What happens to the pronoun for a male of a grammatically female word (e.g. die Schildkröte)?

For example:

That is a (male) turtle. He is slow.

Which of these would be used?

  1. Das ist eine Schildkröte. Er ist langsam.

  2. Das ist eine Schildkröte. Sie ist langsam.


2 Answers 2


The first sentence is wrong. The pronoun er refers to a masculin noun or a sexually/gender male living thing. As you refered to the turtle in the first sentence as das you are disregarding the sexuality of the turtle. That way, the er in the second sentence has nothing to refer to. If you want to treat the turtle as a sexually male living thing, you should refer to it as such in the first sentence as well:

  1. Er ist eine Schildkröte. Er ist langsam.

Or you just disregard the sexuality completely and simply use the grammatical genus.

  1. Das ist eine Schildkröte. Sie ist langsam.

The grammatical gender of a noun never changes for its article or pronoun.

Like in English, there are specific nouns for female and male specimen of species. You would use these and the pronouns in agreement with their grammatical gender. For example, die Katze (feminine) is a generic noun for 'cat' in general as well as for the female cat (sometimes you also hear 'die Kätzin' for the female), but in a context where you speak specifically of a male cat, it's 'der Kater'. Dog: der Hund (generally, and male), der Rüde (male dog, also for male wolves and foxes), die Hündin (female dog). Cow: die Kuh (in general, female cow, also used for female sea lions and other species), der Bulle (adult male, used for several species as well as a pejorative for 'policeman'). Pig: das Schwein (general), die Sau (female), der Eber (male). Horse: das Pferd (general), die Stute (female), der Hengst (male). Chicken: das Huhn (female), der Hahn (male)

For some species, gender-specific nouns don't exist or are lesser known. To still distinguish between male and female specimen, you use the words das Männchen (the male) or das Weibchen (the female), or make compound nouns with -männchen/-weibchen (species name often in plural, grammatical gender = neuter for both sexes): das Schildkrötenweibchen, das Schildkrötenmännchen. (This is of course not suitable on humans, except to achieve a satirical effect.)

Das Spinnenweibchen ist größer. Es frisst das kleinere Männchen unmittelbar nach der Begattung.

  • For the compound, “species name in plural” may be a good rule of thumb, but it is not always true (e.g. Uhuweibchen). Think of Karl Valentin’s Semmelnknödeln. ;-)
    – chirlu
    Oct 27, 2013 at 20:47
  • True. Can't think of a regular pattern for singular/plural.
    – TehMacDawg
    Oct 27, 2013 at 20:56

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