How to Figure Out the Spanish Gender

All nouns have a grammatical gender in Spanish, which might be confusing for some students. Learn some tricks that will help you master the Spanish gender!

spanish gender- toes

Your toes - your fingers of the feet - are masculine.

What are Gendered Nouns?

What do English, Hungarian and Chinese have in common? No gendered nouns. In fact, whole language families can be gender-neutral. All Turkic languages, all Uralic languages and all the Austronesian languages are genderless.

In those languages, nouns have no grammatical gender. A tree is not feminine nor masculine. And so is the sea, the floor, the sky, the table. In Spanish, everything has a gender. Yes, even your toes! Tus dedos del pie, which literally means your fingers of the feet, are masculine.

Of course, even in those languages there are some nouns that might indicate a subject’s gender. For example, mother or son. Still, in English, you can say “a mother” and “a son”. In languages where nouns are gendered, such as Spanish, the article “a” changes according to the gender of the noun that follows it. We would  translate it as “una madre (mother)”  and “un hijo (son)”. Pronouns, quantifiers and adjectives must all comply with the noun’s gender.

Which nouns are masculine and which nouns are feminine in Spanish?

Figuring out the gender of each word is one of the main struggles for any Spanish student. Even students of closely related languages, like Portuguese or French, have trouble with this. Take an example: letters are masculine in Portuguese and French, but feminine in Spanish. We say “la erre” (the letter R) and “la s” (the letter S).

spanish gender - grandparents

El abuelo, la abuela.

  • Living things ending in o are masculine. Living things ending in a are feminine.

If we’re talking about persons or animals, words ending in -o are masculine and words ending in -a are feminine. For example, el gato/ la gata (a cat), el abuelo/la abuela (a grandfather, a grandmother), el chico/ la chica (a boy/ a girl).

You’ll learn that descriptive adjectives also follow this rule. Take this example:

El gato es muy guapo. La gata es muy guapa.

El gato es negro. La gata es negra.

Attention! Some nouns that refer to living things don’t change, but you can tell their Spanish gender by the article that precedes it. These include el modelo/ la modelo (the male model, the mannequin) and el atleta/ la atleta (the athlete).

  • But this rule doesn’t hold for inanimate things.

There is no rule for inanimate things. Generally speaking, words ending with -a will be feminine and words ending with -o will be masculine, but not always. For example, el problema (the problem) is masculine, and so is ela (the day). La mano (the hand) and la foto (the photo, short for fotografía) end with an - o but are feminine.

Ultimately, you will have to train your ear and memorize the gender of each word. There are two little tricks that are worth taking note of:

Nouns ending in -ma require the pronoun el and are masculine.

E.g: el problema, el emblema.  

Nouns ending –sión, –ción, –dad, –tud and –umbre are feminine. They’re usually abstract nouns.

E.g.: la tensión, la emoción, la felicidad, la actitud, la incertidumbre. (the tension, the emotion, the happiness, the attitude, the uncertainty)

What is the Spanish gender for words ending with e?

Many students also question us about Spanish nouns ending with the letter - e. Nouns ending with - e are always masculine when:

  • their ending is - aje (e.g: el coraje, el maquillaje)
  • colors (e.g: el verde, el rojo, el morado)
  • numbers (e.g: el diez, el veinte)
  • rivers (e.g: el Ebro, el Tajo)
  • seas and lakes (el Caribe, el Lago Victoria).

Other words ending in -e can otherwise be either feminine or masculine. For example, “el hombre” (the man), “el pie” (the foot), la sangre (the blood) and la gente (the people).

Spanish Gender for words ending in consonants

Spanish words can end in -d, -z or or -n can either be masculine or feminine.

 

The truth is that there is no easy way to determine the gender of Spanish words. The best tactic is training your ear and acquiring plenty of vocabulary.

 

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