One important difference between Spanish and English, is that in Spanish everything has a gender: masculine or feminine.
In English, you only think about gender when referring to living creatures (the girl – the boy, a male cat – a female cat).
But in Spanish, everything: every object, every concept, even if it’s abstract… has a gender that you need to learn.
And what is more challenging: there is no way to 100% predict the gender of a noun when you read the word for the first time. There are, however, some general rules that can serve as a best guess and that we will see in this post. It is recommended that, whenever you learn a new noun in Spanish, you try to couple it with its definite article (“el” for masculine and “la” for feminine) and try to remember them together.
Anyway, In this post we will go through these points:
- 1. Some basic guidelines (+ exceptions)
- 2. Influence of the gender in other words within the sentence.
1. Some basic guidelines (+ exceptions)
Words ending in “-o” tend to be MASCULINE
Examples: el dinero, el supermercado, el kiosco, el barco, el océano, el milagro…
But, there are exceptions, such as: la mano, la radio, la foto, la moto…
Words ending in “-a” tend to be FEMININE
Examples: la mesa, la música, la guitarra, la cabeza, la filosofía…
But, there are exceptions (mostly ending in “ma”), such as: el problema, el tema, el idioma, el clima, el fantasma, el planeta, el mapa…
Words ending in “-dad” are always FEMININE:
Examples: la habilidad, la edad, la capacidad, la bondad, la sinceridad, la maldad….
2. Matching other words in the sentence to the noun’s gender
Remember: the noun is not alone in the sentence. It is surrounded by other words, and some of them need to match the gender (and the number) of the noun they relate to. This is the case for articles and adjectives.
Take this sentence:
El niño pequeño está contento = The small child is happy.
If instead of a child, we say the same about a girl, we need to match the article and also the two adjectives that relate to the girl: small and happy. The result is:
La niña pequeña está contenta = The small girl is happy.
And although it’s not the topic of this post, they also need to match the number. If we say “children”:
Los niños pequeños están contentos = The small children are happy.
Las niñas pequeñas están contentas = The small girls are happy.