Why are frogs feminine in Spanish?
And, for that matter, why are bras masculine?!
Getting the hang of using gender in the Spanish language really can be hard at first, as it’s a relatively unfamiliar concept for native English speakers.
Sure, sometimes correctly applying gender rules correctly can be a breeze, but there are times when the correct usage is more complex, unintuitive and a challenge to learn.
You might be wondering why it has to be so confusing—or asking yourself if it’s even necessary to learn at all.
The short answer? Yes, it is.
And today, we’re diving deep into masculine and feminine Spanish rules to make them way less confusing and intimidating!
What Do You Need to Know About Masculine and Feminine Spanish?
You may already know that every noun in Spanish is either masculine or feminine.
This gender is demonstrated by using the Spanish articles el (masculine) or la (feminine). You’ll also notice that noun endings can help you determine what’s what.
Most nouns that end in –o are masculine and most that end in –a are feminine.
So, what else do you need to know about using gender in the Spanish language?
Here, we’re going to dig a little deeper and go over a few of the trickier topics related to Spanish gender rules.
But first, be sure to take a minute to search your brain for what you already know. (And if you’re feeling a little rusty or haven’t learned about gender yet, here’s a great refresher.)
How much can change based on gender?
Whether an object is a “boy” or a “girl” may seem like a little thing, but quite a bit of the Spanish language is affected by it—more than what you might expect.
To become fluent, you’ll need to know how to take these nouns, adjust their articles, conform their adjectives, pluralize them when necessary, replace them with pronouns and more.
I know, it sounds a little intimidating, but once we get started it’ll all come together and start to make sense. Just to give you a quick peek at this, let’s look at the example “How many white balls?”
In translating this question to Spanish, every word will have to change because the word “balls” is feminine and plural.
In Spanish, cuánto means “how many,” blanco means “white” and bola means “ball.”
But we’re talking about multiple white balls here—according to gender rules, to make the sentence proper, we’ll have to make a slight change to every word. The correct way to ask this question would be ¿Cuántas bolas blancas?
So, it’s not too difficult when you notice how the endings match. It just takes a bit of practice and learning the ins and outs, which we’ll discuss now.
Masculine and Feminine Spanish: 3 Details That Are Often Overlooked
To get a better sense of these concepts and much more, look for examples of them on FluentU.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos topics, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
Plus, if you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
Review a complete interactive transcript under the Dialogue tab, and find words and phrases listed under Vocab.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s robust learning engine. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and recommends examples and videos for you based on the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re studying with the same video.
And now back to gender!
In the introduction, I mentioned that most nouns that end in -o are masculine and most nouns that end in -a are feminine. The same applies to adjectives, as you’ll see later.
While I wasn’t lying, there’s more to Spanish nouns and adjectives than just these two endings, and since we’re learning everything related to gender, I think it’s high time you discovered the whole truth.
10 Masculine Nouns to Get You Started
Have a look at the following masculine nouns:
el perro (the dog)
el hombre (the man)
el vaso (the glass)
el libro (the book)
el detergente (the detergent)
el escritorio (the desk)
el espejo (the mirror)
el ventilador (the fan)
el lunes (Monday)
el rubí (the ruby)
Do you see anything interesting?
For starters, apart from the ending -o, we have -e, -r and -í. What does it mean?
Unfortunately, it means that Spanish masculine nouns, no matter their type, can have many different endings (any ending, for that matter) and there are no rules for them.
The only thing you can do is learn each noun with its article.
This is so true that there are even masculine words that end in the so-called “feminine” ending -a:
el día (the day)
el mapa (the map)
el aroma (the aroma, the scent)
el problema (the problem)
el diploma (the diploma)
el fantasma (the ghost)
el enigma (the enigma)
el planeta (the planet)
el tema (the topic)
el idioma (the language)
A similar thing happens with feminine nouns.
10 Feminine Nouns to Mix Things Up
As you know, the typical feminine ending is -a, but look at the following ten feminine nouns:
la cama (the bed)
la foca (the seal)
la piedra (the stone)
la mesa (the table)
la silla (the chair)
la ciudad (the city)
la mitad (the half)
la canción (the song)
la profesión (the profession)
la vida (the life)
Six of them end indeed in -a, but the other four have different endings.
In this case, there may be a couple of rules you can use (read the Tips section below for more information), but these examples only go to show that feminine words don’t always end in -a.
There are even feminine words that end in the traditionally masculine ending -o:
la mano (the hand)
la radio (the radio)
la moto (the motorbike)
la foto (the photograph)
la libido (the libido)
You can easily remember that two of these words are feminine because they’re shorter versions of words that end in -a:
la moto → la motocicleta
la foto → la fotografía
But the other three just happen to end in -o and be feminine.
