In this article, you will learn el género de los sustantivos (noun gender) in Spanish, a language that uses two definite articles (el and la) depending on whether the word is masculine or feminine. ¡¡¡Espera!!! ¿¿QUÉ?? (Wait!!! Whaaat?) Yes, in Spanish, words have a gender, such as la mesa (the table — feminine) and el muro (the wall — masculine).
This is due to the Latin roots of Spanish. Therefore, this characteristic is shared with French and Portuguese. Thankfully, it is not like German, where there's even a third gender.
For now, let’s stick to Spanish! 🧐
First of all, you should know that in English there isn’t a gender for each noun, it doesn’t really exist, but this is what happens in Spanish:
- La manzana (the apple)
- La corbata (the tie)
- El carro (the car)
- El perro (the dog)
The English article “the” may be translated as either la or el in Spanish.
So, the first thing you must know is that you should learn nouns with their article, depending on whether the noun is femenino (la) or masculino (el). There are really confusing rules about knowing noun gender. However, I will try to make your life a bit easier with the following tips.
First tip: color the nouns
A really good tip to learn nouns together with the gender that corresponds to each of them is to paint each noun with a specific color depending on whether they are masculine or feminine.
For example, take red as feminine and blue as masculine. Picture a red apple, a red tie, a blue car, a blue dog.
This mnemonic device makes it a lot easier to remember the gender.
Second tip: pay attention to the ending
If the noun ends with an O, it’s most likely masculine.
- El libro (the book)
- El teléfono (the telephone)
If it ends with an A or with either -sión, -ción, -dad, -tad, -tud and -umbre, the gender of the noun will certainly be feminine, such as:
- La cascada (the waterfall)
- La infusión (the infusion)
- La canción (the song)
- La ciudad (the city)
- La libertad (the freedom)
- La solicitud (the application)
- La certidumbre (the certainty)
Exceptions you should bear in mind
There are some exceptions to this rule, so that’s why I always recommend the following: when learning the nouns, do it with their articles.
The following are examples of the exceptions I am referring to:
- Words that have a Greek origin and end in either -ma, -pa or -ta
- El planeta (the planet)
- El mapa (the map)
- El problema (the problem)
- Feminine words ending with an O
- La radio (the radio)
- La mano (the hand)
- Words starting with an A
THIS EXCEPTION IS VERY IMPORTANT. These words in particular are feminine; however, the emphasis is on the first syllable and it wouldn’t sound correct if we use la because the starting sound is an A. So, in these cases we use el.
For example: agua (water), it wouldnt sound correct to say LA Agua, so the proper ways are:
- El agua (the water)
- El águila (the eagle)
- El alma (the soul)
This rule also applies to words starting with an H —because in Spanish letter H is silent. Therefore, the syllable HA sounds like an A at the beginning, and that is why you should use the article el.
- El hacha (the ax)
- El hada (the fairy)
Third tip: the gender rule
If they are talking about a female professor or a male professor, probably you just need to change the ending to an A to make it feminine or change the article if the noun is neuter. For example:
- El profesor becomes La profesora (the teacher)
- El doctor becomes la doctora (the doctor)
Where nouns are neuter:
- El artista changes to La artista (the artist)
- El estudiante changes to La estudiante (the student)
This also applies to animal nouns:
- El perro becomes La perra (the dog)
- El gato turns to La gata (the cat)
There is no a specific rule or checklist to learn the gender of all nouns, actually that would be very hard to do.
Even for me, as a Spanish Speaker, we learn by practicing and applying. You’ll notice after a while you’ll automatically use the right gender without even thinking about the rules! If you use them several times in writing and when speaking with someone or to yourself, they will start to sound “right”.
This is basically how native speakers, like me, learn. Instead of memorizing the gender, they hear it often and end up having a “feeling” for which one is the correct one. That’s also how we teach Spanish in our Spring Spanish Academy. So sigue practicando (keep practicing!)
A few fun facts
If a noun is feminine, the accompanying adjectives should be feminine as well… This applies to masculine too. Some examples are:
- La manzana roja (the red apple)
- El listón rojo (the red ribbon)
- El segundo día (the second day)
- La segunda hora (the second hour)
Did you notice the gender changed to agree with the noun? That’s great and that makes sense as well, at least it does in Spanish.
And remember I told you about the feminine words that need to start with el because of the emphasis on the first syllable?
Well, since those are strictly recognized as feminine, you must use the adjectives in that gender. For example:
- El agua fría (the cold water)
- El águila blanca (the white eagle)
- Él hacha roja (the red ax)
FREE Spanish Training
¡Muy bien! Now you have essential tips that will help you to find out the gender of nouns in Spanish! Also check out my other video that focuses on the articles as I told you these two come together and are very important to learn them as a set.
Additionally, remember that we have a whole series of Spanish beginner videos, so feel free to check out the other videos on our channel!
In general, in this article I have provided you with a lot of rules, but like I already mentioned, the easiest way to speak Spanish fluently is to refrain from thinking about the rules! In our Spring Spanish Academy, we teach our students to speak Spanish exactly like that.
If you’re interested to learn more about this method and the way we teach Spanish in the Academy, we have a free Spanish training on our website where we demonstrate how it works and also give away some free sample Spanish lessons that come straight from our Academy!