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The Gender of Job Titles

In our previous lesson on nouns referring to humans, we learned that many nouns have dual genders that often end in -e in the feminine, which is especially useful for the feminization of job titles. In this lesson, we’ll focus on the many ways to feminize a job title and discuss what happens when there is no feminine equivalent. 

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Most profession names are masculine in French, regardless of whether they refer to men or women:

 

On a donc un kit de montage complet opérationnel à la portée d'un bon bricoleur ou d'un plombier

So we have a completely operational mounting kit within the capability of a good handyman or a plumber

Captions 30-31, Salon Eco Habitat: Primacalc, système anti-calcaire

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When no feminine title is available, we default to masculine. So, when referring to a woman pilot, for instance, we would simply say un pilote or une femme pilote (a woman pilot). (You may come across the feminine title une pilote, but it's relatively rare.)

 

Deux femmes pilotes parlent de leurs parcours : sexisme et regard des passagers.

Two female pilots talk about their journeys: sexism and passengers’ stares.

 

We also resort to the masculine when referring to a profession in general, as in les enseignants (teachers), or when we don’t know the gender of the person in question:

 

Parce que je dispose d'excellents liens avec les enseignants de mon master,

Because I have excellent connections with my master's degree instructors

Caption 66, QuestionEntretien: Pourquoi vous et pas un autre ? - Part 3

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For all that, many job titles do have a feminine equivalent, which often ends in -e, as in une députée (a female deputy):

 

Madame George Pau-Langevin, la députée de la quinzième circonscription

Ms. George Pau-Langevin, the deputy for the fifteenth constituency

Caption 92, Actu Vingtième: Le bleu dans les yeux, recyclerie de Belleville

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Note that you can only add an extra -e to an accented -é (-ée). Nouns that already end in -e (no accent) don’t change in the feminine form, as in un/une dentiste (a male/female dentist), the profession chosen by the girl’s schoolmate in the following video from Côte d'Ivoire:

 

Je veux être une dentiste.

I want to be a dentist.

Caption 96, Nader Fakhry: L'école pour tous

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(Bear in mind that usually, you would omit the article un/une when the job title comes directly after the verb être, but this may vary from one French-speaking country to another.)

 

In many cases, though, feminizing a job title is not as simple as adding an -e and requires making changes to the noun. 

 

Sometimes switching to feminine will cause a change in pronunciation for words ending with a consonant, as in un enseignant/une enseignante (teacher). The t in enseignante (female teacher) is sounded, but the t in enseignant (male teacher) is not:

 

Je suis enseignante de français langue étrangère, à l'Université Nancy Deux

I am an instructor of French as a foreign language at the University of Nancy Two

Caption 2, Yabla à Nancy: Université Nancy 2

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Other times, you will need to add a grave accent (è) and an extra -e to nouns ending in -er, as in infirmier/infirmière (male/female nurse). The suffix -er becomes -ère:

 

Je voulais être médecin. -C'est vrai? -Ouais, et je suis infirmière.

I wanted to be a doctor. -Is that true? -Yeah, and I am a nurse.

Caption 55, Micro-Trottoirs: Rêves d’enfants

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Nouns ending in -en often change to -enne in the feminine, as in chirurgien/chirurgienne (male/female surgeon). In the following example, we have the masculine version, un chirurgien, with a silent -n

 

Françoise Artigues accuse son chirurgien, le docteur Cujasse

Françoise Artigues is accusing her surgeon, Doctor Cujasse

Caption 1, Le Jour où tout a basculé -  À l'audience: Mon chirurgien était ivre - Part 1

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Nouns ending with the suffix -eur in the masculine form are a little bit more complicated, as they can take on different endings in the feminine. 

 

Un professeur (a male professor) simply becomes une professeur in the feminine or, less often, une professeure

 

Et j'ai pris sa suite avec la même professeur [or professeure] en fait.

And I followed in her footsteps with the same teacher, actually.

Caption 42, LCM Concert: La Folia à l'abbaye Saint-Victor

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Un auteur (a male author) can be feminized in two different ways. You can call a female author une auteure, a term borrowed from Canada, or you can say une autrice, the suffix -trice being more popular in France:

 

Enfin, en 2012, l’Académie française propose à son tour l’adoption du mot « auteure ». 

Finally in 2012, the Académie Française in turn proposes the adoption of the word “auteure” (female author).

 

Indeed, in Canada, they use the -eure suffix, as in traducteure (female translator), more frequently than in France, where they say traductrice instead:

 

Euh, ça m'a permis beaucoup de voyager et d'être parfois même la traducteure pour mon père ou ma mère

Uh, it's allowed me to travel a lot and to sometimes even be the translator for my dad or my mom

Captions 21-22, Annie Chartrand: Grandir bilingue

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The French usually prefer to use the suffix -trice, as in un acteur/une actrice. In the example below, Melissa Mars introduces herself as une actrice (an actress), among other things:

 

Bonjour! Je suis Melissa Mars. Je suis actrice, chanteuse, française ou martienne.

Hello! I am Melissa Mars. I'm an actress, singer, French or Martian.

Caption 1, Melissa Mars: Melissa et son premier album

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She also introduces herself as a singer, une chanteuse. Here we have yet another feminine form of -eur: -euse. So une chanteuse is un chanteur in the masculine, and une serveuse (a waitress) is un serveur (a waiter):

 

La serveuse t'aime bien Nico.

The waitress likes you, Nico.

Caption 16, Extr@ Ep. 6 - Le jour du loto - Part 5

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You might also see the suffix -esse, as in docteur/doctoresse (male/female doctor) and maître/maîtresse (school master/schoolmistress), but it's pretty dated.

 

The Académie Française, the French authority on language, has introduced many new feminine job titles, but it’s up to people to adopt them. Sometimes, women themselves don’t systematically adopt newly feminized titles. In the following video, the female judge introduces herself as le juge Beaulieu (Judge Beaulieu) even though she could have introduced herself as la juge:

 

Bonjour, je suis le juge Beaulieu.

Hello, I am Judge Beaulieu.

Caption 31, Le Jour où tout a basculé: À l'audience - Arnaque en couple ? - Part 1

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As you can see, the feminization of job titles is a work in progress, fraught with ambiguity and, sometimes, controversy. Just be sure to follow the correct grammatical rules applying to both masculine and feminine titles, as they are not negotiable in most cases.

 

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for our next lesson on the gender of nouns referring to animals.

 

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