07 October 2018

How to identify masculine and feminine nouns in Spanish

For native English speakers, the idea of gender applied to nouns can be a very difficult thing to wrap one’s head around. What is a noun? A noun is a person, place, thing or idea. Just as in English, nouns can be definite (the) or indefinite (a, an). In Spanish, however, nouns are divided into two genders: masculine and feminine. There are some basic rules for recognizing which words are which gender, but as in all languages, there are also some exceptions.

How to identify masculine and feminine nouns in Spanish

General rules for feminine nouns

There are some general rules for identifying the gender of nouns. Usually, you can gauge by the endings of certain nouns whether they are masculine or feminine. Here are some rules for identifying feminine nouns.

  • Generally, words ending in -A: la silla, la manzana, la mesa
  • Ending in -CIÓN, -SIÓN, -ZÓN: la canción, la pasión, la razón (exceptions: el corazón, el buzón)
  • Words ending in -DAD and -TAD: la felicidad, la amistad, la verdad
  • Ending in -EZ and -TRIZ: la vejez, la actriz
  • Ending in -TUD, -UMBRE: la multitud, la incertidumbre, la actitud
  • The letters of the alphabet are also all feminine and should take a feminine article: la G, la O, la Ñ

General rules for masculine nouns

  • When we see a word ending in -O, it is safe to assume that it is probably a masculine word: el vino, el destino, el libro
  • Ending in -OR: el amor, el dolor, el pastor (exceptions: la flor y la labor)
  • Ending in -AJE and -AN: el traje, el pan
  • Numbers and colours: el cinco, el rojo
  • Days of the week and months of the year: el jueves, el martes, el abril, el noviembre
  • Cardinal points: el norte, el sur, el este, el oeste
  • The majority of geographical-related nouns are also masculine: el rio, el mar, el oceano Atlántico, los lagos, los volcanes, el desierto del Sáhara

Exceptions

Nothing is perfect, which means there are always some exceptions to the rules. Here are some of the most important examples:

  • Masculine nouns ending in -A: el dia, el sofá, el mapa
  • Words ending in -MA, -TA with Greek roots: el problema, el idioma, el planeta
  • Feminine nouns ending in -O: la mano
    These words have feminine articles because they are shortened versions of feminine nouns: la moto (motocicleta), la radio (radiodifusión), la foto (fotografía)
  • Some nouns that are professions do not change their ending and only change the article depending on whether it is a female or male we are talking about: el/la estudiante, el/la atleta, el/la poeta, el/la piloto

We are so thankful there are only two genders to categorize and not three, like in German! Once you have mastered and memorized which nouns are masculine and feminine, you’ll be on the right path to conquering the Spanish language!