Words have gender? Yes! In Spanish nouns have two genders, masculine and feminine. My simple strategies will help you use them quickly and avoid costly mistakes.
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Life is full of different kinds nouns. And every noun has one gender.
Every form of communication is full of nouns. Every thought has at least one noun. Usually there are several nouns in each thought. And each noun has words connected to them that change, because they have to match genders. All of this sounds really complex, yet it is really simple concept with some basic strategies.
The big question >>> Is this noun masculine or feminine?
And what's the difference anyways?
Since English has no noun gender, this concept may seem strange and unimportant.Let me tell you, this is one concept you don't want to underrate. It will drag down your skill level if you ignore it. So, dig into these strategies and flourish. The extra effort now will have big payoff over time.
Spanish Noun Gender Basics
Not long ago I assumed noun gender was based on biology and traits. I knew there were plenty of exceptions, but after immersing my mind into detailed linguistic studies, I now know that it is random (or to be more accurate - historical).
In it's simplest terms, every noun is either masculine or feminine. Every person, place, thing, event or idea falls into one category only. Most nouns have no biological gender and no masculine or feminine traits. So, stop thinking of gender in those terms. This misconception is what causes all the confusion and errors.
Instead, think of gender as an assignment to one of two boxes. One box is masculine marked with an m. And the other box is feminine marked with an f. All nouns are masculine, unless it is female or is assigned feminine.
Spanish Noun Gender Rule
The only rock-solid noun gender rule is:
Every noun is masculine or feminine.
You cannot rely on the word endings or other gender rules, because they all have exceptions. If you do sometimes you will make an error. This means that every new noun you learn, you must learn it's gender too.
Do Not Read Next Section
Unless you want detailed explanation into the noun gender concept. If you are a beginner or still struggling, head straight to the strategies and tools after this section. It is better to take time to learn more nouns with their correct gender, than to learn the different noun gender groups.
Lists of Masculine and Feminine Spanish Nouns
Within the noun gender concept, two groups exist - biological gender and randomly assigned gender. Specific examples of masculine and feminine nouns are listed.
All the variations are included. Even the ones called noun gender exceptions.
Okay, I admit that with humans and animals biological gender is the key factor. Males are masculine. Females are feminine. They are distinguished as follows:
Human Biological Gender
- el hombre
- el niño
- el anciano
- el jefe
- el presidente
- la mujer
- la niña
- la anciana
- la jefa
- la presidenta
Animal Biological Gender
- el gato
- el gallo
- el toro
- el caballo
- la gata
- la gallina
- la vaca
- la yegua
As you can see, two different things happen with biological gender. One, some biological nouns only change the ending. Typically, males have a suffix -o on the end of the word. And females have a suffix -a for the same root.
Two, some nouns are completely different words between male and female.
Even though biology has clear male and female distinctions, there are still some complications. Here are a couple strange twists to be aware of:
With this special group, both male and female use the exact same word. The gender is only identified by a connected word (a determiner). These labels carry the gender. Here, the label is an article (el or la):
- el artista
- el bebé
- el joven
- el testigo
- el idiota
- el tigre
- la artista
- la bebé
- la joven
- la testigo
- la idiota
- la tigre
Unusually, this group uses the same word and gender label for both genders.
Masculine and Feminine
- el rata
- el águila
- el ratón
- el avestruz
That's right, even females have the masculine label. After all, who really know whether that rat is male or female? The gender is generalized and defaults to masculine.
Unlike humans and animals, the rest of the nouns have no biological gender. Places, things, activities and ideas are not male or female. They are not assigned by gender traits either. As a consequence, the gender assignment is random.
We can thank history for being kind to us. Spanish inherited only two genders. The third (extinct) gender, neuter, mostly merged with the masculine gender. This is where random assignment was born.
