learning gender in spanish

The Gender of Nouns: Part 2 Adjectives- Pesky Subjects (and Objects).  As readers of our last Howler article are already aware, the Spanish language topic of noun gender is hardly straightforward. For anyone whose first language is English, learning the rules for masculine and feminine nouns is never going to be second nature. Instead, it’s one of the most truly “foreign” aspects of Spanish and other languages with gender distinctions that don’t exist in English.

The complicating factor we addressed in last month’s introduction to this topic is that gender is not just all about the Spanish noun itself (referring to a person, place or thing). Instead, masculine or feminine is a label or code for knowing which article or adjective to use with the noun.

Adjectives come after
the noun.


Our focus in Part 1 last time was on the use of definite and indirect articles with masculine or feminine nouns in singular or plural form (“the”, “a/an” or “some”). We continue now with a lesson on the use of adjectives with masculine and feminine nouns in Spanish.

First, remember this basic rule about Spanish nouns: those ending in “o” are masculine and those ending in “a” are feminine. But there is a little more to it than that.

Prescription for description

Adjectives follow the same kind of game rules as articles in Spanish — they change for the noun. Adjectives that end in “o” can also end in “a,” “as” and “os” based on if the noun is masculine or feminine. Adjectives must match the noun.

Another important note is that adjectives come after the noun. In English, once we arrive at the noun we have collected all the necessary information about it. In Spanish, you are just getting started. The rule of thumb is that descriptive adjectives go after the noun. Examples: “el chico hermoso” (the beautiful boy) and “la chica hermosa” (the beautiful girl). If the noun is plural, so is the adjective: “los chicos hermosos” (the beautiful boys) and “las chicas hermosas” (the beautiful girls). These are also perfect examples to show how the articles and adjectives change based on the noun.

As you might have guessed, there are exceptions. Adjectives ending in “e” only have two changes — singular or plural. Examples: “el chico inteligente” (the smart boy), “la chica inteligente” (the smart girl), “los chicos inteligentes” (the smart boys) and “las chicas inteligentes” (the smart girls).

For nouns ending in “or,” “ol,” “ón,” “án,” “ín” and “és,” add “a” to describe a feminine singular noun and “as” if it’s plural. If these nouns are masculine plural, you add “es.” Examples: “el chico japones” (the Japanese boy), “los chicos japoneses” (the Japanese boys), “la chica japonesa” (the Japanese girls) and “las chicas japonesas” (the Japanese girls).

A point to ponder: adjectives of quantity go before the noun. That is why you say “muchas gracias” (many thanks) and “tanto tiempo” (so much time).

In conclusion, I repeat these general words of advice. 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 comes before and after it to figure out how to label it.