I am just beginning learning some Italian, and I noticed that there are at least 2 ways for feminine forms to arise from titles whose masculine form end in ore, namely this ending can change to ora or oressa, e.g.:

signore --> signora

dottore --> dottoressa

professore --> professoressa

Why the difference in these ways of forming the feminine forms? More generally, what are the rules for forming feminine forms of nouns (or titles if it's different), say whose masculine form ends in e (or re or ore if it helps to be more specific)?

1 Answer 1


There are general rules which cover most gendered nouns but "dottore → dottoressa" is an exception.


Nouns of animate beings follow precise rules for the transition from male to female:

  1. ending in -o: changes to -a (amico → amica)
  2. ending in -a: changes to -essa (duca → duchessa, poeta → poetessa)
  3. ending in -e: multiple forms:

    • some change to -a (cameriere → cameriera, infermiere → infermiera)
    • others change to -essa (conte → contessa, leone → leonessa)
    • ending in -sore: changes to -itrice (difensore (from difend-ere) → difenditrice, possessore (from possedere-ere) → posseditrice)
    • ending in -tore:
      • generally changes to -trice (genitore → genitrice, attore → attrice)
      • rare examples change to -tora (impostore → impostora, pastore → pastora)
      • one exception: dottore → dottoressa
  4. Some nouns have a totally different feminine form (suppletion):

    • relatives:

      • fratello → sorella
      • genero → nuora
      • marito → moglie
      • padre → madre
      • papà (o babbo) → mamma
    • animals:

      • fuco → ape
      • toro → vacca
      • montone → pecora
      • maiale (o porco) → scrofa
  5. A very small number of nouns have the same form for both genders:

    • il collega → la collega
    • il cantante → la cantante
    • il consorte → la consorte
    • il giornalista → la giornalista
    • il nipote → la nipote
    • il parente → la parente
    • il pediatra → la pediatra
    • un amante (appassionato) → un’amante (appassionata)
    • un artista (apprezzato) → un’artista (apprezzata)
    • un insegnante (esperto) → un’insegnante (esperta)
  6. Some animals have the same form for both genders (la rondine maschio, la rondine femmina):

    • volpe, aquila, pantera, iena, giraffa, balena, rondine, corvo, usignolo, falco, serpente, delfino, leopardo, scorpione
  7. Trades and professions:

    • some use the same form for both genders (il ministro Maria Rossi; il presidente Maria Bianchi);
    • some add the word “donna” before or after the profession name (now rare) (la donna poliziotto, la donna soldato, la donna magistrato o il magistrato donna)
    • masculine nouns ending in -o: may either use masculine form, or change to -a (architetto → architetta, deputato → deputata, ministro → ministra)

In case of doubt, it is best to check a dictionary.


  1. There are nouns that make diminutives for the feminine form: eroe → eroina, gallo → gallina, re →regina, zar → zarina
  2. There are nouns that have an irregular feminine form: abate → badessa, cane → cagna, dio → dea, doge → dogaressa, fante → fantesca
  3. There are rare cases in which some nouns, originally feminine, that make augmentatives for the masculine form: strega → stregone, capra → caprone
  • 3
    Wow, thank you for the very detailed reply. So I guess professoressa is also an exceptions for the -sore case.
    – Kimball
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 18:05
  • @Kimball Thanks a lot! "Professore" is a noun ending in-e: to make the feminine form you change with -essa (conte -> contessa, leone -> leonessa, professore -> professoressa).
    – user5372
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 20:12
  • It's a pity that so detailed an answer has several debatable points: the fact that dottore/essa is anything but an exception; donna magistrato and the like are mostly deprecated; it mixes up morphological criterions (suffixes...) and different categorisations (professions, animals...); and more.
    – DaG
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 17:31

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