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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

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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

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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

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Cuando utilizamos el idioma español.

When we use the Spanish language.

Entonces, vamos a hablar entonces ya.

So, then we are going to talk now.

Captions 5-6, Lecciones con Carolina - Errores comunes

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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

Um... the milkers go on to

pesar la leche para ver la cantidad que produce cada una.

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

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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

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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

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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,

I'd like to refer to the pronunciation of two letters,

la "elle" y la "ye".

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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¡Hasta la próxima!

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Combining Parts of Speech - Part 4

Combining Parts of Speech - Part 1

Combining Parts of Speech - Part 2

Combining Parts of Speech - Part 3

Let's continue studying phrases that combine prepositions, articles, and pronouns since these can be a source of confusion for Spanish learners. Take a look at Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 here.
 

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Check out the following quote from one of our most recent videos. In this clip teacher Carolina is discussing common mistakes that her students make, and says:

 

El primer caso del que les quiero hablar hoy es...

The first case I want to talk to you about today is...

Caption 7, Lecciones con Carolina - Errores comunes

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The phrase del que les is used frequently in Spanish, and has no direct translation in English. If we break this phrase down, we find that it literally means "of the which to you:" the contraction del (preposition de + article el), plus the relative pronoun que (which), and the personal pronoun les (to you). But in English, we don't really say things like "of the which to you." Instead, English uses a very different structure that requires an additional word: "about."
 
In fact, a more literal translation of the example would be something like: "The first case about which I want to talk to you today is." In Spanish, by the way, there's a similar construction that uses the phrase acerca de, which literally means "about." So in fact, you can also say the following:
 
El primer caso acerca del que les quiero hablar hoy es...
The first case about which I want to talk to you today is...
 
However, these expressions are a bit over complicated, both in Spanish and in English. In Spanish, it's better and more straightforward to simply use the preposition de (of, from) combined with the appropriate articles and pronouns, which must agree with the nouns they refer to in both number and gender. For example:
 

El tipo del que les hablo nunca más apareció

The guy about whom I speak to you never again showed up

Caption 5, ChocQuibTown - Oro

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So, if you are talking about a noun that is both singular and masculine, like el caso (the case) or el tipo (the guy), you need to use del, that is de + el (the). Let's now see an example with a plural noun like artistas (artists), that needs de + los (or de + las if we were talking about female artists):

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Pintó junto a grandes artistas de los que aprendió casi todo.

He painted alongside great artists from whom he learned almost everything.

Caption 15, Europa Abierta - Alejandro Hermann - El arte de pintar

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