Believe it or not, there are four genders of noun in the English language. And no, that does not include words like "she-males" to describe someone with an ambiguous sex!
In English, the four genders of noun are masculine, feminine, common, and neuter.
- Masculine nouns refer to words for a male figure or male member of a species (i.e. man, boy, actor, horse, etc.)
- Feminine nouns refer to female figures or female members of a species (i.e. woman, girl, actress, mare, etc.)
- Common nouns refer to members of a species and don't specify the gender (i.e. parent, friend, client, student, etc.)
- Neuter nouns refer to things that have no gender (i.e. rock, table, pencil, etc.)
In many other languages, neuter nouns take on a particular gender. In Spanish, for example, la mesa (the table) is considered feminine, while el lapiz (the pencil) is considered masculine — in Spanish, note that la and el are both used as the word "the," and denote the noun's gender. In these languages, genders are often arbitrary and have little to do with the characteristics of the objects they describe. French, German, and Italian are other languages which prescribe either a masculine or feminine gender to nouns that are neuter in English.