Got confused about the masculine and feminine about the name of body part.

Why French category the arm, bras, and foot, pied, as masculine while the leg, jambe, and hand, main, as feminine?

Why the nose, nez, and eye, oeil, are masculine while the mouth, bouche, and ear, oreille, are feminine?

  • 5
    You have to quickly get rid of the idea that there's a logical reason for gender in languages with gender. For objects it's never logical. For animals it's 50/50. For people it's usually but not always. The example I like to give my students is that every boy is une personne (f) but every girl is un ange (m). Not only that, but everyone is both at the same time. It's just grammar, not tied to physical reality, or only very loosely.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Feb 12, 2023 at 17:18

2 Answers 2


Those words come from Latin. "Jambe" comes from "gamba" which is feminine (gamba). "Pied" comes from "pes", which is masculine (pes). "Bras" comes from "brachium", which is neuter in latin (brachium); as there are no gender neutral nouns in French, masculine has been assigned to it; in most cases that is what happens.

(Wikipédia) Selon la Commission générale de terminologie et de néologie, en français moderne : « héritier du neutre latin, le masculin se voit conférer une valeur générique

(Quelques réflexions pertinentes et impertinentes sur le genre en français) Une bonne partie du genre neutre latin a été récupéré dans les langues romanes actuelles par le masculin;

nez, nasus : masculine in latin

œil, oculus : masculine in Latin

bouche, bucula : feminine in Latin

oreille, auris : feminine in Latin

This is not the case for "feuille", which is neuter in Latin (folia).

  • which is neuter in Latin (folia) Not quite. The neuter Latin word was folium. The plural of that, folia, in time evolved into a new singular form, which is in fact feminine and which has given us feuille in French.
    – Segorian
    Feb 13, 2023 at 12:27
  • @Segorian I went by the reference given in my answer: " latin folia (neutre pluriel) → français feuille (féminin singulier)". Is that an error?
    – LPH
    Feb 13, 2023 at 13:52

@LPH Rather than calling it an error I would say it’s incomplete. The origin usually given is Latin folia [plural of the neuter word folium] after it became a singular feminine noun. The point is that the gender of the French word is the same as that of the Latin word from which it is derived since it came from folia (singular) rather than directly from folia (plural). For reference, the Petit Robert has “lat. folia, plur. neutre devenu fém.”.

  • Then, it is a matter of point of view whether it is an error or not; it depends on what point in the evolution of latin one takes as a reference.
    – LPH
    Apr 17, 2023 at 10:32
  • @LPH That is indeed one way of seeing it.
    – Segorian
    Apr 17, 2023 at 14:33

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