Identify the gender of nouns

¡Ojo! (Watch out!) El género de los sustantivos es importante!

the pope

el Papa

the potato

la papa

Género de los sustantivos (Gender of Nouns)

All nouns in Spanish have a gender: masculine or feminine. Except in the case of people or animals, linguistic gender is a convention of language, not a property of the noun. For this reason, you won’t be able to guess the gender of a noun based on the object itself; you need to learn the gender along with the noun. However, there are some rules that can help determine the gender of an unknown word:

1. The gender of nouns: 

  • The definite article meaning “the” is la for feminine singular nouns.
    • Most words ending in –a are feminine

Play Audiola chica
Play Audiola silla
Play Audiola tiz

    • All words ending in -sión, -ción, -tad, -dad, and –umbre are feminine

Play Audiola televisión
Play Audiola educación
Play Audiola dificultad
Play Audiola universidad
Play Audiola lumbre

  • The definite article meaning “the” is el  for masculine singular nouns. Notice that el without the accent mark is the article… what does él mean? That’s right it means “he”. Don’t confuse el and él!
    • Most words ending in –o are masculine

Play Audioel chico
Play Audioel libro
Play Audioel cuadern

    • Many words ending in –ma are masculine (and originated from the Greek language):

Play Audioel problema
Play Audioel clima
Play Audioel idioma 

  • Many nouns end in –e.  While statistically more are masculine than feminine, there is no firm rule for these and you need to memorize their gender when learning their meaning:

Play Audiola clase
Play Audioel diente (tooth)
Play Audioel coche (car)

  • Many nouns that end in consonants other than -d or -z are masculine, but again this is not a firm rule and you must memorize their gender:

Play Audioel honor (honor)
Play Audioel hospital (hospital)
Play Audioel hotel (hotel)

  • There are other nouns that do not clearly reveal their gender, so it is important that you memorize them.

Play Audioel pupitre
Play Audioel lápiz
Play Audioel reloj
Play Audiola luz
Play Audiola pared

  • There are some exceptions that you have to remember:

Play Audioel día
Play Audioel mapa
Play Audiola mano
Play Audiola foto
Play Audiola moto (motorcycle)

2. People:

  • When referring to people, the biological sex of a person will determine a word’s gender regardless of the rules described above. However, as society has become more sensitive to sexism, as well as questions of gender and sexual identity, people have begun experimenting with ways to adjust the traditional binary-gendered structure of the Spanish language. Click the link below to explore some of the experiments in gender-neutral language that Spanish speakers have been developing.
  • Some nouns for people will be identical except for the -o or -a ending:

Play Audioel muchacho (boy)
Play Audiola muchacha (girl)
Play Audioel niño (male child)
Play Audiola niña (female child)
Play Audioel maestro (male teacher)
Play Audiola maestra (female teacher)
Play Audioel compañero de clase (male classmate)
Play Audiola compañera de clase (female classmate)
Play Audioel amigo (male friend)
Play Audiola amiga (female friend)

  • However, other nouns are completely different for masculine and feminine forms:

Play Audioel hombre (man)
Play Audiola mujer (woman)

  • Some nouns for people are identical, and the gender is shown only in the definite article:

Play Audioel estudiante (male student)
Play Audiola estudiante (female student)
Play Audioel dentista (male dentist)
Play Audiola dentista (female dentist)

Remember! The gender of nouns that do not refer to people is an inherent characteristic that cannot be changed.  If you change the gender ending of an inanimate object, you can be changing the meaning of the noun to another legitimate word in Spanish:

  • Play Audioel caso (case)
    Play Audiola casa (house)
  • Play Audioel puerto (port)
    Play Audiola puerta (door)
  • Play Audioel Papa (the Pope)
    Play Audiola papa (potato)
  • Play Audioel libro (book)
    Play Audiola libra (pound)

¡Inténtalo! (Try It!)

A. practice Género de sustantivos