Random and Surprising Examples
To show how wacky the gender assignments are, here is a list of tricky nouns:
- el vestido
- el mapa
- el amor
- el día
- la fortaleza
- la mano
- la radio
- la foto
As you can see, the masculine and feminine traits are irrelevant for gender assignment. There are some patterns with word endings and some rule breakers. That's why it's best to remember the only rock-solid rule and strategy #1 below.
Plus, some nouns have two genders. Each gender has a different meaning. Or one noun can have a different gender for a different geographical region. Sounds important, right?
- el capital
- el cometa
- el pez
- el corte
- el cura
- el mar
- la capital
- la cometa
- la pez
- la corte
- la cura
- la mar
It's so important, that you need to look them up in the dictionary to get the correct meaning.
To put another way, nouns have a lot of variety. So, to identify gender accurately the following strategies will improve your accuracy and gender agreement with connected words.
That brings us back to the big question:
Is this noun masculine or feminine?
These simple strategies will help you to accurately identify a noun's gender. And the FREE resources make it really easy to remember a noun and it's gender.
Let's start with the most important strategy first:
Strategy #1 Spanish Dictionary Identifies Gender
The only absolutely accurate way to determine noun gender is to use the dictionary.
Every noun is identified by masculine and feminine in dictionary definitions. The abbreviations are m. for masculine and f. for feminine. Here is a sample definition from a Spanish dictionary:
The sample entry below shows a noun that is ambiguous. Cometa has two meanings that change with the gender. For the people with no Spanish reading experience: cometa is a kite or a comet.
Another option is to use an online dictionary. My favorite online dictionary is linguee.com.
Strategy #2 Always Get the Gender
It is absolutely necessary to learn the gender for every new noun you add to your vocabulary.
As you build your vocabulary with focused effort, the gender is an essential fact to include with the definition. Vocabulary lists or books gather words and arrange them by topic. Usually, they include the article (el or la) with the word to identify gender.
- el is masculine
- la is feminine
Strategy #3 Guess Noun Gender with a Rule
The letter endings are useful to predict the gender of an unknown noun.
The gender rules are not accurate for building vocabulary. But at times they help to make a wholehearted attempt to be grammatically correct.
Noun Gender Rules
By default, nouns are masculine, unless assigned to be feminine.
With this general rule about 96 out of 100 nouns will be correct with this guess. The word's ending indicates the gender.
Nouns ending with suffix
-o are masculine
-a are feminine
Later, for more precision, add these endings:
Masculine nouns end with letters -s-o-n -e-l -ma-r
Feminine nouns end with suffixes -a -ción -sión, -tad, -umbre
These rules are the reason why some nouns are considered exceptions. Truly, the nouns are not exceptions. In fact, the rules are not always reliable. Do not use the word endings to identify gender for new vocabulary. Because you will make errors.
Strategy #4 Study the Rule Breakers
Include noun exceptions in your vocabulary studies.
Since many nouns do not follow the rules, it's important to learn the unpredictable ones. Here is a list of rule breakers:
Really, these words are nouns with specific genders that existed before rules. However, since they are so different from typical patterns, grammatical errors occur. Train your brain with the correct gender.
Strategy #5 Practice Identifying Noun Genders
Consistent practice of nouns with their genders produces instant recall.
This is not your traditional drill and repeat. Rather, a game is memory training done right. It involves thinking and physical movement at the same time information is retrieved from the brain.
Try this game to learn and review nouns and their genders.
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Why is noun gender so important?
To sum it up, clarity and accuracy is communication is only possible with correct gender use. As stated before, noun gender will change connected words. This is called gender agreement. Articles, adjectives and pronouns must match the noun gender.
Example of Gender Agreement
El clima es templado hoy.
- Is clima masculine or feminine? masculine
As a result, these connected words are masculine too:
- el (article)
- templado (adjective)
To sum it up, learning noun gender is important for a solid foundation in each language skill area. There are two genders sometimes determined by biology, but most often gender is randomly assigned. The five strategies will help you accurately identify whether a word is masculine or feminine.