The sentence "Parla con LA guardia" doesn't change to "il guardio" even though it might be a male guard. But the case "mio nipote /mia nipota" will change the gender according to the situation. So I am a little confused as to when does the noun change according to gender.

  • 2
    For other examples of feminine nouns that can refer to both males or females, check spia, sentinella, vedetta, recluta... The most striking masculine noun that almost always refers to women is soprano.
    – DaG
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 9:07
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    ...not to mention (as feminine nouns who may refer to males) persona and vittima.
    – DaG
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 16:12
  • thanks, guys. note that I made some correction in case it might confuse other people. I change the guadia to guardia, and female to male.
    – jxhyc
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 2:40
  • Nipota? Nipote è invariabile. Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 9:14

2 Answers 2


Quite a few things here:

  1. Guadia is not an Italian word, you probably meant guardia.
  2. Welcome to Italian, the language of irregularities: Guardia is an irregular noun, it has no male variant. Profession names are divided into two kinds: Simple variance "Il cuoco/La cuoca" (The cook) and variance with the enclitic particle -essa "Il dottore\La dottoressa", "Il professore\La professoressa".
  3. Nipote is a terrible example, and a wrong one, since, once again, it's an irregular noun. The male and female variants use the same word "nipote": "Il nipote/la nipote", "Mio nipote/mia nipote", this, as you said, is not usually the case: "Il figlio/la figlia", "il gatto/la gatta": (The son\the daughter, the cat)
  4. Why does this happen? It usually has different reasons, due to how words were written in the original language (usually Latin) and how they came to be translated into Italian. Since they are irregulars, there is no rule about it and you have to learn all the different cases.
  5. If you want to be confused further: Note that this is a different scenario than collective names like "La flotta" (The fleet), "Lo stormo" (The bird pack) etc. But "La guardia" may, like in English, both be a singular noun or a collective one (The guard as a single individual vs The guard as the collective group of the guards).
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    I wouldn't say guardia and nipote are “irregular”. The former is feminine only, the latter is invariable.
    – egreg
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 11:54
  • @egreg Regular job nouns have both the Male and Female forms. And no, nipote is not invariable, invariable is for number, not gender. The plural of nipote is nipoti. Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 12:10
  • Sorry, but I beg to disagree; nipote is invariable for gender, as we have il nipote/la nipote; guardia is feminine only, like soprano is masculine only.
    – egreg
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 12:16
  • @egreg Treccani disagrees with you. treccani.it/enciclopedia/… So does Italian grammar in general. Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 12:51

If I understand correctly the question, you are asking why linguistic gender does not strictly follow actual gender.

Genders in Italian do not strictly follow real gender. Some nouns related to people are always feminine no matter the gender of the described person, some others are always masculine. There is no strict rule, but a dictionary always helps.

"La guardia" is always feminine even though the guarding person may be a man. On the other hand, "il ministro" is always masculine even if it describes female ministers -- although "la ministra" is sometimes used in an informal, ironic or jocular context.

See this blog to know more about gender in professions .

  • I wouldn't use “ministro” as an example of a masculine-only noun, since some use, and advocate the use of, “ministra”, and the very blog you quote put it among examples of nouns for which «si può formare il femminile in -a».
    – DaG
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 9:04
  • True, there are better examples. However, as I have indicated, "ministra" is used mostly in informal contexts. Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 18:57
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    I believe there is a trend towards a more general acceptance of such feminine forms, previously considered just jocular or little more, as “ministra”. Just Google for “ministra Lorenzin” and you'll find several Italian newspapers and organisations using this form as a matter of course.
    – DaG
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 20:04
  • You are right, although "ministra" sounds a bit strange to me. But Italian's a living language so... Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 0:19

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