Genders in Spanish
Every noun in Spanish has a gender – either male or female. Mastering genders in Spanish is an important part of studying the language and can really define your level. There were originally three genders in Latin – male, female and neutral – but Spanish language didn’t follow the neutral gender (except for its use in pronouns).
Getting to grips with genders in Spanish can be particularly tricky for English native speakers, as it’s not a concept we’re always familiar with. However, if you have already studied another romance language, you likely have an advantage!
There are certain tips to follow to recognize Spanish genders that can help you easily identify and categorise words. That said, it’s important to know that there are lots of exceptions to the general rules and it’s important to learn these exceptions (also known as irregulars).
Tip: nouns ending in -o or -os are usually masculine in Spanish, whereas nouns ending in -a or -as are usually feminine.
General Spanish gender rules
- Singular masculine nouns: begin with el e.g. el niño = the boy
- Singular feminine nouns: begin with la e.g. la niña = the girl
- Plural masculine nouns: begin with los e.g. los niños = the boys
- Plural feminine nouns: begin with las e.g. las niñas = the girls
Nouns that end in the following are usually feminine: -dad, -tad, -tud, -umbre, -dora, -ción, -sión, -iz.
Nouns ending in -n, -r and -l are usually masculine. Examples: el corazón (the heart), el color (the color) and el alcohol (the alcohol).
Common gender exceptions in Spanish
Masculine nouns ending in -a in Spanish
The most common masculine irregular nouns in Spanish language are those which end in -a (going against the norm of nouns ending in -a being feminine). Some examples of these are…
- el día = the day
- el mapa = the map
- el planeta = the planet
- el problema = the problem
- el sistema = the system
- el tema = the theme
- el idioma = the language
- el clima= the climate
- el esquema = the scheme
- el programa. = the program
- el drama = the fragrance
- el cometa = the comet
- el aroma = the fragrance
- el trauma = the trauma
- el sofá = the sofa
Feminine nouns ending in -o in Spanish
- la foto = the photo
- la radio = the radio
- la moto = the motorcycle
- la disco = the disco
- la man = the hand
- la magneto = the magnet
Nouns that are defined by definite article
The gender of some nouns is decided based on the definite article of the word (who the word is referring to). Such as:
- El estudiante es inteligente = the student (male) is intelligent
- La estudiante es inteligente = the student (female) is intelligent
It’s also necessary to know that definite articles (el, la, los, las) can change the meaning of a noun. An example of this would be el cura is somebody who serves the church. La cura is the cure, such as in the cure for a disease. It’s important to take care with these multi-meaning nouns!
Note: when there is a mixed gender group of nouns, the masculine always takes precedence. For example, if you have two boys and eight girls the group would still be referred to as los niños (masculine).
Take careful note of the ending of nouns in Spanish to identify their gender, as well as the words accompanying them (such as the definite articles). Also pay attention to the context in which the nouns are used. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Keep correcting, learning, and moving forward!
It’s important not to get too caught up with genders when learning Spanish and focus on your enjoyment of learning the language! Everybody makes mistakes and the language learning process is a journey that you build on over time. Use every opportunity you can to practice and improve your Spanish language skills and don’t lose sight of your goals!
Tip: Watching TV and movies, or meeting a Spanish language partner, can be great ways to learn genders in Spanish in context, without overloading the pressure.
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