When you start learning Spanish, one of the first differences you will notice, especially as an English native speaker, is that nouns are classified as masculine or feminine. Understanding how this affects the use of articles (using el or la) is crucial for constructing sentences which are grammatically correct.

In this blog post, we will try to unravel the mysteries of gender and articles in Spanish, while giving you some tips on how to remember the rules as a beginner.

Noun gender patterns in Spanish

While it might feel overwhelming at first, and at times seem completely random, there are a few patterns that can help you to determine the gender of some Spanish nouns. For example, a common rule is that most nouns that end in -o are masculine: el perro (the dog), el libro (the book) and so on. Nouns that end in -a are usually feminine: la casa (the house), la mesa (the table).

Notice that I used the words most and usually here: as with the majority of grammar rules, there are exceptions: el día (the day) is a common example. Other examples include la foto (the photo), la radio (the radio) or el mapa (the map). In these cases, you just have to memorise the exceptions.

Noun endings to determine the gender

As well as nouns ending in -a, there are also some other noun endings which indicate that a noun is feminine. These are -sión, -ción, -tud, -dad and -umbre. So words such as la felicidad (the happiness) or la habitación (the room) are always feminine.

There are a couple of examples for masculine nouns as well: nouns ending in -ema or -ama are, despite the final a, always masculine (el problema, el diagrama, etc.).

Logic need not apply

You might at some point get a false sense of security by correctly guessing genders based on the “masculinity” or “femininity” of the word in focus: something strong like a lion is masculine (el león), while a beautiful, delicate flower is feminine (la flor). While there may be some logic in there somewhere, there are many other examples where logic clearly played no role, for example el maquillaje (the make-up) or el vestido (the dress).

Tips and tricks

It can sometimes be helpful to remember a specific phrase, and then work backwards to determine the gender of the noun. For example, I mentioned that “el día” is an exception to the “all nouns ending in -a are feminine”-rule. It might be easier to just remember the phrase “buenos días” - a phrase you will hear on a daily basis in Spain when people greet each other. The -os adjective ending tells you that día is masculine. The same applies if you already know the phrase “buenas tardes” (good evening). The -as on the end of the adjective tells you that tarde (evening) is feminine.

There are some patterns if you look hard enough. For example, if you remember that a cat (el gato) is masculine, you can rightly assume that all other members of the cat family are masculine too: el león, el tigre, el puma, etc. (Caution: even here there is one exception: la pantera.)

At the end of the day, there is no way around memorising genders in most cases. I always try to learn new words with their articles. This can be difficult, especially for native English speakers. But always try to include the article when creating vocab lists or flash cards. The more often you hear and say a new word with its correct article, over time it will come naturally, and using the incorrect article will just sound wrong.

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