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When a teacher is a man, we call him "ein Lehrer", and when it is woman, we call her "eine Lehrerin".

In German, "Vogel" is a masculine noun. When the bird is a female bird, what do we call it? "eine Vogelin"? (But no such word can be found in the dictionary)? Or "ein weiblicher Vogel"?

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  • A male duck is Erpel; Ente is a female duck and the whole species. Dec 21 '20 at 23:56
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For the generic noun "Vogel", there is no feminine counterpart ending on "-in", so the correct expression is "weiblicher Vogel".

By contrast, for chickens, there is "Henne", i.e. "webliches Huhn" for the female members and "Hahn" for the male members. This also works for a number of related species, e.g.

  • Truthuhn: "Truthahn" for the male members and "Truthenne" for the female members,
  • Fasan: Fasanenhahn (or männlicher Fasan) and Fasanenhenne.

However, certain words that refer to female chickens have no masculine counterpart:

  • Legehenne: "Henne, die meist eine besonders große Anzahl an Eiern legt, diese aber nicht ausbrütet",
  • Glucke: "brooding hen; hen with chicks".

Female members of a species can also be referred to as "Weibchen", e.g. "Vogelweibchen". See for example the Wikipedia article Amsel, which refers to female members as "Weibchen" and to male members as "Männchen".

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  • Thanks! Then for a masculin cat, it should be "eine mänliche Katze"..
    – Chan Kim
    Dec 21 '20 at 11:45
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    No, that would be a "Kater".
    – Tsundoku
    Dec 21 '20 at 11:45
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    @ChanKim It's "Kater". Did I miss a joke?
    – choXer
    Dec 21 '20 at 11:46
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    @ChanKim, the problem with this answer is that it does not distinguish between the biological membership in the family of cats (Katzen) and the designation of a specific female animal (also Katze). It is true that a specific male cat is called Kater, but still it is a Katze in the sense of family membership. The same is true for Lehrer, which can refer to the professional title or to a specific male person who teaches. Dec 21 '20 at 12:01
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    @Björn Friedrich: In English you can say "male cat" or "tomcat" depending on the situation, and I assume German is similar. Note that in eine mänliche Katze, the adjective mänliche feminine. I'm not sure why grammatical gender causes such problems for English speakers since the basic idea can be explained in a paragraph. Maybe it's because it's the first instance where people have to confront the fact that there are more differences between German and English than just vocabulary.
    – RDBury
    Dec 21 '20 at 18:41
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As a category, "Vogel" doesn't have a female form. So a male and a female bird would both be "der Vogel".

In general, the connection between grammatical gender and biological or social gender isn't as close as many people learning German assume. You'll run into a lot of words that have one grammatical gender and a different biological or social gender. The probably most common example for that is "das Mädchen".

Also, while there are a number of nouns that have male and female forms, like the example you quoted ("Lehrer" / "Lehrerin"), many (if not most) nouns don't. There's just one form with one grammatical gender, regardless of the biological or social gender of the object or living being they describe.

As a side note, with some specific animals (including birds) there actually are separate terms. Those are often not directly derived from each other, like "Lehrerin" is from "Lehrer". For example

"Henne" is a "weibliches Huhn", while "Hahn" is a "männliches Huhn".

"Stute" is a "weibliches Pferd", while "Hengst" is a "männliches Pferd" (unless it's neutered, that's a whole different topic ;) ).

"Fähe" is a "weiblicher Fuchs", while "Rüde" is a "männlicher Fuchs" (also used for a "männlicher Hund").

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4

In ornithology there are only a few species in which a linguistic distinction is made between males and females. Most of those where this is the case are farm animals, such as chickens (Henne (hen) - Hahn (rooster) ) or geese (Gans (goose) - Gänserich/Ganter (gander)).

As you are looking for a noun: In ornithological terminology, a suffix is ​​usually added to distinguish it. Either -weibchen or -männchen or male. So one speaks either of a Vogelweibchen or Vogelmännchen.

Fun fact: while one says "der Vogel" it is, because of the neuter suffixes "das Vogelmännchen" and "das Vogelweibchen".

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Do not mix up the grammatical feature (grammatical noun class = grammatical gender) with the biological feature (belonging of a living being to a biological gender)

In German grammar the grammatical gender is a property of a noun or pronoun. (In englisch nouns do not have a gender, only pronouns.) The grammatical gender is not a property of the thing that is named by this noun.

  • der Vogel (grammatical masculine)
    means a bird, regardless of its gender.
    Also: der Esel, der Affe, der Wurm, der Hund, der Elch and many others.
    Even der Mensch is grammatical masculine and means any human being
  • die Katze (grammatical feminine)
    means a cat, regardless of its gender.
    Also: die Schlange, die Ziege, die Ente, die Maus, ...
  • das Schwein (grammatical neuter)
    means a pig, regardless of its gender.
    Also: das Rind, das Kaninchen, das Kamel, das Chameleon, ...

