Another interesting aspect of grammatical gender, as it was used in Old English, is the different ways nouns were grouped together. Sure, there is the obvious male-female distinction, but you can also see the animate-inanimate differences: “he” and “she” vs “it”. As it turns out, next to masculine and feminine nouns, one way of classifying nouns is to distinguish between animate and inanimate objects. Another common division includes adding a third – neuter – gender. While most Romance languages today only have the male-female distinction, there are many other languages that have introduced the additional neuter gender. German, Dutch, and the Slavic languages are just a few examples.
Interestingly, although Scandinavian languages are very closely related to each other, they use somewhat different gender systems. Norwegian distinguishes between the masculine, feminine, and neuter words, while in Swedish and Danish the masculine and feminine have merged into one common gender that is used to refer to people. With these languages, the gender classes are still rather limited, including only two or three categories, but there is a lot more extreme examples of classifying nouns. Some languages indigenous to Australia had different noun genders for weapons or food, for example. Additionally, in the Congo region in Africa, you can find the Fula language that boasts around twenty genders (the numbers varies from dialect to dialect). Interestingly, natural sex is not a part of the classification – human males and females are grouped together under one gender. It does, however, feature a separate noun class for long things, globular objects, and a completely separate one for words like “cow”, “fire”, “sun”, and “hunger”.