8 Simple Rules for Mastering Spanish Gender

Everything in Spanish is either male or female.

The language is charged with gender power.

If two words are not paired correctly, the imbalance creates waves of discomfort in its users.

Knowing Spanish gender separates the Spanish language learners from the fluent speakers.

If you already speak a Romance language (those that come from Latin), then you will not be confused by this characteristic. If you are used to speaking in neutral terms, be prepared to open a new avenue of perception in your mind. This will change the way you view the world.

Getting the hang of Spanish gender can take time, but it is the next big step after getting a handle on the Spanish learning basics, such as learning how to self-teach,  making Spanish words plural and knowing where to place accent marks. The following tips regarding Spanish gender will help train your brain to recognize, categorize and eventually produce gender accurately while speaking Spanish.

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8 Simple Rules for Mastering Spanish Gender

A noun is born: male or female?

A noun is a person, place, thing or idea. Every noun in Spanish has a specific article that denotes the gender of the word.  They can be definite or indefinite and have four forms:

masculine singular  el
masculine plural  los
feminine singular  la
feminine plural  las 

Examples:

person

el niño  the boy                               la niña → the girl
los niños → the boys                        las niñas  the girls

place

el restaurante  the restaurant                     la casa  the house
los restaurantes  the restaurants               las casas  the houses

thing

el papel  the paper                                        la mesa  the table
los papeles → the papers                                las mesas → the tables

idea

el pensamiento  the thought                     la idea  the idea
los pensamientos  the thoughts               las ideas → the ideas 

Living Creatures are referred to by the gender they represent

This one is simple.  Every living creature is either an  el or a la. If you are an English speaker you have always referred to creatures with the.  The Spanish language is a lot more detailed in this respect. It loves to observe and categorize the differences. With this in mind, take note of the first two rules for mastering Spanish gender:

Rule #1

  • When speaking about living creatures, nouns that end in “O” are masculine.

Examples:

el gato  the male cat                                       el perro  the male dog
los gatos  the male cats                                 los perros → the male dogs 

el chico  the boy                                              el oso  the male bear
los chicos  the boys                                        los osos  the male bears

el abuelo  the grandfather                           el tío  the uncle
los abuelos → the grandparents                    los tíos  the uncles 

Rule #2

  • When speaking about living creatures, nouns that end in “A” are feminine.

Examples:

La gata  the female cat                    la perra  the female dog
Las gatas  the female cats              las perras → the female dogs

La chica  the girl                               la osa  the female bear
Las chicas  the girls                         las osas  the female bears 

*BEWARE OF THE GENDER TRAP*

There is a slight possibility that you might fall into a “gender thinking trap.”  This deception tricks you into thinking that everything associated with a male will automatically be masculine and everything associated with a female will automatically be feminine. This is false.  Only distinct living creatures fall under this categorization.

The following example clearly illustrates how objects commonly associated with each gender do not follow the rule.              

la corbata → the necktie               el maquillaje → the makeup 

8 simple rules mastering spanish gender 8 Simple Rules for Mastering Spanish Gender

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The Masculine in Spanish

When there is a crowd or a group of people, animals, ideas or things that have a mixed gender, what gender is used?

If you answered, “the masculine gender is always used when there is a mixed group,” you are already thinking in the same direction as the Spanish language. 

Rule #3

  • When there is a group of mixed gender, no matter what the ratio is of females to males and males to females, the group is always referred to as masculine.

1 niño + 4 niñas = 5 niños                    1 boy + 4 girls = 5 kids
3 gatos + 542 gatas = 545 gatos        3 male cats + 542 female cats = 545 cats 

The masculine gender has more power than the female gender when it comes to making the rules. Although the words have the same value, the male acts as the default leader. To make the word feminine you simply add the feminine “a” touch.

Rule #4

  • Masculine nouns that end in consonants (non-vowels) have a corresponding feminine form that ends in “a

Examples:

el profesor → the male professor             la profesora → the female professor
el doctor → the male doctor                       la doctora →  the female doctor
el señor → the Mr.                                         la señora →  the Mrs. 

Nouns, Gender and Professions

Some nouns that refer to professions do not change their forms.  This does not mean that the importance of gender disappears.  If the word does not change, the article is in full charge of specifying gender.

Rule#5

  • Some nouns that refer to professions have the same form for masculine and feminine. The article is the only thing that changes.

Examples:

el piloto → the male pilot                                  la piloto → the female pilot
el soldado → the male soldier                         la soldado → the female soldier
el modelo → the male model                           la modelo → the female model
el poeta → the male poet                                  la poeta → the female poet
el atleta → the male athlete                             la atleta → the female athlete
el psiquiatra → the male psychiatrist         la psquiatra → the female psychiatrist

Optional brain exercise* Make a list of nouns that currently surround you (wherever you are) in English (you decide on how many you want to attempt).  Try to guess their gender in Spanish.  Look up the words and see how many you got right and what rules you recognize.

Exclusive Endings

Some words are exclusively reserved for female articles and others are exclusively reserved for male ones.  These will admit no opposite intervention, ever!  The use of masculine articles with exclusively feminine endings and vice-versa will disrupt and distort your communication. 

Rule #6

  • Nouns that end in –sión, –ción, -dad, -tud and –umbre will always require the feminine article.

Examples:

la exposición → the exhibition
la habitación →  the room
la felicidad →  the happiness
la solicitud →  the application
la costumbre →  the custom

Rule #7

  • Nouns that end in –ma require a masculine article

Examples:

el problema →  the problem
el emblema →  the emblem
el enigma →  the mystery

Exceptions that Create New Rules

Languages exist within a strict framework of rules, yet they are alive, they are dynamic, and the are continuously evolving.  Therefore, there are always exceptions to the rules, and these exceptions, in turn, create new rules.

Rule #8

  • Some nouns that end in “A” are masculine
  • Some nouns that end in “O” are feminine

Examples:

A

el día → the day
el mapa → the map
el cura → the priest
el planeta → the planet

O

la foto → the photo
la mano →  the hand
la radio →  the radio
la moto →  the motorcycle

Best Practices

Remember, learning a new language is not a result but more of a process! It is important that you set a daily routine for your language learning that excites you and allows you to see results.

As it relates to gender, familiarize yourself with the rules. Listen carefully for them when watching your favorite movies. While reading a comic or newspaper, circle the gender agreements that most surprise you.  Above all, find someone to practice with!  You will quickly catch on to the patterns, nuances and subtleties of the language this way. Think of how small children learn language for the first time.  A ton of listening, a lot of gibberish, some clarity with mistakes, increase in vocabulary and finally fluency!

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