Gender in Hebrew Grammar - cover image

Introduction to Gender in Hebrew Grammar

For a while now, I have been planning to publish an article about the various methods the Progressive Left in Israel has developed in order to degenderize the grammar of Modern Hebrew. Naturally, I thought that it should open with a short introduction to gender in Hebrew grammar, but it grew longer and longer as I was writing it, so eventually I decided to publish it separately as a standalone article.

This article explains how gender works in Hebrew grammar, starting with nouns, moving to adjectives, and ending with verbs. Since it was originally intended as a base for a discussion about the degenderizing of Hebrew, throughout this article there is an emphasis on the ability to distinguish between the masculine and feminine forms in different use cases.

Gender in Hebrew Nouns

In Hebrew, each and every noun has gender, even inanimate objects. There are only two grammatical genders – male and female (or masculine and feminine if you prefer), and unlike some other gendered languages, such as German or Russian, Hebrew has no neutral gender.

Inanimate objects

When it comes to nouns which refers to inanimate objects or abstract concepts, their gender is base either on the mishqal of the word, their ending (particularly for loan words which are not Hebrew originally), or it could be totally arbitrary – especially for primal Hebrew words of uncertain origin.

A door in Hebrew is דֶלֶת (delet) and it is regarded as female, while a gate is שַׁעַר (sha’ar) and viewed as male. Now you might think it has something to do with their size or strength, but window חָלוֹן (chalon) is also male. The word for knife סַכִּין (sakin) belongs to a very exclusive group of nouns that can be both (mostly viewed as male in Modern Hebrew), while the word for sword חֶרֶב (cherev) is female only. One more? A village in Hebrew is כְּפָר (kfar) which is male, yet the word for city עִיר (eer) is female, and so are the words for country (medina – מְדִינָה) and continent (yabeshet – יַבֶּשֶׁת).

Trust me when I say there is no pattern here. Blood (dam – דָם) is masculine, while sweat (ze’a – זֵעָה) and tears (dma’ot – דְּמָעוֹת) are feminine. The word שֶׁמֶשׁ (shemesh) which means the Sun is feminine in Modern Hebrew but can also be masculine in classic Hebrew literature. And for the Moon we have two words – the more colloquial יָרֵחַ (yare’ach) which is male, and the literary לְבָנָה (levana) which is female. Both of these objects are found in the sky, which in Hebrew is called שָׁמַיִם (shama’im) and grammatically speaking is not only male, but also always plural.

The only place in which you might find a clear pattern is words borrowed from other languages. The loan word בָּנָנָה (banana) is one of the most phallic fruits out there, yet it is still regarded as a female because it ends with the sound A. Yet the מֵלוֹן (melon), which ends with a consonant, is considered a male and so is the מָנְגוֹ (mango) which ends with the O sound. By the same logic, I sure you can guess the gender of the word רָדְיוֹ (radio), אַנְטֵנָה (antenna), and even טְרַנְזִיסְטוֹר (transistor).

However, it is not the gender of inanimate objects and abstract concepts that are the epicenter of the grammar wars raging in Hebrew today. So let’s move on to the inflections and inflictions of nouns which refer to people.

Animate Objects

In Hebrew, every noun which refers to people (or animals) has a masculine form and a feminine form, and each of those for has a singular form and a plural form. So in total, every Hebrew noun has four basic forms – the core form being the singular masculine, and the other three are created by adding a suffix.

For the singular feminine form, the most common suffix is the letter ה (heh) which indicates a final A sound. For the masculine plural it’s the suffix ים (im), and for the feminine plural the suffix is וֹת (ot). Here is a basic demonstration of all that using the word תַלְמִיד (talmid) which means student.

Gender in Hebrew - The word student

Another common suffix for the feminine singular form in the letter ת (tav) with the sound E before it. It is usually found in nouns and adjectives that derive from verbs, such as the word מְנַהֵל (menahel) which means manager, director, principal or headmaster.

Gender in Hebrew - The word manager

Many nouns and adjective that are based on foreign words may employ the suffix ית (it), or just ת (tav) if there’s already a י (yod) in the singular masculine form. Here is an example with the word סְטוּדֵנְט (student) which also means student, but only of higher education institutions like a college or a university.

University student in Hebrew

It is worth noting here, that for noun and adjectives ending with a vowel and the letter ה (heh) also in the singular masculine form, there is no suffix added in singular feminine form, and instead there’s only a sound change indicated by the niqud. A good example for this is the word מוֹרֶה (moreh) which means teacher.

Saying teachers in Hebrew

When the word teacher is written מורה without niqud, only context and other words in the sentence will tell us whether it refers to a male teacher or to a female teacher. Words that belong to this group play a significant role in gender-neutral phrasing in Hebrew.


Another aspect of Hebrew grammar in which gender plays a significant role is pronouns. On top of that, nouns and prepositions may be inflected and added a suffix which corresponds to a certain pronoun.

Hebrew has ten commonly used pronouns. Apart from the first-person singular and plural pronouns, all the other pronouns have a masculine form and a feminine form.

