We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is Animacy?

By Meg Higa
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Some languages of the world categorize nouns into classes. One of the most common noun classifications is that of gender. Other than the gender distinctions of pronouns, English does not have any meaningful categorization of nouns. Other languages, however, can have a variety of noun classes which dictate how any given noun is to be correctly used. Animacy, in quite a few languages, is the classification of nouns, and the things these words refer, based on the degree to which they are “alive” or animate.

Some languages simply separate a noun into whether it is animate or inanimate, such as a person versus a tree. Within a language, there is never overlap or ambiguity of noun class; but across languages, classification can differ, such as a culture which might regard a tree as animate. Other languages therefore may have a more complex animacy to their nouns. It might be a class, not only of division, but also of hierarchy.

As in the example of a tree, it cannot be generalized across languages, but a system of animacy with more than two categories will typically employ a subset of the following order: the first person “I,” followed by other human males, females, children, animals, plants, natural forces such as water, concrete objects, and lastly, abstractions. The animacy of nouns is also a taxonomic scheme, or system of hierarchical classification, of a culture’s perception on degree of sentience. Linguistically, nouns do not fall into a class of animacy unless they also have grammatical consequence.

The class of a noun can have various effects on a language’s grammar. The German article for “the” is either der, die or das to designate the following noun as either masculine, feminine or neutral. These represent the most common rules of noun classification. Animacy can affect a language in other ways, such as proper word order, different verb forms, or classifiers such as prefixes and suffixes that change the noun to plural case.

In Japanese, the verb for “to be, to exist, or to possess” is iru for animate things such as people and animals, but aru for inanimate objects. Slavic languages such as Russian must add the suffix -a to most animate nouns if it is not the primary subject of a sentence. When an animate noun is a direct object of the sentence, Spanish adds the preposition a for “at, or to,” but not so for inanimate places and things. The Native American Navajo language has been extensively studied for its complex animacy hierarchy, and how it affects their language’s word order and changes their verbs with prefixes to explain the relationship between this order of nouns.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources
Discussion Comments
Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.