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10 Spanish Words that Change Meaning with Gender

Let's enhance our vocabulary today! As you know, nouns in Spanish are defined by number and gender. However, there are some nouns that can be both masculine and feminine. Moreover, depending on the gender they have, these nouns change their meanings completely. With that being said, let's take a look at some Spanish words that change meaning with gender.

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1. Capital

Feminine: la capital (a capital city)

Está ubicada a ciento diez kilómetros de Quito, la capital del Ecuador.

It is located one hundred and ten kilometers from Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

Caption 6, Otavalo El mercado de artesanías de Otavalo

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Masculine: el capital (capital: money)

No buscar la acumulación de capital sino buscar la satisfacción de necesidades sociales.

It's not seeking the accumulation of capital, but seeking the satisfaction of social necessities.

Captions 74-75, De consumidor a persona Short Film - Part 7

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2. Cólera

Feminine: la cólera (anger, rage)

Masculine: el cólera (cholera - the illness)

 

3. Coma

Feminine: la coma (a comma - punctuation)

Masculine: el coma (a coma - medicine)

 

4. Cometa

Feminine: la cometa (a kite)

Pero la cometa estaba muy alta para cogerla.

But the kite was too high to grab.

Caption 22, Guillermina y Candelario El Gran Descubrimiento

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Masculine: el cometa (a comet - astronomy)

 

5. Corte

Feminine: la corte (a court of law OR the royal court of a king)

Creo que voy a apelar esta decisión a la Corte Suprema.

I think I'm going to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.

Caption 83, Los casos de Yabla Problemas de convivencia - Part 3

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que le habían sido cedidos para recreo de la corte.

that had been handed over to him for the court's recreation.

Caption 59, Marisa en Madrid Parque de El Retiro

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Masculine: el corte (a cut - injury OR the cut of hair or a suit)

Y ahora voy a hacer el corte aquí.

And now I am going to make the cut here.

Caption 42, Instrumentos musicales Ocarinas

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6. Cura

Feminine: la cura (the cure)

Tu madre no tiene cura.

Your mom has no cure.

Caption 45, Muñeca Brava 44 El encuentro - Part 5

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Masculine: el cura (a priest)

Aquí no habrá noche de bodas mientras no vayan con un cura.

Here, there will be no wedding night until you go to a priest.

Caption 23, El Ausente Acto 4 - Part 3

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7. Final

Feminine: la final (the sports final, the playoffs)

Jueguen como si fuera la final.

Play as if it were the finals.

Caption 46, Carlos explica Tuteo, ustedeo y voseo: Ustedes y vosotros

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Masculine: el final (the end)

Al final le he pedido disculpas y todo.

In the end, I apologized to him and everything.

Caption 55, Cortometraje Flechazos

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8. Frente

Feminine: la frente (the forehead)

"María le tocó la frente a su hijo para ver si tenía fiebre".

"Maria touched her son's forehead to see if he had a fever."

Caption 17, Carlos explica Vocabulario: El verbo “tocar”

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Masculine: el frente (the front - military)

Los soldados están en el frente de batalla.

The soldiers are on the battle front.

 

9. Guía

Feminine: la guía (a guide book OR a female guide OR a telephone book OR guidance)

todo bajo la guía de un profesor de educación física.

all with the guidance of a P.E. teacher.

Caption 7, Los Años Maravillosos Capítulo 1 - Part 6

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¡Pippo, traé una guía!

Pippo, bring me a phone directory.

Caption 55, Yago 5 La ciudad - Part 3

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Masculine: el guía (a male guide)

Mi nombre es Mauricio y soy un guía turístico.

My name is Mauricio and I'm a tour guide.

Caption 27, Pipo Un paseo por la playa de Atacames

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10. Orden

Feminine: la orden (a command OR a restaurant order)

Normalmente, cuando estás haciendo una orden,

Usually, when you're placing an order,

Caption 28, Natalia de Ecuador Ordenar en un restaurante

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Masculine: el orden (order)

Listo, señor Rolleri; todo en orden.

Done, Mister Rolleri; everything's in order.

Caption 68, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 2 - Part 1

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That's if for today. Do you know more Spanish words that change meaning with gender? We challenge you to find more and don't forget to send us your questions and comments.

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Is Agua Masculine or Feminine?

Let's talk about gender. If you have been studying Spanish, you probably know that nouns in Spanish have gender. For example, the word libro (book) is a masculine noun. On the contrary, the noun pelota (ball) is feminine. If you want to use those nouns with their corresponding definite articles, you will say el libro (the book) and la pelota (the ball). Now, what about the noun agua (water)? Is agua masculine or feminine? Do you say el agua or la agua?