The PronounPronunciationHebrew
I (masc. / fem.)aniאֲנִי
You (singular masc.)attaאַתָּה
You (singular fem.)attאַתְּ
He / It (masc.)huהוּא
She / It (fem.)hiהִיא
We (masc. / fem.)anachnuאֲנַחְנוּ
You (plural masc.)attemאַתֶּם
You (plural fem.)attenאַתֶּן
They (masc.)hemהֵם
They (fem.)henהֵן

Note that there is not specific pronoun for inanimate objects like ‘it’ in English. Instead, the pronouns he and she are used.

Demonstrative Pronouns

Hebrew has specific demonstrative pronouns only for close objects. The singular has two forms – one for each gender, and the plural has two common forms – both are completely gender-neutral.

The PronounPronunciationHebrew
This (masc.)zeזֶה
This (fem.)zoזוֹ

The words that are used to refer to distant objects are created by adding the definite article ה (heh) to the third-person pronouns. So we have the words ההוא (hahu) and ההיא (hahi) for the word the masculine and feminine ‘that’ respectively, and the words ההם (hahem) and ההן (hahen) for ‘those’ – also male and female respectively.

Possessive and Prepositions

One of the ways to express possession in Hebrew is to add a certain suffix to the noun. The possession suffix is mostly based on the ending sound of the corresponding pronoun. The word סֶפֶר (sefer) means book, and here are its ten possessive forms in the same order as the pronouns in the table above.

Possessive Case PronunciationHebrew
My booksifriסִפְרִי
Your book (to a male)sifrekhaסִפְרְךָ
Your book (to a female)sifrekhסִפְרֵךְ
His book / its booksifroסִפְרוֹ
Her book / its booksifraסִפְרָהּ
Our booksifrenuסִפְרֵנוּ
Your book (plural)sifrekhemסִפְרְכֶם
Your book (to females)sifrekhenסִפְרְכֶן
Their booksiframסִפְרָם
Their book (females)sifranסִפְרָן

This method of expressing possession is considered to be quite formal and dated. Therefore, it is mostly used in written language and Classical Hebrew. A much more common way to express possession in Modern Hebrew is to use the word שֶׁל (shel) which essentially means ‘of’, so let’s use it to demonstrate the inflection of prepositions. As you can see it’s basically the same as regular nouns.

Possessive CasePronunciationHebrew
My / Minesheliשֶׁלִּי
Your / Yours (sin. male)shellkhaשֶׁלְּךָ
Your / Yours (sin. female)shellakhשֶׁלָּךְ
His / Its (male)shelloשֶׁלּוֹ
Her / Hers / Its (fem.)shellaשֶׁלָּהּ
Our / Oursshellanuשֶׁלָּנוּ
Your / Yours (plural)shellakhemשֶׁלָּכֶם
Your / Yours (Plural fem.)shellakhenשֶׁלָּכֶן
Their / Theirsshellahemשֶׁלָּהֶם
Their / Theirs (females)shellahenשֶׁלָּהֶן

Note that in this kind of inflections the second person singular form is spelled the same, and there is no way to know whether it is the masculine or feminine form without proper context or niqud. When someone writes words like ספרך (your book) or שלך (yours), they could be referring to a man or a woman, and therefore these two forms also play an essential role in gender-neutral writing in Hebrew.

Gender in Hebrew Adjectives

When it comes to gender, Hebrew adjectives behave very similarly to nouns referring to animate objects. Each adjective has four basic forms – singular male and female forms and the plural male and female forms. The basic form is the singular male the other three form are created mostly with the same suffixes as the noun forms, with ה (heh) and the ‘a’ sound for singular female, ים (im) for the plural male, and וֹת (ot) for the plural female. Here’s a quick example using the adjective טוֹב (tov) which means ‘good’.


When the adjective end with the letter Yod, the singular feminine form is created by adding the letter Tav (ת) and not Heh (ה). The suffixes for the plural forms remain the same, and in the case of the plural masculine we get a prolonged ‘yim’ sound. Here is an example with the word רְצִינִי (retsini) which means serious.


Just like with nouns, adjectives that derive from middle-tense verbs also behave like them, and the singular female suffix is ת (Tav) with the sound E before it. The word מְעַנְיֵין (me’anyen), which means interesting, is a very good example.


And just like with nouns that end with the letter ה (Heh), the singular male and female forms of adjectives that end with that letter are also indistinguishable without niqud. For example, here are the four different forms of the adjective רזה (raze) – thin or skinny.


Naturally, adjectives of this sort also play a major role in gender-neutral writing.

Gender in Hebrew Verbs

With seven different binyanim, the Hebrew Verb System is far too complex for a quick introduction. So instead, we will simply take a look at binyan Pa’al, which is the most basic structure of the seven, and as such faithfully represent their conjugation pattern and grammatical behavior. We will go through each one of the four tenses using the shoresh כ-ת-ב (Kaf-Tav-Bet) which means to write, starting with the past tense.

Past Tense

In past tense the verbs are conjugated by adding different suffixes after the root letters of the verb. The only pronoun that doesn’t require a suffix is the third-person singular (he) which consists only of the root letter.

