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Spanish Gender Rules – 11 Tips To Master Them

Since you are reading this post, it’s because you presumably find Spanish grammar a little puzzling. 

If it makes you feel any better, let me just say you are not the only one. 

Though an excellent choice as a second language, Spanish does pose certain challenges for native English speakers

…with gender rules being one of them.

Trust me, I feel you.

It is one thing to agree with the fact that animated creatures might be male and female, but to wrap your mind around the idea that a chair can be feminine and a pencil masculine is a whole new level of crazy. 

Worry no more. 

I’ll gladly offer some tips that will help you plow your way through grammar and eventually master Spanish Gender Rules

1. All nouns in Spanish have gender

No matter how much your logical brain may disagree with that, Spanish grammar is very firm about this. 

A few words of explanation for those who are not very familiar with grammar tense:

A NOUN is a word used to identify or to name a person, an animal, an object, a concept, or a place. 

“Teacher” is a noun that identifies a person.

“Dog” is a noun that identifies an animal.

“Chair” will help you name an object, “happiness” is a noun describing a concept, and “city” is a place. 

Even though it is hard to think about happiness, city, or pencil in terms of masculine or feminine, these words in Spanish do have a gender assigned. 

Silla,” which means “chair,” is a masculine noun.

Felicidad” – “happiness” is feminine, and so is “ciudad” (“city”).

2. Articles help identify the correct gender of nouns in Spanish

You are probably asking yourself: “How the heck am I going to know if a certain noun is masculine and feminine.”

Luckily, one of the similarities between English and Spanish lies in the use of articles that typically accompany nouns. 

In English, there are two categories of articles:

  • The definite article: “THE” 
  • The indefinite article: “A” or “AN”

Spanish grammar is a little more complex in this sense. Not only does it distinguish between definite and indefinite articles, but it also provides you with the masculine and the feminine alternative. 

The tables below summarizes your options very well:

  1. Indefinite Articles in Spanish:
MasculineFeminine
Singularununa
Pluralunos unas
  1. Definite Articles in Spanish:
MasculineFeminine
Singularella
Pluralloslas

By looking at the article, you will be able to determine whether a certain Spanish noun is masculine or feminine. 

Check out these few examples below:

🇪🇸 Necesito un paraguas nuevo. – “Paraguas” uses the article “UN”, hence it is masculine
🇬🇧 I need a new umbrella. 

🇪🇸 Busco una lavadora – “Lavadora” uses the article “UNA”, hence it is feminine
🇬🇧 I am looking for a washing machine. 

🇪🇸 El espejo del baño está sucio. – “Espejo” uses the article “EL”, hence it is masculine
🇬🇧 The bathroom mirror is dirty.

🇪🇸 ¿Dónde está la salida? – “Salida” uses the article “LA”, hence it is feminine
🇬🇧 Where is the exit?

🇪🇸 Busco unos papeles. “Papeles” uses the article “UNOS”, hence it is masculine and plural.
🇬🇧 I am looking for some papers.

🇪🇸 Hay unas cartas para tí – “Cartas” uses the article “UNAS”, hence it is feminine and plural.
🇬🇧 There are some letters for you.

🇪🇸 Todos los pantalones que tengo me quedan cortos . “Pantalones” uses the article “LOS”, hence it is masculine and plural
🇬🇧 All the pants I have are too short. 

🇪🇸 Las fotos del viaje salieron bien.  “Fotos” uses the article “LAS”, hence it is feminine and plural
🇬🇧 The photos from the trip came out OK.

Examples of Spanish nouns with their corresponding indefinite articles

Ok, so it is fairly easy to recognize the gender of a noun by looking at the article that goes before it. 

But what if you have to write or say something? How will you know what article to use?

Here comes my next piece of advice:

3. Check the noun gender in a dictionary or a translator

Perhaps you are not aware of this, but the easiest way of verifying if a given noun is masculine or feminine is looking it up in a dictionary or – even faster – in an online translator. 

Have a look for yourself:

Can you see that letter “f” that I’ve marked in yellow? It stands for “feminine,” which indicates the gender of the Spanish word “mesa” – “table.”

As you can easily guess, the masculine gender is indicated by the letter “m,” just like here:

IMPORTANT: 
When looking up a word in a dictionary, always use its SINGULAR form.

