Is a car masculine? Is a flower feminine? Why does it matter?

Well, if you’re learning Spanish you definitely need to know which gender to use with nouns and adjectives. This is because every noun is either masculine or feminine and this affects the words you use for the and a, as well as the spelling of the adjectives you use with them. Confused? You won’t be after you’ve read our guide!

So, first things first, let’s look at the different genders and how that affects the articles we use. There are two types of articles, el artículo definido (the definite article) and el artículo indefinido (the indefinite article). These are fancy terms for the and a/an. Look at this table and you’ll see what we mean:

El artículo definido (the) El artículo indefinido (a/an)
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Masculine el los Masculine un/uno unos
Feminine la las Feminine una unas

Once you understand this table, then the next section will make more sense (tendrá más sentido). You really must memorise the grid above as you’ll always need to use these words when speaking and writing in Spanish.

Right, so how can we tell whether a word is masculine or feminine? We can look at some rules (reglas) that you can use to help you, but please remember that there are always exceptions and you’ll just have to learn those separately.

1. Words that end in “o” are usually masculine

This is a basic rule, and works most of the time. The vast majority of words which end in “o” take a masculine article and adjective. For example:

  • El médicoThe doctor
  • Un zapatoA shoe
  • El gato negroThe black cat (which reads “the cat black”)

¡Ojo! (Be careful!) – some common words which end in “o” are actually feminine. For instance:

  • La manoThe hand
  • La radioThe radio

You’ll just have to learn these as you see or hear them when practising your Spanish.

2. Most words ending in “a” are feminine

Another basic idea to learn is that most words with an “a” at the end take a feminine article and adjective. Let’s see a few examples:

  • La camisaThe shirt
  • Una tortugaA turtle/tortoise
  • Una lata azul A blue can

But, just like with rule 1, there are some “a” words which are masculine. These often end in “ma” or “pa”, like:

  • El mapaThe map
  • Un problemaA problem

3. If a word ends with an accented vowel (e.g. “í”) or a consonant other than “d” or “z”, it is probably masculine

Now we are getting into the realm of probably as, like I’ve said before, there are always exceptions. Here are some of examples of words which follow this rule.

  • Un tumorA tumour
  • El atúnThe tuna
  • Un colibríA hummingbird
  • El papelThe paper
  • Un autobúsA bus

4. Certain endings like “ión”, “d” and “z” are likely to be feminine

You’ve probably guessed by now that this rule, like all the others so far, also isn’t 100% infallible. However, it will help you to identify a feminine word in most cases. Words which are feminine in this category include:

  • La ciudadThe city
  • Una estaciónA station
  • La narizThe nose

5. Some words you have to learn that they're masculine or feminine because they just are

If you’ve followed the guidelines above and still got the wrong gender, you’ve found one of the many exceptions. The best way to improve your Spanish, as with any other language, is to read and listen to as much material as possible to you can pick up the exceptions in a more natural way. Then, when you practise speaking and writing Spanish, you’ll be less likely to make mistakes (cometer errores).

6. Gender also affects the spelling of the adjectives used to describe nouns

A final point to make is that the adjectives (adjetivos) we use to describe our nouns (sustantivos) change their spelling according to the gender and number of the nouns used. It’s quite straightforward (sencillo) – just look at the table below for how this works.

Adjectives ending in “o” English
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Masculine El/Un perro negro Los/Unos perros negros Masculine The/A black dog The/Some black dogs
Feminine La/Una silla negra Las/Unas sillas negras Feminine The/A black chair The/Some black chairs
Other adjectives English
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Masculine El/Un coche verde Los/Unos coches verdes Masculine The/A green car The/Some green cars
Feminine La/Una puerta marrón Las/Unas puertas marrones Feminine The/A brown door The/Some brown doors

Like the other elements of gender, we do have a couple of adjectives which don’t follow these patterns. For example, naranja (orange) never takes an “o” at the end and becomes naranjas in the plural form. You’ll soon get the hang of all this once you start studying Spanish and using it on a daily basis.

There you have it! A quick guide to gender in Spanish just to help you get started understanding how nouns and adjectives work in this amazing language.

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