How to gender a noun
The following pointers range from fairly reliable rules through to rough guidelines.
As with plurals, irregular nouns are just that, irregular, so you need to learn those. The ones you should learn off as soon as possible are: athair, bean, bó, bràthair, brù, cù, deoch, Dia, druim, duine, Éirinn, fear, fuil, leabaidh, mac, muir, piuthar, sgian, taigh, talamh. There are lots more, but those will do for starters.
Your best bets are special endings (in the nominative singular) which often come with specific genders. As these are the most reliable rules, if there is such an ending, you should go with the rules for that special ending in preference to the more generic rules further down.
For this rule to work, you have to count syllables. The rules is that words ending in achd which are only one syllable long are generally masculine, if they have more than one, they're generally feminine. Especially with one-syllable words, there are several which are feminine in certain dialects, possibly because there are more of the longer, feminine ones so it may be people are over-generalising the pattern. Still, as a rule it's fairly reliable.
Masculine (1 syllable)
Feminine (2+ syllables)
Pitfall Some multi-syllable words ending in -ac have common mis-spellings with achd. These mis-spellings do not follow the above pattern.
- currachd should be currac (masc.)
These are nice. They're practically all masculine.
This is usually the feminine diminutive ending so virtually all of these are feminine:
- caileag » caileige
- marag » maraige
- cuileag » cuilaige
Careful, there are some masculine nouns which look like they have a diminutive ending -(e)ag at the end, in particular aiseag, but that's not a diminutive ending. Rule of thumb: if you can take the -(e)ag off and you still have a word, it's almost guaranteed to be the feminine diminutive ending.
Also fairly reliably you get this ending with masculine nouns:
These are agentive endings. Bits that you stick onto another noun to show that someone makes or does something, like -er in English which gives you fish » fisher, wash » washer, clean » cleaner, and so on. These are all masculine nouns:
Careful, this only works if the noun is made up of a noun plus an ending or a loanword. There are some feminine nouns which aren't "composed" like that which behave differently. As a general rule, if it's not a loandword (they're fairly easy to spot) and if you take away the ending, and what you're left with doesn't make sense, then it's not one of these. For example, with cathair and nathair, if you remove the -air, you're left with cath and nath and which don't make sense because cath and nath don't mean anything on their own. So, it's not nath+air, but just one word. See the next section for more examples.
Abstract nouns ending in -(a)iche are not covered by this rule either (e.g. gòraiche).
-air and -ir
If the -air at the end is not the doer/maker ending, then the noun is usually feminine:
If you can strip this off and you still have a word that has a related meaning, that means this is the masculine diminutive ending -(e)an and thus you have a masculine noun. Careful not to confuse this with plurals.
- balachan « balach
- cuman « cùm
- ballan « ball
The other words ending in -(e)an in the singular don't involve the diminutive ending by and large but most of them are still masculine, so you can more or less assume most words ending in -(e)an in the singular being masculine:
These are also nice. Practically all are masculine:
When all else fails...
Unfortunately this rule is often taught first, rather than last... Only apply this when none of the above applies, no shortcuts!!!
If the ending in the nominative is broad, there is a fair chance (i.e. better than purely guessing) the word is masculine, if it's slender, there's a fair chance it will be feminine.
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