As in a previous question, I'm wondering what is the feminine form of a noun, and this time it is not a word for an animal but for human.

In words like ὁ παῖς and ἡ παῖς, only their article indicates the difference in grammatical gender, if I'm right.

But in case of μαθηματικός, as far as I have checked in dictionaries, it is not only an adjective but also a word for a male mathematician. Then, am I right to call a male mathematician ὁ μαθηματικός and a female mathematician ἡ μαθηματική, with its feminine plural form then αἱ μαθηματικαί?

Does the Ancient Greek have certain rules to make the gender difference for their nouns? Thank you!

  • 3
    Aristotle will often use the feminine singular (ἡ μαθηματική; ἡ φυσική) alone for the body of knowledge itself (with understood ἐπιστήμη), so in many contexts this would just mean "mathematics," "physics/natural science," etc.
    – brianpck
    Feb 7, 2020 at 15:12
  • So one can say that it is hard to find any reference where the Ancient Greek mention a woman mathematician in a general noun, right? Now I wonder how Hypatia is mentioned in old texts...
    – kore
    Feb 7, 2020 at 16:30

2 Answers 2


There are three different sorts of nouns to worry about here!

The simplest, and most common, are gendered nouns. These have one form for the masculine, and a different form for the feminine; they're extremely common, since most adjectives work this way, and adjectives can be used freely as nouns. For example, a beautiful man is καλός, while a beautiful woman is καλή. And as Cosmas says, this is how μαθηματικός/η would work—it's also an adjective being used as a noun ("mathematical man"/"mathematical woman").

EDIT: I haven't found any mention of these in Greek grammarians, though it probably exists. But Priscian calls them mobilis, "movable", since you can move them from one gender to another by changing the ending. That's probably a better term than "gendered".

Next are the common nouns (or more properly, "nouns of common gender", nomina generis communis). These have only a single form, but swap their gender based on what they're referring to. This is how παῖς works: the form is always the same, but it takes ὁ if the child is male, and ἡ if the child is female. Cosmas suggests the additional example of φιλόσοφος, another adjective-used-as-noun, which doesn't change its form for gender (it's an "adjective of one termination").

Finally, there are epicene nouns. These also have only a single form, but they also have a fixed gender that can't be changed. An ἀλώπηξ, for example, can be a male or a female fox, but it always takes ἡ, never ὁ.

As for how to know—for most words, unfortunately, you just have to look it up. There's no way to know that παῖς is common and ἀλώπηξ is epicene without checking a dictionary. But any good dictionary will note this; the distinction between "common" and "epicene" goes back to Dionysius Thrax if not further, so it's not a new innovation.

  • Thank you for your answer! Now I can understand better what was explained in a previous question (ἀρσενικόν, θηλυκόν, οὐδέτερον and κοινόν, ἐπίκοινον)... Would then "wolfs" (ὁ λύκος and ἡ λύκαινα) belong to the gendered noun with a different ending or suffix?
    – kore
    Feb 7, 2020 at 2:30
  • @K.Park I would say so, yes!
    – Draconis
    Feb 7, 2020 at 16:46
  • By the way, what you call "common nouns" are more properly "nouns with common gender" or "nouns with natural gender" since "common nouns" already has a fixed meaning.
    – C Monsour
    Feb 18, 2020 at 23:35
  • @CMonsour Ah, that's fair. I'll adjust that.
    – Draconis
    Feb 19, 2020 at 1:58

ὁ παῖς and ἡ παῖς are nouns, but

ὁ μαθηματικός (ἀνήρ) and ἡ μαθηματική (γυνή) are adjectives for obvious (omitted) nouns. Mathematics was barely a profession then, so my gut says they would skip ἀνήρ as obvious, but perhaps not γυνή; the LSJ dictionary indicates μαθηματική (ἐπιστήμη) may suggest mathematics, alongside the neutral τὰ μαθηματικά (πράγματα). In English, an expert is an expert man or an expert woman--versus an expert witness.

You indeed got both these adjectives right, I believe, and yes, adjectives tend to be more regular than nouns. Ὑπατία would be the first to search for in TLG...

For a female philosopher, you'd have ἡ φιλόσοφος (γυνή), despite ἡ σοφὴ γυνή.

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