As far as I can tell, the descendants of Latin "clavis" are all feminine, but in Italian "chiave", although it is also feminine, on the surface appears to be masculine: chiave/chiavi.

How did this feminine word get a typically masculine ending?

  • Welcome to Italian.SE!
    – Charo
    Jan 1 '18 at 22:37
  • 1
    Italian names usually stem from the accusative, in this case “clavem”.
    – egreg
    Jan 2 '18 at 8:10

Generally, nouns ending in -o are masculine (il gelato, il tavolo) and those ending in -a are feminine (l’arancia, la sedia).

Nouns ending in -e can be either masculine or feminine (il cellulare is masculine, la chiave is feminine).

A few nouns ending in -a are masculine (il cinema, il problema) and a few ending in -o are feminine (la foto, la mano).

Masculine nouns, in the plural, normally end in -i.

Feminine nouns ending in -a end in -e in the plural, while feminine nouns ending in -e end in -i in the plural.

Words ending –ore are usually masculine

  • l'onore (the honor)
  • il fiore (the flower)
  • il professore (the professor)

Words ending –ione are usually feminine

  • una prenotazione (a reservation)
  • un’escursione (an excursion)
  • una destinazione (a destination)
  • una stazione (a station)

With human beings the gender of the noun is usually determined by the sex of the person referred to

  • il cantante / la cantante (the singer)
  • il paziente / la paziente (the patient)
  • il consorte / la consorte (the spouse)

Most masculine nouns ending in -tore change to -trice for the feminine

  • l'attore → l'attrice (the actor)
  • il traditore → la traditrice (the traitor)

Exceptions include: tintore → tintora (dyer) / avventore → avventora (customer) / impostore → impostora (imposter)

So we have that most of the nouns agree with the following rules:

  • Masculine nouns end with –o for singular, -i for plural.
  • Feminine nouns end with –a for singular, -e for plural.
  • A third category of nouns end with –e for singular, -i for plural; they can be masculine or feminine, according to the vocabulary.

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Within the first two classes, some nouns form the plural based on specific rules.

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Source of the tables: online Enciclopedia Treccani

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    Where do those tables come from? May we reproduce them here?
    – DaG
    Jan 2 '18 at 13:54
  • @DaG from Treccani
    – alexjo
    Jan 2 '18 at 13:55
  • If a word is masculine "-a", the plural is still "-i"? dilemma/dilemmi? You mean "nouns" not "names". In French, "nom" is both "name" and "noun", so I imagine it's the same in Italian.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 2 '18 at 20:12
  • @CJDennis sure! It was a typo.
    – alexjo
    Jan 2 '18 at 20:17
  • @alexjo It was a thinko!
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 2 '18 at 20:25

-e is not a typically masculine ending at all. Just think of ape, arte, automobile, base, botte, capitale, carne, cassaforte, cenere, classe, comune, croce, estate, falce, fame, fede, filiale, fine, frase, gente, igiene, indole, lavastoviglie, legge, lepre, lince, luce, madre, mente, moglie, morale, nave, neve, noce, note, notte, pace, parete, patente, percentuale, polvere, pulce, quiete, reclame, rete, selce, serpe, sete, spirale, stampante, tigre, torre, trave, visuale, voce, volpe, all nouns ending in -ie, most nouns ending in -ice, -igine, -ione, -ite, -udine, etc.

  • I'm currently learning Italian, and if I don't know the gender of a noun, guessing masculine for "-e"/"-i" gets it right much more often than not. I'm aware there will always be exceptions as my French is quite good, and 5 out of 6 French "-e" nouns are feminine. I am aware of the difference between a rule of thumb and an absolute rule. Are you saying that the majority of Italian "-e" nouns aren't masculine?
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 2 '18 at 2:24
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    I hardly think the nouns listed on that web page are representative of the entire language, and even if we assume that the ratio is 2:1, calling -e a masculine ending would still be incorrect. At any rate, I would say your question has been answered.
    – Tom S. Fox
    Jan 2 '18 at 2:57
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    @CJDennis The -e/-i endings in Italian are a reflex of the third declension in Latin, which contained masculine, feminine and neuter nouns. It is not a masculine ending and it is not perceived as such by native speakers.
    – Denis Nardin
    Jan 2 '18 at 7:48
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    @CJDennis The site you mention is not trying to convey the idea that the -e ending is mostly masculine. It just gives some rough criteria for deciding on the gender, but it is also warning that it's not possible to have a definite rule.
    – egreg
    Jan 2 '18 at 8:14
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    Sorry, @CJDennis, but your comment is a bit funny, coming from the author of a “terrible” question with a made-up rule about a “typically masculine ending”. In your example, you were claiming that most animals are mammals and someone begun listing fish, birds, crustaceans, insects, arachnids...
    – DaG
    Jan 2 '18 at 22:09

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