4. When learning a new noun, try to memorize its gender 

I always give this tip to my students.

It will make your life so much easier if you learn new nouns together with the article that goes with them. 

Let’s suppose you’re studying body parts in Spanish:

Instead of learning only “mano” – “hand,” make sure to remember its “una mano” – feminine. 

Trust me; your effort will pay off and help you avoid some of the most common “gringo” gender mistakes. 

Why don’t we give it a try right away? Here’s a list of 20+ nouns in Spanish and their corresponding genders (in singular and plural):

THE INDEFINITE ARTICLE

UN – singular masculineUNA – singular feminine
un lápiz – a pencil
un tenedor – a fork
un castillo – a castle
un espejo – a mirror
un sillón – an armchair
un avión – a plane
un árbol – a tree
un ojo – an eye
un perro – a dog
un banco – a bank
un río – a river
una mochila – a backpack
una cuchara – a spoon
una casa – a house
una repisa – a shelf
una puerta – a door
una bicicleta – a bike
una manzana – an apple
una flor – a flower
una jirafa – a giraffe
una farmacia – a pharmacy
una montaña – a mountain
UNOS – plural masculineUNAS – plural feminine
unos lápices – pens
unos tenedores – forks
unos castillos – castles
unos espejos – mirrors
unos sillones – armchairs
unos aviones – planes
unos árboles – trees
unos ojos – eyes
unos perros – dogs
unos banco – banks
unos ríos – rivers
unas mochilas – backpacks
unas cucharas – spoons
unas casas – houses
unas repisas – shelves
unas puertas – doors
unas bicicletas – bikes
unas manzanas – apples
unas flores – flowers
unas jirafas – giraffes
unas farmacias – pharmacies
unas montañas – mountains

Loyal to the“practice makes perfect”  premise, let’s see how these nouns would sound in a real-life context:

🇪🇸 ¿Tienes un lápiz?
🇬🇧 Do you have a pen?

🇪🇸 Necesito comprar un sillón.
🇬🇧 I need to buy an armchair.

🇪🇸 ¿Cuánto cuesta una bicicleta?
🇬🇧 How much does a bike cost?

🇪🇸 Ayer vi una jirafa en el zoológico. 
🇬🇧 I saw a giraffe in the zoo yesterday.

🇪🇸 En Francia hay unos castillos muy hermosos.
🇬🇧 There are (some) beautiful castles in France. 

🇪🇸 Quiero plantar unos árboles frutales en mi jardín. 
🇬🇧 I want to plant (some) fruit trees in my garden. 

🇪🇸 Están construyendo unas casas nuevas cerca de donde vivo.
🇬🇧 They are building (some) new houses close to where I live.

🇪🇸 He comprado unas flores para tu cumpleaños.
🇬🇧 I have bought (some) flowers for your birthday.

THE DEFINITE ARTICLE

EL – singular masculineLA – singular feminine
el lápiz – the pencil
el tenedor – the fork
el castillo – the castle
el espejo – the mirror
el sillón – the armchair
el avión – the plane
el árbol – the tree
el ojo – the eye
el perro – the dog
el banco – the bank
el río – the river
la mochila – a backpack
la cuchara – a spoon
la casa – a house
la repisa – a shelf
la puerta – a door
la bicicleta – a bike
la manzana – an apple
la flor – a flower
la jirafa – a giraffe
la farmacia – a pharmacy
la montaña – a mountain
LOS – plural masculineLAS – plural feminine
los lápices – pens
los tenedores – forks
los castillos – castles
los espejos – mirrors
los sillones – armchairs
los aviones – planes
los árboles – trees
los ojos – eyes
los perros – dogs
los banco – banks
los ríos – rivers
las mochilas – backpacks
las cucharas – spoons
las casas – houses
las repisas – shelves
las puertas – doors
las bicicletas – bikes
las manzanas – apples
las flores – flowers
las jirafas – giraffes
las farmacias – pharmacies
las montañas – mountains

🇪🇸 ¿Me puedes devolver el lápiz que te presté ayer?
🇬🇧 Can you return the pencil I lent you yesterday?

🇪🇸 El sillón amarillo me gusta mucho.
🇬🇧 I like the yellow armchair a lot.

