Semantic and grammatical genders in Swedish – independent but interacting dimensions

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The purpose of this article is to outline the basic properties of the gender system in Swedish. I argue that there are two gender dimensions: one grammatical and one semantic. The two systems are independent of each other, but they interact. Crucially, the pronouns den (it.common) and det (it.neuter) can be used both as grammatical and semantic pronouns. The locus of semantic pronouns (as well as related, classifier-like elements) is the topmost layer of the nominal extended projection, a Semantic Phrase. Understanding how the semantic gender system is constructed, in particular the properties of the fourth gender, SUBSTANCE, – which lacks number – helps to explain otherwise strange cases of apparent disagreement on predicative adjectives.
Grammatical gender is best analysed as a feature that is merged into a projection, not as as an inherent marking on nouns. Cases where the number feature is absent have traditionally been explained in terms of default agreement. The proposed analysis shows that agreement between the subject, which in such instances is a null semantic pronoun, and the adjective is true agreement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1346-1368
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2006

Bibliographical note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015.
The record was previously connected to the following departments: Swedish (015011001)

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Languages and Literature


  • semantic gender
  • substance
  • disagreement
  • agreement
  • grammatical gender
  • gender


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