The PronounPronunciationHebrew
You (sin. masc.)katavtaכָּתַבְתָּ
You (sin. fem.)katavtכָּתַבְתְּ
You (plu. masc.)katavtemכְּתַבְתֶּם
You (plu. fem.)katavtenכְּתַבְתֶּן

As you can see, there is no distinction between feminine and masculine in the singular and plural first person, and the second-person singular forms are written the same without Niqud. Therefore, when we see the verb כתבת written somewhere, there is not way of telling whether it is directed at a male or a female, and that is very useful for gender-neutral writing.

Middle Tense

The reason I like to call the present tense of Hebrew “middle tense” is not only because it is between the past and the future, but also because it is not entirely a verb and in fact very often serves as a noun or an adjective. And just like nouns and adjectives, verbs in middle tense only have four different forms – singular masculine, singular feminine with the ת (Tav) and E sound, plural masculine with the ים (im) suffix, and plural feminine with the ות (ot) suffix.

When the shoresh כ-ת-ב (Kaf-Tav-Bet) is conjugated in the middle tense of Binyan Pa’al it can mean either ‘to write’ or ‘the person / people doing the writing’.


If the third letter in the shoresh is ה (Heh), then we also get singular forms that are spelt the same and only pronounced differently. For instance, here is a table of the verb רצה (ratsa), which means ‘want’.


Without context or niqud, there is no way of telling whether the word רוצה refers to a male or a female, and good gender-neutral writing can make use of that to sound very natural.

Future Tense

Much like in the past tense, verbs in the future tense in Hebrew also conjugate differently for almost every pronoun, only in this tense they mainly employ prefixes.

The PronounPronunciationHebrew
You (sin. masc.)tikhtovתִּכְתֹּב
You (sin. fem.)tikhteviתִּכְתְּבִי
You (plu.)tikhtevuתִּכְתְּבוּ

Click here for more thoughts on the possible reason for using suffixes for the past and prefixes for the future. It is worth noting that the Feminine second- and third-person plural also have their own separate form תִּכְתֹּבְנָה (tikhtovna) for both, but virtually no one uses them today because it is considered to be very archaic and unnecessary formal language. So in fact, here we actually have a case of Hebrew erasing gendered grammar organically.

The Imperative

The imperative mood in Hebrew is a derivative of the future tense, and it is essentially created by removing the prefixes. It has only three conjugations – two for the singular and one for plural.

The PronounPronunciationHebrew
You (sin. masc.)ktovכְּתֹב
You (sin. fem.)kitviכִּתְבִי
You (plu.)kitvuכִּתְבוּ

Just like the future tense, the imperative also has an archaic form for the feminine plural, but it is all but forgotten (much like the imperative mood entirely) and serves as another example for the organic disappearing of gender from Hebrew.

Generalizations and unspecified gender

The main point of contention in the battle for gender equality in Hebrew grammar is undoubtedly the question of how to refer and address people in general, when there is no specific gender. That is because the masculine forms (both singular and plural) are also used as the non-gender-specific form and as the way to refer and address a mixed audience. It sounds complicated but it’s actually quite simple because of one little thing called context.

Let take the word כֹּל (kol) which means every. The way to say ‘every student’ in Hebrew is כֹּל תַּלְמִיד (kol talmid) and even though the word תַּלְמִיד is in the masculine form, by default this refers to both male and female student. Only if there’s a separate statement referring to female students, can we know for sure that the word תַּלְמִיד here refers to male students only. If a school holds an activity and states the cost will be מֵאָה שְׁקָלִים לְתַלְמִיד (me’a shkalim le’talmid) it means this is the price for both male and female students, unless a different price for the female students was stated separately.

The same goes for the plural masculine form. Unless it is used by an all-boys school, the word תַּלְמִידִים (talmidim), while technically in the masculine plural from, encompasses also female students by default and without context. However, if the word תַּלְמִידוֹת (talmidot) is mentioned before or after, then it is no longer the case.

Since the singular form is more personal and therefore harder to identify with when you are the opposite sex, it has become more common in Modern Hebrew to use the masculine plural when addressing an unspecified person or a mix group. Many questionnaires, advertisements, commercials, instruction manuals, and automatically generated replies regularly employ the plural form whenever and wherever it’s possible.

Sometimes there is no way around the singular form, and there are two commonly accepted ways to deal with that. The first one is to insert the slash right before the female suffix and write תלמיד/ה like so. Though this method is not formally recommended or approved by the Academy of Hebrew Language, for many years it used to be the most popular way to address or indicate both sexes. The second and newer way is to include a short statement saying that even though this document is written in the male form, it is meant for both sexes (though now it is more common to write “all sexes and genders” instead).

Those who promoted those clarification statements and pushed the transition from singular to plural language, did so by claiming it to be more inclusive and comprehensive. However, it seems that this is no longer inclusive enough for some people, and now they are trying to take it a step or even several steps further. We will take a closer look at those steps and measures in the next article which will be dedicated specifically to this subject.

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