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Hi everybody! Marika here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Italian questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: Can I also make profession names feminine?
Italian nouns have a gender. This means some are masculine and some are feminine. Generally, you can change a masculine noun into a feminine one by changing the article and the final vowel.
For example, il bambino (meaning “the child”) is masculine. La bambina is feminine.
Since gender in the Italian language is such an important grammar category, the answer to the question is yes. Most of the time you can change profession names into feminine. Let’s see how to do that!
Professions ending in -aio and -iere change the ending to -aia and -iera. For example:
Fornaio - fornaia (“baker”)
Cameriere - cameriera (“waiter - waitress”)
Professions ending in -tore change the ending to -trice
Maestro - maestra (“teacher”)
Attore - attrice (“actor - actress”)
Professions ending in -ista only change the article to specify the gender.
Lo stilista - la stilista (“the stylist”)
Il tassista - la tassista (“the taxi driver”)
What about professions traditionally involving men?
Society is constantly evolving, and the language must keep up with the times. Today, more and more women are becoming lawyers, engineers, doctors, etc.
Some of these titles have a regular feminine form in Italian, such as dottoressa (“doctor”) or direttrice (“chief, manager”).
But what about other titles that were almost never used for women in Italian history, like ministro (“minister”), or presidente (“president”)? Is it la ministro or la ministra? La presidentessa or la presidente?
Some professions have the feminine version ending in -essa, but this form is often considered ironic or even derogatory.
For example, it’d be better to say l’avvocato instead of l’avvocatessa (“lawyer”), and la vigile instead of la vigilessa (“traffic officer”).
In the same way, la presidentessa is perceived as politically incorrect. So when you’re referring to a woman, use the masculine version with the feminine article instead: la presidente. Besides, nouns ending in -ente and -ante don’t change in the feminine form - for example, cantante, “singer” - so it’s only natural that it should be la presidente.
There are instances where the suffix -essa doesn’t have a negative undertone. So it’s perfectly okay to say poetessa (“poetess”) and studentessa (“student”).
As for ministro, the most common feminine version is il ministro ("the minister").
However, lately many people have argued that ignoring the gender of the woman who holds the title is politically incorrect as well, so you may also hear or read la ministro. But this form is also incorrect. Masculine nouns change to feminine by changing the final -o to -a. Nobody would say la maestro instead of la maestra (“the teacher”), so the best way to call a female minister is actually la ministra.
Professions that borrow English words only change the article.
Il manager - la manager
Il designer - la designer
Il leader - la leader


One final thing. In colloquial Italian, when referring to a woman by her family name, it's common to add the feminine article la, "the." For example, la Rossi.
Although this is something very common, it’s politically incorrect, because it highlights the gender of the person you’re referring to only when the person is feminine.
It's as if in English, when referring to a woman, instead of just using her family name (like “Smith,") you said "Smith, the woman."
Pretty interesting, right?
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
A presto! “See you soon!”