still uses "Studenten", teachers and students alike. :)

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