Why is a car masculine but a house feminine? There are some questions we’ll never really know the answer to. When you first start learning Spanish, grammatical gender can seem arbitrary and confusing. And it’s true that there’s no logical way to divide the world into masculine and feminine. But fortunately, Spanish grammatical gender does have some rules you can follow to figure out when you need el and when you need la.
Here, we’ll go through some of the most common giveaways that a word is masculine or feminine, as well as the cases when Spanish grammatical gender can switch for a single word.
Spanish Nouns That Are Masculine
We’ll start with the most obvious, which is that most words that end in “o” are going to be masculine.
While some exceptions (like la mano) are just exceptions, many words that seemingly end in -o are actually shortenings of other words. La disco is short for la discoteca, and la foto is short for la fotografía.
One mnemonic device for learning masculine endings is LONERS. The idea here is that words that end in any of the letters L-O-N-E-R-S tend to be masculine. We covered “o” above because it really requires its own section, but this is a good general rule of thumb. One warning, though: the “S” in LONERS refers to nouns that are singular, like el mes. You can’t apply it to plural nouns or that would mean that every word would be masculine.
We know, we know, the exceptions are very frustrating. But really, the LONERS rule will work for you almost every time. Memorizing just the exceptions will be a lot easier than memorizing every single word in the Spanish language.
-ta, -ma and -pa
As you’ll see in a moment, most words that end in -a are feminine, but there are exceptions. Fortunately, even the exceptions have rules.
For those interested in a little history, masculine Spanish nouns that end in -ta, -pa and -ma tend to come from Greek originally. If you happen to have an excellent grasp on etymology, you’ll have a leg up!
Spanish Nouns That Are Feminine
Despite the many exceptions noted above, a great majority of Spanish words that end in -a are feminine.
While some of these exceptions just have to be memorized, you can scroll up and see that a lot of exceptions have their own rules in the -ta, -ma and -pa section.
One of the biggest exceptions to the LONERS rule we talked about for masculine nouns above is -ión. If a word ends with these three letters, you can be almost certain it’s a feminine noun.
-z and -d
Unlike the masculine, there’s no fun acronym for feminine nouns. Maybe you could make up your own! Something like… ZAD?
-ie, -nte and -umbre
As we mention in the masculine section, many words that end in -e are masculine. But, more exceptions! These noun endings can tip you off that a noun is probably feminine.
Spanish Nouns That Can Be Both Masculine And Feminine
While most nouns refer to objects and concepts that don’t have gender, there are also the nouns that do. “Uncle” and “aunt,” for example, are el tío and la tía. Whether it’s a good idea to split the world into two genders is a subject for a different article, but for now we’ll go through the various kinds of nouns that switch genders.
Talking about people, especially family members, often includes referring to gender.
|the romantic partner
|the young person
|the man/the woman
Professions also refer to people, but are kind of their own subset. And they can be a little confusing because sometimes the noun endings change (the masculine el doctor and the feminine la doctora), but sometimes they don’t (the masculine el poeta and the feminine la poeta).
When it comes to the world of animals, things can get even more complicated. We’ll break it down into three basic groups.
Animals With A Regular Masculine And Feminine Form
In Spanish, the masculine form of these animals almost always takes precedence. You’re more likely to hear el gato when someone is talking about a generic cat, for example.
Animals With Irregular Masculine And Feminine Forms
A lot of irregular forms happen among farm animals, for the same reason that English has a different word for “cow” and “bull.” The gender affects their role on the farm, so having different words comes in handy.
Animals With One Form
Some animals, particularly those you don’t come in contact with every day, tend to have one accepted Spanish grammatical gender. You could possibly say el tortugo to refer to a male turtle, but it might get you a weird look or two.
Spanish Grammatical Gender Quiz
Got all that? Then it’s time to test yourself with a quick quiz we put together.