Language Tips

Using Genders with Inanimate Objects

Using a metaphorical gender is when you talk about an object as if it was a man or a woman.

In English, most inanimate objects are talked about with the pronoun it. But some things — cars, boats and ships, and tools — can be referred to as if they are a he or a she. These are called metaphorical genders.

“I just saw a classic Corvette. She‘s a beaut!”

“I got the mower ready. I just had to clean him out.”

In the same way, most nouns in Pennsylvania Dutch are referred to with the neuter pronoun it (es). But a small number of nouns can be talked about as if they were a he (eah/een) or a she (see). This is based on the gender of the noun.

Since not every noun can be talked about like this, below is a small (and very incomplete) list of some of them.

Bibledi BivvelDi Bivvel hott goot advice. See helft millions leit ensahs finna.
Earthdi eahtEs hott een kolfa sayna es Gott di eaht gmacht hott, un zayld see aw sayva.
songda songMa gleicha da song. Eah is fann fa singa!
Vella song 15 singa. Eah’s hayst…
videoda videoDess is’n importandah video. So ich vett een veisa.
Nouns in Pennsylvania Dutch that use metaphorical genders as pronouns.

Using Metaphorical Genders

It makes perfect sense to refer to people with the pronouns he/him (Dad, son, farmer) or she/her (Mom, daughter *, wife). That’s the same with Pennsylvania Dutch. Keep using those pronouns.

But you can view these metaphorical genders as a bonus that can season your Deitsh conversations.

So, when in doubt about a certain noun, use the it pronoun (es) for inanimate objects. While it may sound a little off to a native speaker, they’ll still understand what you’re saying.

* Footnote 1: In many areas and communities, an unmarried girl or daughter is referred to with the neuter pronoun (es maydel / ’s Esther) until they are married.