There are even feminine words that end in -e, -r or -z:
la gente (the people)
la mujer (the woman)
la parte (the part)
la noche (the night)
la vez (the time, the occasion)
Summing up, there are no crystal-clear rules that’ll determine 100% of the time if a noun is masculine or feminine, so save yourself some suffering by learning them with their articles from the very beginning.
Now that the basics have been covered, let’s get to know three important rules that many learners of Spanish tend to overlook or forget about.
1. Adjetivos (Adjectives)
Grammar Refresher: An adjective is what we use to describe a noun. While in English the adjective usually comes before the noun, in Spanish, it usually comes after. For instance, in the phrase el árbol alto, alto is the adjective. In English, it translates to “the tall tree,” and “tall” is the respective adjective.
Another difference related to adjectives is that an adjective has to represent both the gender of the noun it’s describing and its quantity.
Most often, this means the ending of the adjective will change slightly.
Let’s look at the simple example “the white rose.”
“The rose” in Spanish is feminine and singular, so it’s translated as la rosa, and our adjective “white” in Spanish is blanco.
Since blanco ends in an –o, if we were using it to describe a masculine singular noun, it would remain unchanged. For example:
el perro blanco (the white dog)
But since we want la rosa to be blanco also, to make it correct we just change the –o ending to an -a:
la rosa blanca (the white rose)
That’s not so hard, right? But it can’t always be that simple and of course, there are exceptions.
We know what to do with an adjective that ends in an –o, but with different endings, there are different rules.
Take a second to think of a few adjectives that end in –e.
We have grande (big), inteligente (intelligent) and verde (green)
When using these adjectives, it’s easy; their endings don’t change according to gender.
Here are a few examples:
El árbol verde (the green tree)
La chica inteligente (the intelligent girl)
El zapato grande (the big shoe)
And this same rule applies if the adjective ends in a consonant.
Here are a few adjectives that end in a consonant:
And here they are used with both a feminine and masculine noun:
La niña emocional (the emotional girl)
El niño emocional (the emotional boy)
El perro gris (the gray dog)
The rules keep being equally simple when we try to make things plural, but Spanish learners also tend to forget about these changes, so let’s review them.
2. Pluralización (Pluralization)
In English, one of the easiest things to do is pluralize nouns. And luckily, it’s just as easy to do in Spanish.
If you’ve already got the hang of what we learned in the last section, this should be child’s play.
Pluralization in Spanish is pretty simple; you just have to add a few s’s.
Let’s take a look at our examples “the white rose” and “the white dog” again. If you want to make them plural, all you have to do is make the articles, the nouns and the adjectives plural by adding s on the end of each of them:
La rosa blanca → las rosas blancas
El perro blanco → los perros blancos
So, first you have to look at whether your noun is feminine or masculine, and then whether it’s singular or plural, to get your proper endings.
To make feminine nouns plural, the singular article la becomes las, and an –s is added onto the end of the noun as well as the adjective. See the above example of how la rosa blanca (singular) becomes las rosas blancas (plural).
And the same goes for masculine nouns, except the plural article of el is los. See the above example of how el perro blanco (singular) becomes los perros blancos (plural).
Sorry to have to do this to you again, but it’s time to learn another exception. However, it’s not that difficult—if you notice, it uses the same word groups identified in the above section.
If the noun ends in a consonant, instead of adding an –s, you add –es. Here are a few singular nouns that end in consonants:
el trabajador (the worker)
el profesor (the professor)
la ciudad (the city)
To make these plural, it’s the same process as above, except an –es is used at the end of each of them:
los trabajadores (the workers)
los profesores (the professors)
las ciudades (the cities)
The same happens to adjectives, so “the handsome workers” would become los trabajadores guapos.
Just to make sure you got it, here a few more examples:
Feminine: La niña emocional → Las niñas emocionales (the emotional girls)
Masculine: El niño emocional → Los niños emocionales (the emotional boys)
3. Pronombres (Pronouns)
Grammar Refresher: A pronoun is what replaces a noun. In English, when we’re talking about a specific person or object and we’ve already mentioned it by name, we use pronouns to make our references to it less repetitive. The same is done in Spanish. Here are a few of the various pronouns in Spanish.
If you have a masculine noun, the direct object pronoun to use is lo. For example, for the masculine noun el billete (the ticket), the direct object pronoun that will replace it is lo:
Perdí el billete. (I lost the ticket.)
Lo perdí. (I lost it.)
For the feminine noun la bolsa (the bag), the direct object pronoun that’ll replace it is la:
Perdí la bolsa. (I lost the bag.)
La perdí. (I lost it.)
And pretty much the same thing goes for plural nouns, except instead of lo and la, we use los and las.
For a plural masculine noun, the direct object pronoun that you can use to replace it is los.
Escribí los documentos. (I wrote the documents.)
Los escribí. (I wrote them.)
A plural feminine noun becomes las when replaced by the direct object pronoun:
Cosí las faldas. (I sewed the skirts.)