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Let's take a look at some clips:

 

Cuando uno tiene sed Pero el agua no está cerca

When one is thirsty But the water's not close by

Captions 17-18, Jarabe de Palo Agua

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Y como para completar la historia, desperdiciaban el agua todo el tiempo.

And, as if to make matters worse, they wasted water all the time.

Caption 15, Salvando el planeta Palabra Llegada - Part 7

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y apenas sus pies tocaron el agua, se convirtieron en dos grandes serpientes

and as soon as their feet touched the water, they turned into two big snakes

Captions 51-52, Aprendiendo con Carlos América precolombina - El mito de Bachué

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Can you answer now our question? According to the above clips, is agua masculine or feminine? In all the previous clips, the word agua is placed right after the masculine definite article "el" so the noun agua must be masculine, right? Not too fast! Let's take a look at the following clips:

 

limonadas, refrescos o simplemente agua fresca.

lemonades, sodas or just cold water.

Caption 42, Aprendiendo con Karen Utensilios de cocina

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Las formas de presentación incluyen el agua ozonizada y el aceite ozonizado,

The formulations include ozonized water and ozonized oil,

Caption 35, Los médicos explican Beneficios del ozono

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Un día, los vientos del páramo agitaron las aguas de la laguna

One day, the winds from the tundra shook up the waters of the lake

Caption 26, Aprendiendo con Carlos América precolombina - El mito de Bachué

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Did you see that? If you look at the first two clips, you can see that the adjectives that go after the noun agua are feminine adjectives that end with the vowel "a" (fresca and ionizada). Also, in the third clip, you can see that the term aguas (plural form of agua) is preceded by the feminine definite article "las". So, is agua masculine or feminine?

 

The answer is very simple: the noun agua is always feminine. However, if you are wondering why we say "el agua" and not "la agua" there is a simple rule you need to keep in mind: If a feminine noun starts with a stressed "a", you need to use the masculine definite article "el". Let's see more feminine nouns that start with a stressed "a":

 

el águila (the eagle)

el alma (the soul)

 

Nevertheless, it is important to say that for plural feminine nouns, you need to use the plural feminine definitive article "las":

 

las aguas (the waters)

las águilas (the eagles)

las almas (the souls)

 

Finally, keep in mind that if the noun is feminine the adjective needs to be feminine too. For example, let's say that we want to say "the water is dirty." Since water is feminine in Spanish, you need to use the feminine version of the adjective (sucia):

 

RIGHT - El agua está sucia

WRONG - El agua está sucio

 

 

So, there you have it. We hope you learned something useful today and don't forget to send us your comments and suggestions.

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Gender of Inanimate Objects in Spanish

Let's talk about gender. How do you know if a word like leche (milk) or mapa (map) is feminine or masculine? Let's explore some rules (and exceptions) that will help you to identify the gender of inanimate objects in Spanish. Please, keep in mind that we will use the definite articles el (masculine) and la (feminine) in order to better recognize the gender of the nouns we are mentioning throughout this article. 

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Nouns ending in -o and -a

Generally speaking, nouns that end in -o are masculine while those ending in -a are feminine. Let's see some of the most common objects that follow this rule:

 

Masculine nouns ending in -o:

El libro (the book)

El baño (the bathroom)

El piano (the piano)

El diccionario (the dictionary)

El asiento (the seat)

 

Feminine nouns ending in -a:

La casa (the house)

La cama (the bed)

La lámpara (the lamp)

La cocina (the kitchen)

La caja (the box)

 

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Let's look at some of the most common ones.

 

Feminine nouns ending in -o:

La mano derecha se colocará en esta posición llamada acorde de LA mayor,

The right hand will be placed in this position called A major chord,

Caption 1, Curso de guitarra Para los que empiezan desde cero - Part 1

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Es la foto de mis abuelos, es mi familia.

It's a photo of my grandparents. It's my family.

Caption 5, Yago 3 La foto - Part 8

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Masculine nouns ending in -a:

Y bueno, el día llega a su fin, y llegas a casa a relajarte,

And well, the day comes to an end, and you get home to relax,

Captions 80-81, Natalia de Ecuador Vocabulario de prendas de vestir

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Por ejemplo: problema, el problema, mapa, el mapa.

For example: problem, the problem, map, the map.

Captions 16-17, Isabel El Género Gramatical - Masculino y Femenino

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¿Y pudieron conocer el planeta de su amigo?

And were you able to see your friend's planet?

