Everything has got a gender in Spanish.
If you already speak a Romance language such as Portuguese, French or Italian, this fact won’t surprise you. But if you are used to speaking in neutral terms, be prepared to open your mind! This will completely change the way you see the world.
Defining terms: What is gender?
Getting used to Spanish gender takes time, but it is what separates learners from fluent speakers. The following rules will help you train your brain to guess gender in Spanish and produce it accurately while speaking!
Gender is a grammatical property of nouns and some pronouns. This property is manifested in determinants, adjectives or intensifiers that accompany those nouns. In Spanish, unlike English, we do not have neutral nouns.
But why divide nouns by gender? Basically, gender in languages is just another way of classifying nouns into groups. In fact, English used to be a gendered language as well, but English speakers stopped grouping words by gender by the 16th century.
And what is a noun?
A noun is a person, an object or an idea. Every noun in Spanish has a specific article that denotes the gender of the word. While in English we use the to refer to objects or ideas, in Spanish we have four ways of saying the depending on the gender and number: We use el for masculine and singular nouns; la for feminine and singular nouns; los for masculine and plural and, finally, las for feminine and plural. In this way, every Spanish word will be accompanied by el or la.
As we can see, every living creature is either el or la. If you are an English speaker, you would refer to creatures with the: the cat, the kid. This way, when we speak about living beings in Spanish, the nouns ending in -o will be masculine, as el perro (the male dog); el niño (the boy); el tío (the uncle). The same way, nouns ending in -a will refer to females: la perra (the female dog); la niña (the girl); la tía (the aunt).
Determining the gender is especially difficult when we are talking about inanimate objects, like la mesa (the table) or el ordenador (the computer). But no panic! We are here to give you the hacks!
General rule for Spanish genders
As a general rule, nouns that end in -o are usually masculine. Such is the case of libro (book); fuego (fire); cuaderno (notebook) or bolígrafo (pen).
On the other hand, nouns that in Spanish end in -a tend to be feminine, like casa (house); ventana (window); copa (cup) or silla (chair).
Exceptions for Spanish genders
However, there are also masculine nouns ending in -a (as if Spanish wasn’t complicated enough!) Those are:
- Words from Greek origin that end in -ma: el esquema (scheme); el diagrama (the diagram); el clima (the climate), etc.
- Names of colours (el) naranja (orange); (el) fucsia (fucsia); (el) lila (lilac).
The same way, we have feminine nouns ending in -o which come from shortenings of feminine nouns: la moto(cicleta), la foto(grafía), la quimio(terapia).
Nevertheless, according to the Real Academia de la Lengua Española (Royal Spanish Academy in English), there is a certain relation between some endings and noun genders which designate non-animated beings, as can be observed in the table below:
Remember, learning a new language is a process rather than a result. It is important to set a daily routine to help you see improvements.
When it comes to gender in Spanish, try to familiarise yourself with the rules mentioned above. Listen carefully when watching films or listening to music. To better remember the gender of inanimate objects, like furniture, you can try some strategies like sticking post-it notes around the room.