For many species there are distinct words for adult male, adult female and non-adult individuals, and for some species there are additional names for castrated male individuals. Here are some examples:

  • Species: das Schwein
    adult male: der Eber
    adult female: die Sau
    young: das Ferkel
  • Species: das Schaf
    adult male: der Bock, der Widder
    adult female: die Au, die Aue, die Zibbe
    young: das Lamm
    castrated male: der Hammel
  • Species: das Pferd
    adult male: der Hengst
    adult female: die Stute
    young: das Fohlen, das Füllen
    castrated male: der Wallach
  • Species: der Hirsch
    adult male: der Bulle
    adult female: die Hinde, die Hirschkuh
    young: das Kalb
  • Species: der Hase
    adult male: der Rammler
    adult female: die Zibbe
    young: der Welpe
  • Species: die Gämse
    adult male: der Bock
    adult female: die Geiß
    young: das Kitz

But der Vogel does not belong to this group. Vogel is not the name of a species, but of a class. Chicken (das Huhn), goose (die Gans) and ducks (die Ente) are birds for witch German has distinct names for male and female individuals, but not for birds in general.


On the other hand you also should remember, that the biological gender is a property of a living being, not of the noun used to name it. For example he words die Frau feminine, das Weib neuter and der Trampel1 masculine can be used to name the very same awkward and lubberly female adult person:

Die Frau macht mich wahnsinnig, sie macht alles kaputt!
Das Weib macht mich wahnsinnig, es macht alles kaputt!
Der Trampel macht mich wahnsinnig, er macht alles kaputt!

Note, that the pronouns gender (in these examples: the word immediately after the comma) must always match with the gender of the noun to which it refers. So, although we are always talking about a woman, we somtimes have to refer to her with the German equivalent of "it" and even "he". THis is, because grammatical Gender and biological gender don't always have to match in German language (although they still often do).

1»Der Trampel« is a rare word, mainly used in southern regions of german speaking area. Although it is a grammatical masculine noun, it only can be used for female persons. It is a pejorative word that means a clumsy and lubberly female person of any age (including children) who have a tendency to destroy anything they touch.

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A "Vogel" is a member of the zoological class "Aves". The grammatical gender is male, but as a generic name it has no female form. Another example is "Fisch". Denoting an individual animal as a bird or a fish does not associate a sex to it. Although we speak about living beings, this is similar to generic names used for inanimate objects. For example, "Tisch" has grammatical gender male, but there is no female form.

However, the more precise we get, the more differentiated designations are used and the sex of an animal is indicated in its name. Examples are Henne / Hahn, Kuh / Stier etc. I think this differentiation is mainly used for domestic animals, livestock, pack animals and game. These animals have a close relationship to humans, and that might be the reason for gendering. It is interesting that gendering of animals is rather irregular, the male and female forms are frequently not even similar (Henne / Hahn , Kuh / Stier, Sau / Eber, Bache / Keiler, Stute / Hengst etc.). Some examples or "regular" word formation are Löwe / Löwin, Tiger / Tigerin, Esel / Eselin.

Male and female forms exist for practically all professional titles (and many other things like "Bürger(in)"). Nowadays it is strictly frownded upon using, for example, "Lehrer" as a generic name for both female and male teachers. You have to say "Lehrerinnen und Lehrer" etc.

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  • Die Lehrerinnen und Lehrer trafen sich mit den Schülerinnenvertreterinnen und Schülerinnenvertretern und Schülervertreterinnen und Schülervertretern, um das kommende Schuljahr zu besprechen. Dec 22 '20 at 10:32
  • @GuntramBlohm Bitte nicht übertreiben. Ein einfaches "Die Lehrenden trafen sich mit den Schulbesuchendenvertretenden" tut's doch auch ;-)
    – Paul Frost
    Dec 22 '20 at 10:47
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If the fowl is small and you are talking to a German hunter you can use "Sicke" for a female bird. See https://de.wiktionary.org/wiki/Sicke which cites i.a. the Duden.

But it is hunter's jargon, will not be understood outside of that group and you give the impression that you are a hunter, too by using it which I strongly recommend against if you are not a member of the aforementioned class.

More about that jargon has its German Wiki-page https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%A4gersprache

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Guenther Grass made up the word Rättin from the feminine-gender word Ratte but that was of course somewhat tongue in cheek.

Those of us who are not native speakers and or award-winning writers should probably refrain from making up words, but it is fun to observe what people like Grass can do.

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