Caption 31, Guillermina y Candelario Un marciano en la playa - Part 2

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cuando utilizamos el idioma español. Entonces, vamos a hablar entonces ya.

when we use the Spanish language. So, then we are going to talk now.

Captions 5-6, Lecciones con Carolina Errores comunes - Part 5

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Nouns ending in -e, -i, -u or a consonant

There is no particular rule for this group. Some of the nouns here are masculine while others are feminine. Some examples:

eh... los ordeñadores pasan a pesar la leche para ver la cantidad que produce cada una

um... the milkers go on to weigh the milk to check the quantity that each one produces

Captions 54-55, Gustavo Adolfo Su finca lechera

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Se arma el árbol, el pesebre, los niños llevan sus instrumentos musicales.

The tree is set up, the manger, the children carry their musical instruments.

Caption 40, Lida y Cleer Buñuelos

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La India Catalina era la líder de la tribu indígena

India Catalina was the leader of the indigenous tribe

Caption 26, Viajando en Colombia Cartagena en coche - Part 3

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Most nouns ending in -aje, -ambre, -án, -or or in a stressed vowel tend to be masculine

Let's look at some examples in this group:

Me relajo y contemplo el paisaje.

I relax and I look at the landscape.

Captions 30-31, Natalia de Ecuador Los adverbios de orden

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Cuando me llega el dolor yo me arreglo

When pain hits me I manage

Caption 6, Jorge Celedón, Vicentico Si Me Dejan

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¿Puedo ver el menú por favor?

Can I see the menu please?

Caption 12, Cata y Cleer En el restaurante

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Most nouns ending in -cia, -ción, -dad, -eza, -ie, -itis, -nza, -sión, -tad, -tud and -umbre are feminine

La ciencia nunca falla, caballero.

Science never fails, sir.

Caption 39, Los casos de Yabla Problemas de convivencia - Part 3

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la acentuación es la acción y efecto de acentuar,

accentuation is the action and effect of accenting,

Caption 13, Carlos explica Acentuación Cap. 1: Conceptos básicos

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Mi hijo quiere estudiar inglés o japonés el próximo año en la universidad.

My son wants to study English or Japanese next year in college.

Caption 25, Lecciones con Carolina Conjunciones disyuntivas

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Nouns that belong to the following categories are masculine

 

1. Oceans, lakes and rivers

Tenemos el océano Pacífico y el océano Atlántico

We have the Pacific ocean and the Atlantic ocean

Caption 24, Melany de Guatemala País de la Eterna Primavera

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2. Days of the week

El martes, también salí por la noche.

On Tuesday, I also went out at night.

Caption 11, El Aula Azul La Doctora Consejos: El pasado

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3. Numbers

y que el cien por cien de las ganancias pues iban destinadas a la coalición española

and one hundred percent of the profits were going to the Spanish coalition

Caption 45, David Bisbal Haciendo Premonición Live - Part 7

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4. Colors

el azul, donde echamos el papel, cartón, revistas,

the blue one, where we throw away paper, cardboard, magazines,

Caption 4, Rosa Reciclar

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Nouns that belong to the following categories are feminine

 

1. Names of islands

Eh... Les recomiendo que vengan a visitar las islas Galápagos.

Um... I recommend that you come to visit the Galapagos Islands.

Caption 1, Galápagos Una visita a este archipiélago

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2. Names of roads

que queda ubicado sobre la Avenida Jiménez,

which is located on Jiminez Avenue,

Caption 47, Bogotá Chorro de Quevedo

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3. Names of letters

Me gustaría referirme a la pronunciación de dos letras, la "elle" y la "ye".

I'd like to refer to the pronunciation of two letters, the "double l" and the "y."

Captions 6-8, Carlos y Cyndy La pronunciación en Colombia y Argentina

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Nouns with gender ambiguity

There are some inanimate nouns that can be either feminine or masculine, which means both forms are accepted.

 

El mar / la mar (the sea). For this noun, the masculine form is used more often.

El maratón / la maratón (the marathon). Both forms are accepted.

El arte / las artes (the arts). Usually the masculine form is used in the singular and the feminine one in the plural.

El sartén / la sartén (the pan). While the masculine noun is the most frequently used, some countries in the Americas tend to favor the feminine form.

 

Gender of 'almost' identical nouns

There are various words that are almost identical but they differ in meaning. Very often, indeed, you can fully grasp that difference by bringing the gender variable into it. Let's see some examples:

 

El cuchillo (the knife) / La cuchilla (the blade)

El barco (the ship) / La barca (the boat)

El bolso (the purse) / La bolsa (the bag)

El puerto (the port) / la puerta (the door)

El cuadro (the painting) / La cuadra (the block)

El manzano (the apple tree) / La manzana (the apple)

 

That's it for today. We hope you find this lesson useful and we invite you to send us your comments and suggestions.