Las cosí. (I sewed them.)
You now know the three main deets you need to remember when playing with gender and words in Spanish. It was a ride, but it was necessary.
Now allow me to ease your headache a little bit.
The next section includes six wonderful tips that’ll help you learn Spanish gender rules like a boss. After the tips, you’ll find a practice section with some Spanish resources so you can practice what you’ve learned.
Tips for Learning and Remembering Spanish Gender Rules
Although there are no rules set in stone when it comes to guessing the gender of nouns in Spanish, there are some tips that can help you sort things out a bit.
Let’s have a look at them.
1. Endings are your friends
I explained already that a good rule of thumb is assuming that the ending -o is masculine and the ending -a is feminine.
I showed words that follow this rule and others that break it completely, so you better watch out for any tricky nouns that may confuse you.
But apart from these two endings, there are other endings that can help us establish the gender of nouns in Spanish:
- -ción/-sión: if a noun ends in any of these two endings, it’ll always be feminine. Some examples are la institución (the institution), la prisión (the prison) and la reflexión (the reflection, the thinking).
- -dad/tad: the same goes for these two endings. Nouns ending in -tad/-dad are always feminine: la cantidad (the quantity), la universidad (the university), la lealtad (the loyalty).
- -ma/-pa/-ta: this rule is a little bit dangerous. Nouns ending in -ma/-pa/-ta are masculine, but this is only true if they have a Greek origin. Don’t let your guard down, there are a lot of exceptions: la cama (the bed), la capa (the cloak) and la patata (the potato).
2. The Month/Day/Compound rule
3. Learn new nouns together with their articles
I’ll never get tired of saying this! If you learn every new noun with its corresponding article, you won’t have to deal with this issue in the future.
Have a look at the word carne (meat). Most of my students think it’s a masculine noun. However, it’s as feminine as can be (la carne).
4. Use FluentU to remember those tricky nouns
FluentU includes a contextual dictionary and superb interactive flashcards that include all the information you need about a word. Use both features to learn new nouns and take advantage of the grammar information and sample sentences they include to learn everything about Spanish gender once and for all.
5. Use adjectives to help you remember
Another trick that works very well for remembering the gender of nouns in Spanish is to learn them together with an adjective.
This will double your chances of remembering the correct gender, because if you don’t remember or don’t know the article that goes with the noun, you can always make use of the adjective.
Say you want to remember the noun la carne. If you learn it as la carne deliciosa (the delicious meat), you’ll probably never forget that it’s a feminine noun.
6. Spanish prefers LONERS
No, I don’t mean you have to be a loner to learn Spanish. What I mean is that Spanish is a language that tends to be on the chauvinistic side.
I’ve heard a lot of Spanish teachers tell their students that, in case of doubt, they can assume a Spanish noun is masculine and they’ll be right most of the time.
I don’t like generalizations, and I certainly don’t agree with these teachers, but it’s true that a great part of Spanish nouns ending in -l, -o, -n, -e, -r and -s tend to be masculine.
Remember there are numerous exceptions to this rule (la cal — the lime, la mano — the hand, la razón — the reason, la carne — the meat, la circular — the circular, the newsletter, la diéresis — the umlaut), so use it at your own discretion and only in cases of emergency.
Must-use Resources for Practicing Spanish Gender
Let’s leave the theory behind and practice a little!
The following six resources include a ton of exercises on Spanish gender. Have fun!
- SpanishDict. Here you have a 40-question quiz on masculine and feminine Spanish words. It includes brief grammar explanations for each word, even if you answer the questions correctly.
- StudySpanish. This is a cute, short test with four exercises. You can review your answers after you submit them and correct your mistakes thanks to the hints they give you.
- E-Spanyol. Try to guess the gender of 100 Spanish nouns!
- Spanish To Learn Free. Practice Spanish gender to perfection with 26 fantastic exercises.
- Quizziz. In case it wasn’t clear, this link will take you to a free library of quizzes where you can practice Spanish gender till you master it (or fall asleep, whatever happens first).
- Quizlet. Quizlet is famous for its user-friendly flashcards and all you can do with them (from learning new words to practicing writing and listening comprehension). The deck I’ve linked here includes 63 flashcards to practice Spanish gender.
¿Lo tienes? (Got it?)
I know, that was a lot to take in.
But give yourself a pat on the back for making it to the end. These were a few of the trickiest rules about gender in Spanish.
Hopefully, the tips for remembering and learning Spanish gender will help you make things easier, and in case of doubt, you can always come back to this post and read it again.
You’re getting close! Keep studying and buena suerte.
English professor and freelance translator, Francisco J. Vare loves teaching and writing about grammar. A freak of languages, you can normally find him learning a new language, teaching students or just reading in a foreign language. He has been writing for FluentU for seven years and is one of their staff writers.
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