🇪🇸 La bicicleta en la vitrina no está a la venta.
🇬🇧 The bicycle in the shop window is not for sale. 

🇪🇸 La jirafa que vimos está enferma.
🇬🇧 The giraffe we saw is sick.

🇪🇸 He visitado todos los castillos en el sur de Francia.
🇬🇧 I’ve visited all the castles in the south of France.

🇪🇸 Los árboles en mi jardín aún no dan fruta.
🇬🇧 The trees in my garden don’t produce fruit yet. 

🇪🇸 Todas las casas en mi calle son blancas.
🇬🇧 All the houses on my street are white.

🇪🇸 Las flores que me regalaste huelen muy rico.
🇬🇧 The flowers you gave me smell delicious.

It is not the time nor place to expand on when to use the definite article and when to use the indefinite one. Plus, if you are a native English speaker, it should  – with only a few exceptions – come rather intuitively. 

5. Most Nouns ending in “- O” are masculine

I get it; keeping a dictionary in your pocket wherever you go or relying solely on your memory are probably not the most convenient ways of making sure you follow the correct grammar. 

Are there any Spanish Gender Rules I can learn?

Luckily there are. The first one being: if you see a noun whose last letter is “O,” it is most likely masculine.  

Here’s a bunch of examples:

  • un conejoa rabbit
  • un banco a bank
  • un gato a cat
  • un cuchillo a knife
  • un carro a car
  • un teléfono a phone
  • un bolsillo a pocket
  • un abrigo a coat
  • un huevo an egg
  • un concierto a concert
  • un museo a museum
  • un escritorio – a desk
  • un baño – a bathroom

See? All of them are masculine. Unfortunately, no rule holds 100% of the time, and there are several Spanish nouns that end in “O” and are, however, feminine:

  • una foto a photo
  • una moto a motorbike
  • una radio a radio
  • una mano a hand

So, while you can say:

🇪🇸 Mi hermana quiere un conejo para su cumpleaños. 
🇬🇧 My sister wants a bunny for her birthday.

you will also have to remember that “foto” is feminine, just like here:

🇪🇸 ¿Me puedes sacar una foto frente a la catedral?
🇬🇧 Can you take a photo of me in front of the cathedral?

Is the letter “O” the only one to indicate the masculine gender in Spanish?

Luckily, there are more:

# 6: Other common endings that indicate masculine gender:

Among some other noun endings that typically indicate the masculine gender there are:

  • – aje  (e.g. el viaje, el traje)
  • – ambre (e.g. el hambre, el calambre)
  • – ar (el lugar, el celular, el ejemplar)
  • – er (el alquiler, el canciller, el alfiler)
  • – or /  (el amor, el velador, el dolor)
  • – en / én (el tren, el abdomen, el almacén)
  • – ín (el maletín, el boletín, el monopatín)
  • – ón (el camión, el polerón, el balcón)
  • – ún (el el atún, el betún)
  • – ate (el tomate, el aguacate, el yate)
  • – ete (el juguete, el filete, el paquete)
  • – ote (el bigote, el bote, el coyote)
  • – és (el estrés, el kermés, el ciempiés)
  • – che (e.g. el coche, el estuche, el peluche)
  • – l (el papel, el angel, el animal)
  • – miento (el pensamiento, el sufrimiento)

🇪🇸 Para su compleaños Pablo pidió un peluche y un camión de juguete.
🇬🇧 Pablo asked for a stuffed animal and a toy truck for his birthday. 

🇪🇸 Siento un dolor fuerte en el abdomen.
🇬🇧 I feel strong pain in my abdomen. 

🇪🇸 Ayer encontré un maletín en el tren.
🇬🇧 Yesterday I found a briefcase on the train. 

🇪🇸 Busca un alfiler de gancho en el estuche que guardo en el velador.
🇬🇧 Look for a safety pin in the case I keep on the night table. 

How about feminine nouns? What are some common endings that follow Spanish rules for this gender?

