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What determines masculinity or feminity in Spanish?

What determines masculinity or feminity in Spanish? Is it applied to all nouns or verbs or adjectives or what? I realize that most words, but not all, feminine/masculine words end in a/o and those that don't follow normalcy have to be memorized, but I am confused as to what it is that makes it normally feminine or masculine.

All nouns in Spanish are either masculine or feminine. People who grow up speaking Spanish learn the gender of all words as part of learning to speak. As a matter of fact, Spanish speakers probably think it’s weird that English nouns don’t have gender.

Each noun has an article that goes with it. You’ve got to memorize the article when you memorize the word. That noun isn’t going anywhere without the article. They’re like bff.

Like our friend Fabio has noticed, the gender of nouns doesn’t have much to do with the meaning of the noun itself. Even though a dress is usually worn by female, it’s a masculine noun in Spanish. Along the same lines, there’s nothing particularly girly about an apple, or anything particularly butch about a plate. You’re not going to make sense of it if you think of it this way.



Most of the time, words that end with “a” are feminine. The definite feminine article is “la.” (I’ll explain to you what a definite article is a little later on. For now, just think of it as “the.”)

La manzana= the apple La piedra= the rock
La esperanza= hope La rosa = the rose
La paz = peace La familia = the family

Most of the time words that end with “o” are masculine.

el barco = the boat el plato= the plate

Nouns that end in -sión, -ción, -dad, -tad, and -tud, are feminine.

la decision= the decision
la conversación= the conversation
la habitación= the bedroom
la ciudad= the city
la Universidad= the university
la libertad = liberty
la actitud= the attitude
la television= the television

Nouns that end with “e” can go either way. They’re pretty wild like that.

Every once in a while, feminine nouns end with “o” and masculine nouns end with “a.”

la mano = the hand el mapa=the map
el planeta = the planet el telegrama = the telegram
el sofa = the sofa el drama = the drama
el clima = the climate el sintoma = the symptom
el sistema = the system el dia = the day
el idioma = the language el problema = the problem

Sometimes, the meaning of a word changes when you change the gender

el radio= the radio set, the radius (remember geometry?)
la radio= the medium of communication over radio waves

el cura= the priest
la cura= the cura

el colera= the cholera (like the disease)
la colera= rage

el policia= the male police officer
la policia= the police force, a female police officer

The gender of nouns for people always correspond to the gender of the person they’re describing

El hombre= the man
La mujer= the woman

El nino= the little boy
La nina= the little girl

El muchacho= the teenage boy, the young man
La muchacha= the teenage girl, the young woman

El padre= the father
La madre= the mother

El doctor= the male doctor
La doctora= the female doctor

El actor= the male actor
La actriz= the female actor, the actress

While this doesn’t happen often, it’s best just to memorize these exceptions when they come along.

These gender bending nouns don’t come along too often.

Every once in a while actual ending of the word does not change, but the article still changes depending on the gender of the person:

El testigo= the male witness
La testiga= the female witness

El idiota= the male idiot
La idiota= the female idiot

Most nouns that refer to roles or jobs that end with “ista” or “eta” don’t change their ending along with their gender:

El dentista= the male dentist
La dentista= the female dentist

El poeta= the male poet
La poeta= the female poet

El turista= the male tourist
La turista= the female tourist

Sometimes, the gender of the noun for animals change depending on the gender of the animal:

El perro= the male dog
La perra= the female dog (note, it is only appropriate to refer to actual female dogs as “perras.” It is a very bad idea to use this word to refer to a person. Trust me.)

El mono= the male monkey
La mona= the female

El oso= the male bear
La osa= the female bear

El gato= the male cat
La gata= the female cat

Every once in a while, you use a totally different word for the female version and the male version of the same animal:

La vaca= the female cow
El toro= the male cow (the bull)

El leon= the lion
La leona= the lioness

El gallo= the rooster
La gallina= the hen

Sometimes, the gender of the noun for the animal does not change:

La ballena: the whale

You can’t say “el balleno.” Obviously, male whales exist. Otherwise, the species would not reproduce. If you don’t understand this concept, ask your parents. This is a grammar website and explaining this sort of thing to you just isn’t my job.

Anyway, the whale is “la ballena” no matter is it’s male or female.

Some other examples of this are:

La abeja= the bee

La cucaracha= the cocaroach

La aguila= the eagle

El dinosaurio= the dinosaur

El unicornio= the unicorn

El caballo= the horse

Feminine words that begin with “a” or “ha” have the masculine article in the singular form only. Why? Well, all of these nouns are actual feminine. However, it sounds really sloppy to say “la ave.” Sounds like “lave,” which isn’t even a word. So to be clear, you say, “el ave.” Quirky, huh? For more information see: "Why do I say 'el alma' if 'alma' is a feminine word?"


Sometimes certain nouns can be shortened, but their gender stays the same

La fotografia= the photograph
can become “la foto”

La motocicleta= the motorcycle
Can become “la moto”

La television= the television
Can become “la tele”

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