Masculine and feminine forms in Spanish

by Bernard O'Shea

The nouns in Spanish don’t look too complicated. As usual with most Romance languages, they are either masculine or feminine.

Most of those ending in o are masculine. 

  • el libro (the book)
  • el muchacho (boy)
  • el hermano (brother)

Most of those ending in a are feminine

  • la muchacha (the girl)
  • la hermana (sister)

But once again all those words derived from Greek that end in a are masculine. Those Greeks like to be different!

  • el día (the day)
  • el programa (program)

Nouns ending in ista can be either depending on the circumstances (for instance, if your dentist is a man or woman):  el dentista, la dentista. Likewise, your guide could be  el guía or la guía, and your doctor could be el or la médico.

Nouns that end in dad, tad, tud, umbre, ción or sión are feminine. Some examples:

  • la ciudad (the city)
  • la nación (nation)
  • la actitud (attitude)
  • la muchedumbre (crowd)

The definite article – ‘the’

If you are observant, you will have noticed that the definite article in Spanish is either el or la. In the plural these change to los and las respectively.

However, there is one thing to watch out for. Feminine nouns that start with ha or a stressed a take the masculine article in the singular but the feminine in the plural:

  • el arma, las armas (the arm/arms, in a military sense)
  • el hacha, las hachas (the axe/axes)

The reason for this is the awkwardness of these sounds together – it is much easier to say el arma than ‘la arma‘(just as it is easier to say “an apple” than “a apple” in English).

The indefinite article – ‘a/an’

The indefinite article in Spanish is un in front of masculine words and una in front of feminine ones.

  • un señor (a man)
  • una señora (a lady)

But as with the definite article, the masculine form of the indefinite is used in front of feminine nouns beginning with with ha or a stressed a; hence: un arma, un hacha 

Like Portuguese, there are plural indefinite articles, the Spanish ones being unos (masculine) and unas, meaning “some“.

The formation of plural nouns

If the noun ends in a vowel (usually a, e or o), add an s: hence el camino, los caminos (the path/paths).

If the noun ends in a consonant you add es: la cuidad, las ciudades (the city/cities)

Nouns that end in ción or sión lose their accents in the plural: la nación becomes la naciones. This is because the stress on the o falls away.

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