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Articles in Spanish Grammar

Let’s talk about articles. Today, we will review this basic but very important ingredient of the Spanish language. We'll begin this lesson by discussing what an article is, and then look at the two main groups of articles we have in Spanish.

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What is an article in Spanish?

An article is a word that we use in Spanish to specify the gender and number of a noun. Articles also tell us how specific a noun is and that’s why they can be definite or indefinite. Finally, we always put articles before a noun.

 

If that sounds too complicated, let’s see how the Cambridge Dictionary defines the word article: “Any of the English words "a," "an," and "the," or words in other languages that are used in a similar way as these.” With that being said, let’s take a look at definite and indefinite articles in Spanish.

 

Definite articles in Spanish

Definite articles in English are easy. In fact, we only have one definite article: the. To the contrary, in Spanish we have four different definite articles: el, la, los, las. Let’s see that in action:

 

  • El niño (the boy) - We use ‘el’ to indicate that the noun is singular and masculine.
  • La niña (the girl) - We use ‘la’ to indicate that the noun is singular and feminine.
  • Los niños (the boys) - We use ‘los’ to indicate that the noun is plural and masculine.
  • Las niñas (the girls) - We use ‘las’ to indicate that the noun is plural and feminine.

 

Keep in mind, however, that if you are referring to a group where you have both male and female elements, we need to use the masculine article ‘los’. In fact, in those cases we need to use the plural form of the masculine noun:

 

  • A group of 4 male friends: los amigos (the friends)
  • A group of 4 female friends: las amigas (the friends)
  • A group of 2 male friends and 2 female friends: los amigos (the friends)

 

Hoy tengo clase con los alumnos principiantes de español.

Today I have class with the beginner Spanish students.

Caption 5, Español para principiantes - La hora

 Play Caption

 

In the example above, we use the article los with the word alumnos (students) but the speaker is very likely referring to a group of both male and female students.

We also have the neuter definite article lo but if you want a further explanation about this very particular article, please check the lesson about this topic HERE.

 

Indefinite articles in Spanish

In English, we have the indefinite articles “a” and “an.” In Spanish, we have four indefinite articles that we use to specify the gender and number of the noun they precede. These articles are un, una, unos and unas:

 

  • Un perro (a dog) - We use ‘un’ to indicate that the noun is singular and masculine.
  • Una serpiente (a snake) - We use ‘una’ to indicate that the noun is singular and feminine.
  • Unos perros (some dogs) - We use ‘unos’ to indicate that the noun is plural and masculine.
  • Unas serpientes (some snakes) - We use ‘unas’ to indicate that the noun is plural and feminine.

 

Let’s look at a couple of examples:

Compré un regalo para unos amigos.

I bought a gift for some friends.

Caption 9, Conversaciones en el parque - Cap. 4: Regalos para un nuevo bebé

 Play Caption

 

In this sentence, we use the article unos with the noun amigos (friends). However, just as it happens with the definite article los, we use the indefinite article unos when referring to groups that may include both male and female elements. In this case, some friends could easily include both male and female friends.

 

¿Unas entradas para ver un musical?

Some tickets to see a musical?

Caption 35, Blanca y Mariona - Planificación de cena

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In this example, both nouns are indefinite so the girls use the corresponding indefinite articles. If the girls had known some specific information about the tickets and the musical, they would have used definite articles:

 

  • ¿Las entradas para ver el musical?
  • ¿The tickets to see the musical?

 

That's it for now. If you are aware of the gender and number variables that nouns have in Spanish, you will be on your way to using articles like a pro. We hope you find this lesson useful and don’t forget to send us your feedback and suggestions.

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Lo: the Neuter Article

Irse de boca

A Common Past: ser and ir

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Lo: the Neuter Article

The word lo can either be used as a neuter article, or as a pronoun. In this lesson we will focus on its use as an article.

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Neuter articles are used to express abstract ideas or give extra emphasis to a certain adjective. As a neuter article, lo is the easiest of all the articles as there is only one form: lo. It can be placed in front of just about any adjective that expresses an abstraction or a quality (or extreme degree of quantity), something that's not a concrete object or person.

Here are some phrases that take lo before different types of adjectives:

lo bueno = "the good part, what's good"
lo fácil = "the easy part, what's easy"
lo mío = "(that which is) mine"
lo nuestro = "(that which is) ours"

Lo + adjective can be translated in English as "the" + adjective + the word "thing" or "part":
 

Y pues, es lo malo de vivir en un país así.

