Spanish Feminine Nouns with a Masculine Article

There are some Nouns in Spanish which, despite being feminine, sometimes use the masculine articles “el” and “un”.

Examples:

  • el agua = the water
  • un agua = a water
  • el águila = the eagle
  • un águila = an eagle

This happens only to feminine nouns starting with «a» or «ha», and only when that «a» is the stressed vowel. (the vowel that sounds «higher» in the word)


List of affected nouns

Here are some of the nouns for which this phenomenon occurs. Remember, they all begin with an stressed  “a” or “ha”:

Spanish English
el aguawater
el águilaeagle
el albadawn
el almasoul
el ama de casahousewife
el anclaanchor
el armaweapon
el arpaharp
el asmaasthma
el aulaclassroom
el hablaspoken language
el hachaaxe
el hambrehunger




Two Conditions for using masculine articles with these feminine nouns

For these feminine nouns to use the masculine articles, two conditions need to be met:

  1. The noun has to be singular.
  2. No word can be placed between the article and the noun.

Examples:

El águila es grande y poderosa = The eagle is big and powerful.

Esta es un arma muy moderna = This is a very modern weapon.


If the two conditions are not met, then we use feminine articles


For example, if the noun is plural:

Las hablas de esta región son muy extrañas = The spoken languages of this region are very strange.

Son unas amas de casa muy simpáticas = They are very friendly housewives


Or if there are words between article and noun:

Ella tocó la preciosa arpa = She played the very beautiful harp.

El guerrero tiene una gran hacha = The warrior has a big axe.


Important: These nouns are feminine for everything else

Even in sentences where these words have a masculine article, all adjectives connected to them, including Demonstrative Articles, are always in feminine form.

Examples:

  • un águila muy bonita = a very beautiful eagle
  • el alma sincera = the sincere soul
  • esta ancla = this anchor