# 7: Most Nouns Ending in “-A” are Feminine

Just like “O” is the staple ending for the masculine form, the letter “A” at the end of a noun offers a high probability of that word being feminine:

  • una habitación a room
  • una planta a plant
  • una silla a chair
  • una ventana a window
  • una toalla a towel
  • una visita a visit
  • una ciruela a plum
  • una chaqueta a jacket
  • una mermelada a jam
  • una impresora a printer
  • una taza a cup

exceptions:

  • un mapa a map
  • un día a day
  • un planeta a planet
  • un cura a priest
  • un programa– a program
  • un problema – a problem

So, it is grammatically correct to ask:

🇪🇸 ¿Tienes una toalla seca?
🇬🇧 Do you have a dry towel?

but the word “planeta” will require the masculine article “UN”, or “EL”, depending on the context:

🇪🇸 El Sol no es un planeta, es una estrella.
🇬🇧 The Sun is not a planet; it is a star. 

# 8: Nouns ending in “-ción”, “-sión”, “-ad”, “-tud”, “-umbre”, “-cia”, “-ed” are feminine

Other typically feminine noun endings in Spanish are:

  • – ción  (e.g. la reunión, la decisión, la canción)
  • – sión (e.g. la precisión, la tensión, la pensión)
  • – ad (la lealtad, la hermandad, la mitad)
  • – tud (la multitud, la esclavitud, la plenitud)
  • – umbre (la costumbre, la cumbre, la legumbre)
  • – cia / cía (la farmacia, la democracia, la alcancía)
  • – ed (la pared, la merced, la sed)
  • – z (la voz, la nariz, la vejez)

🇪🇸 He tomado una decisión importante para la vejez.
🇬🇧 I’ve made an important decision for my old age. 

🇪🇸 Siento una tensión extraña en la nariz.
🇬🇧 I feel strange pressure in my nose. 

🇪🇸 La alcancía se ha roto por la mitad.
🇬🇧 The piggy bank has broken in half. 

A custom of the brotherhood is to sing a song at the beginning of our meetings.
Una costumbre de la hermandad es cantar una canción al comienzo de las reuniones. 

By no means should you expect the rules mentioned above to be exception-free. But knowing them will be a good starting point to make an informed guess about a noun’s gender. 

# 9: The adjective that accompanies a noun follows its gender and number

I have explained about Spanish adjectives at length in one of my previous posts, so this is just a quick reminder:

When you describe a noun in Spanish (its color, size, texture, the impression or opinion you have about it, etc.), make sure to adjust the form of the adjective to the described noun.

If the noun is masculine, the adjective will also be masculine.

If the noun is feminine, the adjective will have to adapt and take up the feminine form. 

🇪🇸 un vestido negro – vestido” is masculine, and so is the adjective
🇬🇧 a black dress

🇪🇸 una blusa negra – blusa” is feminine, and so is the adjective
🇬🇧 a black dress

🇪🇸 un cuarto oscuro – cuarto” is masculine, and so is the adjective
🇬🇧 a dark room

🇪🇸 una noche oscura – noche” is feminine, and so is the adjective
🇬🇧 a dark night

🇪🇸 un pájaro muerto – pájaro” is masculine, and so is the adjective
🇬🇧 a dead bird

🇪🇸 una jirafa muerta – jirafa” is feminine and so is the adjective
🇬🇧 a dead girafe

🇪🇸 unos zapatos caros – zapatos” is masculine and plural, and so is the adjective
🇬🇧 expensive shoes

🇪🇸 unas carteras caras – carteras” is feminine and plural, and so is the adjective
🇬🇧 expensive handbags

# 10: A group with at least one masculine member acquires masculine gender

Imagine that you have a group of kids. Some of them are girls, and some are boys. What are Spanish gender rules for the noun “kids” in this case?

The masculine form is in order.

Whenever there is at least one masculine member of a group, the whole group “becomes” masculine. 

🇪🇸 Tengo un profesor y 2 profesoras. Todos ellos son muy simpáticos. 
🇬🇧 I have one male teacher and two female teachers. All of them are very nice. 

🇪🇸 Mi perra tuvo 4 cachorros (2 hembras y 2 machos). Los perritos tienen hambre todo el tiempo
🇬🇧 My dog has had four puppies (2 female and two male ones). The little dogs are hungry all the time.

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Joanna Lupa

Joanna Lupa

Polish by birth, Chilean by the turns of life. Has spent 20 years in that beautiful South American country working as a language teacher and translator. Has taught Spanish and English to students of all proficiency levels. Passionate about languages, books, and traveling. A mother of 2 trilingual teenagers.

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