spanish nouns

The Gender of Spanish Nouns Part 1- Pesky Subjects and Objects.  As we navigate the world of Spanish, some aspects unfamiliar in the English language can complicate our learning. It’s the little things that can get confusing…little things like the simple noun.

The Spanish noun — referring to a person, place or thing — has a masculine or feminine quality. It’s not really about gender, but simply a label to identify which article or adjective to use. This need to match the right article and adjective to any given noun seems truly foreign to an English speaker.

This need to match the right article
and adjective to any given noun
seems truly foreign to an English speaker.


We’ll start with this lesson on which definite and indefinite article goes with masculine and feminine nouns, in both their singular and plural form. In the next Howler issue, we’ll focus on adjectives.

The basic rule is that nouns ending in “o” are masculine and those ending in “a” are feminine. But there is a little more to it than that.

Feminine nouns

Feminine nouns end in the letters “a,” “d,” “ó,” “n” or “z,” or one of these letter combinations: “is,” “ie” or “umbre.” For the definite article “the,” you use “la” for singular and “las” for plural nouns. For the indefinite articles “a” and “some,” you use “una” for singular and “unas” for plural nouns.

Among the inevitable exceptions, the most glaring is “agua” (water). With all those “a”s, it looks positively feminine, and therein lies the problem. To avoid the cacophony of “a”s the article is masculine “el agua”.

Masculine nouns

“LONERS” can help you remember this rule of thumb for masculine nouns. Most nouns ending in “l,” “o,” “n,” “e,” “r” or “s” are masculine. That means that when you want to add the definite article “the,” you use “el” for a singular noun and “los” for a plural noun. To use the indefinite articles “a” or “some,” it’s “un” for singular and “unos” for plural.

Naturally, this rule has exceptions. Examples include nouns ending in “ma,” such as “el clima” (the climate) or “ta,” such as “el cometa” (the comet). There are even more exceptions, of course, which you learn as you go.

Gender-neutral nouns

Some nouns just can’t be pegged down; they change their masculine and feminine qualities. In particular, if the word representing a profession ends in “e,” the article before it will tell you if you are talking about a male or female profession. For example, “el cantante” is a male singer and “la cantante” a female singer. Although few and far between, other examples like this will be encountered.

Keeping track of your nouns is just one more step in understanding and commanding Spanish. Read Spanish with these gender rules in mind. Look for the noun and see what article comes before it to figure out the gender. Stay tuned for similar basic rules about masculine and feminine adjectives next time.