2

Should I write :

Les sage-femmes sont autorisés à…

or

Les sage-femmes sont autorisées à…

if these sage-femmes can either be men or women?

7

This is a trick question. If you don't know if the noun refers to a man or a woman, it should have its default gender: feminine. This noun is used marginally in the masculine for male midwives when you know that the noun refers to a man.

To refer to a group a midwives comprised of women and men, the following sentences would contrast sharply for most native speakers:

  • Vingt-et-un sages-femmes se sont assis. (very weird)
  • Vingt-et-une sages-femmes se sont assises. (nothing remarkable)

Contrary to popular belief, the masculine is not a neutral gender, it is the default gender for units that can't have a gender such as verbal phrases, small clauses or gender mismatched coordinate nouns. But here, you are looking for a hypernym for a group. In French, for example, a group of cows and bulls is called vaches (cows), hens and roosters are poules (hens). In both cases, French speakers use the feminine as the hypernym. With humans, the rule of thumb is that the hypernym is generally the masculine form, but it seems that sage-femme is the proverbial exception...

| improve this answer | |
  • I wouldn't have thought of the vaches and poules examples, but that is a compelling argument. – Domino Aug 12 at 17:47
1

D'après le TLFi, une sage-femme est un nom féminin. Selon le Robert, c'est un nom variable et par hasard sujet de RO de 1990 (sagefemme) :

➙ accoucheur. Des sages-femmes. Un sage-femme. ➙ maïeuticien

Reverso donne des phrases avec un sage-homme.

Du coup, L'association nationale des étudiant.e.s. sages-femmes (leur ponctuation) n'utilise que le pronom elle pour remplacer le nom.

Donc pour décrire des hommes et des femmes,

Conformément à l’article L.4151-1 du code de la santé publique, les sages-femmes sont autorisées à concourir aux activités d’assistance médicale à la procréation. Ordre des sages-femmes


According to the TLFi, sage-femme is feminine, but Le ROBERT lists it as variable. Also, it was part of the spelling reform of 1990 which (optionally) removed the hyphenation.

Reverso gives examples of un sage-homme.

L'ANESF, L'association nationale des étudiant.e.s sages-femmes (their punctuation) only uses elle as a pronoun for sage-femme, interestingly enough.

If the group is comprised of men and women, the plural would be

Conformément à l’article L.4151-1 du code de la santé publique, les sages-femmes sont autorisées à concourir aux activités d’assistance médicale à la procréation. Ordre des sages-femmes

| improve this answer | |
  • You wrote autorisés and not autorisées, therefore implying that sage-femmes is not feminine in that phrase. That definitely looks odd to me. Was that a verbatim quote from one of your sources? – Domino Aug 12 at 17:46
  • @Domino Thank you for pointing this out. I have corrected the error and given another example. Trop de tafs. – livresque Aug 22 at 3:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.