There are some Nouns in Spanish which, despite being feminine, sometimes use the masculine articles “el” and “un”.
- 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”:
el agua water
el águila eagle
el alba dawn
el alma soul
el ama de casa housewife
el ancla anchor
el arma weapon
el arpa harp
el asma asthma
el aula classroom
el habla spoken language
el hacha axe
el hambre hunger
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:
- The noun has to be singular.
- No word can be placed between the article and the noun.
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.
- un águila muy bonita = a very beautiful eagle
- el alma sincera = the sincere soul
- esta ancla = this anchor