And well, it's the bad thing about living in a country like this.

Caption 68, Amigos D.F. - El secuestrar

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Eso es lo bonito de la gastronomía.

That is the nice thing about gastronomy.

Caption 29, Cómetelo - Crema de brócoli

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In fact, lo + adjective generates the syntactic equivalent of a noun phrase. That's why it's also common to translate it as "what is + adjective." In the previous examples, we would have:

Y pues, es lo malo de vivir en un país así / And well, it's what is bad about living in a country like this.
Eso es lo bonito de la gastronomía / That's what is nice about gastronomy.

The use of lo before a relative clause has a similar effect: 
 

Hay gente que rectifica lo que dice

There are people who correct what they say

Caption 39, Calle 13 - No hay nadie como tú

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Lucio, tengo que contarte que por lo que me adelantó Morena...

Lucio, I have to tell you that from what Morena told me in advance...

Caption 57, Yago - 7 Encuentros - Part 14

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In fact, lo can often be taken to mean roughly la cosa or las cosas

Hay gente que rectifica lo que dice →  There are people who correct what they say.
Hay gente que rectifica (las cosas) que dice. → There are people who correct (the things) they say.
...por lo que me adelantó Morena → ...from what Morena told me.
...por (las cosas) que me adelantó Morena → ...from (the things) that Morena told me.

By the way, lo can be used before a series of adjetives too:
 

Pero encontrar lo bueno, bonito y barato a veces es muy complicado.

But finding the good, [the] nice and [the] cheap is sometimes very complicated.

Captions 2-3, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 14

 Play Caption

 

Of course, in order to help our subscribers with their learning process, we have made the translation here as parallel as possible. But you already know what would make a more natural translation, right?

→ But finding what's good, nice, and cheap is sometimes complicated.
→ But finding the good, nice, and cheap things is sometimes complicated.

There is yet one more use of lo as a neuter article and it's rather interesting. Lo is used to express the extreme degree or nature of a given concept or idea. Here it's best to review some examples: 
 

¿Es que no eres todo lo feliz que desearías?

Is it that you are not as happy as you would like?

Caption 26, De consumidor a persona - Short Film

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Sometimes this lo equates to using the word “how”:
 

Si supieras lo mucho que te amo

If you knew how much I love you

Caption 15, Ozomatli - Jardinero

 Play Caption

 

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Porque ves las gradas llenas, eh, la gente lo bien que se lo pasa con la música.

Because you see the packed bleachers, um, how much fun the people have with the music.

Captions 11-12, Los Juegos Olímpicos - Adrián Gavira

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¿Pero cómo voy a perder mis maletas de vista con lo grandes que son?

But how am I going to lose sight of my suitcases with how big they are?

Captions 29-30, Raquel - Avisos de Megafonía

 Play Caption


Read more about the use of the neuter gender here.

 

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Gender Reversals: "El Alma" and more

Colombian crooner Juanes has the audience singing along to every word of his hit Para tu amor in this week's featured video. Catchy lyrics are helpful language-learning aids: When they get stuck in your head (and won't leave) they build up your vocab and aid in your memorizaiton of usage rules. Case in point: Para tu amor contains many lyrical lines that can help non-native speakers grasp the difference between para and por -- both translated into English as "for" in many cases. In newsletters past, we've drawn from the Yabla Spanish archive of song lyrics to write about distinctions between por and para. (Linked here for your review.) So, in this week's newsletter, we'll use Juanes to illuminate a gender rule bender instead.

He sings:

Yo te quiero con el alma y con el corazón



"I love you with my soul and with my heart."



[Captions 13 and 23, Juanes > Para tu amor]

Check our online dictionary and you'll see alma (a noun) is feminine, as so many Spanish words that '-a' are. But alma belongs to a subgroup of feminine nouns that take masculine articles when singular. Others include:

  • El agua fría ("The cold water")
  • El águila americana ("The American eagle")
  • El ama de casa desperada ("The desperate housewife")

Note that all four examples listed above begin with a stressed a-, which wouldn't sound right to a native speaker if preceded by la or una. Also note that when plural, they revert to the feminine article las or unas. So it's las aguas tibias ("the lukewarm waters").

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As a final note: Whatever the number, alma and her gender-bending ilk behave like feminine nouns when they are paired with adjectives. That is to say, the adjectives they are paired with are made feminine with an -a ending. For more on words that break gender rules, see:
 

About.com > Spanish grammar > Gender reversals

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