Why is the word "soutien-gorge" considered masculin in French while this cloth is only used for women? On the other hand, the word chemise which belongs to men is féminin ? There are so many other words as well which really make me confused!

  • 1
    To elaborate on jlliagre's first point: In French, the sun is masculine and the moon is feminine (le soleil, la lune). In German, the sun is feminine and the moon is masculine (die Sonne, der Mond). In reality, neither has any gender at all. ;) Gender is a grammatical phenomenon and the application to real things is arbitrary. True, the closer you get to things with actual gender — like human beings — the closer the alignment between grammar and real life. But even people can have the "wrong" gender. For example, la personne is always feminine, regardless of the gender of the person!
    – Luke Sawczak
    Aug 19, 2018 at 13:24

2 Answers 2


Because the grammatical gender of object names is unrelated to the biological gender of their owners, unlike adjectives that do agree with the grammatical gender of the noun they qualify

Word genders are often inherited from their Latin ancestors, if any, with neutral converted to masculine.

Chemise comes from the feminine camisia while soutien-gorge is built from the verb soutenir so has no specific gender and thus is masculine. Note that women might wear une chemise de nuit but also un chemisier...

  • Actually, I'm pretty sure "Soutien" is more like to be masculine because pretty much all words in -ien are than because it's a deverbal...
    – Circeus
    Aug 19, 2018 at 1:33
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    @Circeus Outside propre-à-rien, all words ending in -ien are indeed masculine. Nevertheless, I would not say they are masculine because they end with -ien, but that they end with -ien because they are masculine. Their feminine version just end in -ienne. (chien/chienne, parisien/parisienne, grammairien/grammairienne...). On the other hand, words like rien, bien and soutien have no feminine in -ienne. For example, all words built from the deverbal porte- are masculine despite -e being more a feminine ending. One exception is porte-drapeau which can be both depending on the person.
    – jlliagre
    Aug 19, 2018 at 5:47

Pourquoi ? Parce que ! Parce que quoi ? Parce que c'est comme ça ! Point barre !

C'est vrai que, pour certains mots en particulier, il peut être possible de trouver la réponse comme jlliagre le suggère en remontant à leur étymologie. Mais c'est souvent plus un piège qu'autre chose. Arbre est du masculin en français et... arbor du féminin en latin. Et il en est ainsi avec une multitude d'autres.

Je réalise la parfaite inutilité de cette contribution aussi, pour que vous n'ayez pas lu pour rien, je livrerai une information que je trouve amusante sur le propos du... soutien-gorge de l'OP.

Le débat sur le genre des mots n'est pas une tocade contemporaine. Déjà le grand Vaugelas (XVIe) (une référence en grammaire) était intervenu à propos du genre du mot ouvrage. Eh bien Vaugelas avait trouvé une sacrée idée pour le genre des mots, je cite :

"Mais les femmes parlant de leur ouvrage, le font toujours féminin & disent voilà une belle ouvrage, mon ouvrage n'est pas faite. Il semble qu'il leur doit être permis de nommer comme elles veulent ce qui n'est que de leur usage."

Elli... ton idée n'était donc pas absurde puisque déjà proposée par un grammairien de renom mais... cela n'a manifestement pas marché.

  • merci for your complete answer. You mean that I should learn French by my heart! No way to understand it logically😑
    – elli
    Aug 22, 2018 at 7:18
  • @elli > Il you want logic, then you'll find it into the grammar. Only grammar follows a logic. Words don't. Saussure (some famous linguist) asserts that linguistic signs are arbitrary. Words, together with their genders (if any) are nothing else than linguistic signs => words, together with their gender (if any) are : arbitrary . Don't look for logic in arbitrariness, you'll loose your time.
    – MC68020
    Aug 22, 2018 at 7:28

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