Definite Articles & Gender Rules in Spanish Grammar

Definite Articles & Gender Rules in Spanish Grammar
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Instructor: Danielle Geary

Danielle teaches at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She holds a Doctor of Education with research concentration in Study Abroad and Foreign Language Acquisition.

Are there really girl words and boy words in Spanish? Find out about masculine and feminine nouns and their sidekick, the definite article, in this Spanish lesson.

Nouns and Gender in Spanish

Today we're going to talk about nouns and gender in Spanish. El libro, la mesa, el cuaderno, la ventana, el escritorio, la computadora… I bet you see a pattern! Nouns in Spanish automatically come with two things: gender and a definite article that agrees with that gender. As you may have noticed, el goes with words that end in -o, and la goes with words that end in -a, but before we continue… What is a noun, anyway? And word gender? And definite articles? What?

Nouns in Spanish

First, nouns are words that name a person, place, or thing. A table, then, is a noun. Alisha is a noun. New York City is also a noun. In English, nouns don't have a gender - they simply are what they are. But in Spanish, nouns are either masculine or feminine.

Now, this has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with grammar. It's important to note that it is the word itself that is masculine or feminine, not necessarily the meaning of the word. For instance, vestido means 'dress' but ends in -o and is classified as masculine in the dictionary. Generally, however, nouns that refer to males are masculine (el hombre) and nouns that refer to females are feminine (la mujer).

But what about nouns that end in letters other than -o or -a, or nouns that break the rules entirely? Well, here are some hints to help you:

Masculine Feminine
Nouns that end in -s are masculine (el país) Nouns that end in -cion and -dad are feminine (la lección, la comunidad)
Nouns that end in -or are masculine (el profesor) Nouns that end in -ora are feminine (la profesora)
Nouns that end in -ma break the -a rule. Maybe that -ma makes them 'manly,' because they're masculine (el problema)

And then there are words that are exceptions to the rule but don't really have their own rules, either, like the following:

  • El día
  • El mapa
  • La mano

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