Complete Guide On Gender In Spanish Grammar

Written byJada Lòpez

I'm arranging to have my friend who is from mexico record the Spanish, so that very soon, they'll be available online for you to press play buttons so you can hear the Spanish as well!

I'll let you know when that's ready.

In the meantime, lets get on with today's lesson. The Truth about the Sexes

In English, we do not call a chair 'he', nor do we call a bed 'she'. In Spanish and other latin-based languages, called Romance Languages, that rule doesn't apply. Since English is a mix of Latin- and Germanic-based languages, those rules don't apply. Lucky us!

It Spanish, objects, or nouns, are either feminine or masculine. Adjectives, or words that describe or enhance nounds, are feminine or masculine, depending upon the noun. We'll talk about that later. In the mean time, it's a certain fact that you'll have to accept while continuing your language studies.

Some examples:

Masculine Nouns:

El libro - ehl lee-bro (the book)
El rio - ehl ree-oh (the river)
El color - ehl koh-lohr (the color)
El doctor - ehl doc-tor (the doctor)

Feminine Nouns:

La cama - la kah-mah (the bed)
La arana - la arr-ah-nya (the spider)
La bolsa - la bowl-sah (the bag, purse)
La cominda - la koh-mee-dah (the food)


Rules for Feminine or Masculine Nouns

A Good Rule of Thumb:

From the above examples, you've probably deducted at least one rule of Spanish: if a word ends in 'o' it is masculine. Additionally, if it ends in 'a', it is feminine. Well, while this is a good rule of thumb, don't always trust it. We'll list some examples below. But, first, let's discuss some other 'rules of thumbs'.

Some nouns in Spanish do not end in an 'a' or an 'o'. That can be confusing because we may not know which article (a 'la' or an 'el') to put with a word. However, there are some easily memorized patterns that we can use to help us decide. (I wish someone would have pointed this out to me when I was learning Spanish!)

The L**-O-N-E-R-**S rule:
While we can call this a 'rule' it is not. It is a 'rule of thumb', meaning that it doesn't hold true in all circumstances. It only holds true for a majority of the time.

If a word ends in an L, O, N, E, R, or S, then most likely it will be a masculine noun. You will attach an 'EL' to the word to recognize its gender. And, let it be noted that in Spanish, articles are used much more often in everyday, regular speech.

If a word ends in 'a', 'dad', or 'ion', it is most likely a feminine noun.


Attach 'el' or 'la' by reading the following outloud. What do you think each word means?


  1. _____ aniversario (ahn-ee-verse-ar-ee-oh)
  2. _____ americano (ah-mer-ee-ca-noh)
  3. _____ jardin (har-DEEN)
  4. _____ diccionario (deek-see-na-ree-yoh)
  5. _____ restaurante (rest-ah-ran-tay)


  1. _____ asprina (ahs-pree-nah)
  2. _____ medicina (med-ih-see-nah)
  3. _____ medicina (med-ih-see-nah)
  4. _____ nacionalidad (nas-see-yoh-nah-lee-dad)
  5. _____ mansion (mahn-see-yohn)

Spanish Cognates

Words in Spanish that be spelled the exact same or similar to a word in English are called 'cognates'. We who are trying to learn Spanish are quite lucky because many cognates are shared between the two languages. If you guessed the meanings to the words above, then you already understand what we are getting at; many words in English and Spanish are cognates. So, you know a lot more Spanish than you thought! The key lies within the differing pronunciation.

Many Spanish words that begin with 'es' are cognates.


Especial - es-peh-see-yahl (special)
Estudiar - es-too-dee-yahr (to study)
Espacio - es-pah-see-yoh (space)
Espia - ehs-pee-yah (spy)

Definite vs indefinite

In the aforementioned section, we discussed definite, singular articles. It is not important that you know exactly what this means, but it is important that you can identify them and know when to properly use them. A definite article in Spanish is about the same in English. It refers to something that you are talking about specifically.

Ex. El gato esta aqui. - El ga-toh es-ta ah-key (The cat is here.)

In the above example, 'El' is the definite article. It is referring to a cat that we are both understand to be with us now; perhaps in front of us. We also know that it is a male cat because of the use of 'El'.

Ex. Un gato estaba aqui. - Uhn - gah-tow es-ta-bah ah-key (A cat was here.)

In this example, 'Un' refers to 'a' cat. It is an idefinite article. We are not definite that there is a cat in front of us at this moment.

We can say it with this meaning: [In general] A cat was here.

In Spanish, an indefinite article must agree with noun in gender.

Ex. El pajaro canta. - El pah-ha-roh kan-ta. (The bird sings.)

Ex. Un pajaro canta - Uhn pah-ha-roh Kan-ta. (A bird sings.)

Do you see the difference in each of their meanings? In the first example, we are referring to a bird that is in with us or that we see at this moment. We are, in essense, pointing our finger at the bird. In the second example, we are talking in general; we may not see the actual bird.

So, in Spanish, the articles must agree in gender. So, what about something feminine?

Ex. La gata esta aqui. - lah -gah-tah es-tah ah-key (The [female] cat is here.)
Ex. Una gata esta aqui. - uh-na gah-tah es-tah ah-key (A [female] cat is here.)

Notice here that the 'La' and 'Una' tell us that we are referring to a female cat.

More About Gender In Spanish

Now, we are purposefully talking about a single, female cat. You might have noticed in the above example that the word cat ( gata) ends in an 'a'. This denotes that the cat is female. If the word cat ended in 'o', we'd have the word 'gato'. This refers to a male cat.

Ex. El gato esta aqui. (The [male] cat is here.)
Ex. Un gato estaba aqui. (A [male] cat was here.)

Ok, now you have come to realize that Spanish nouns have gender. Sit back and take a breath of fresh air before we introduce on more concept that will make this whole section complete.

Gender & Number Working Together

Now that we know that we can talk about a male or female cat and that, like English, we can refer to it definitely or indefinitely, Spanish presents us with one more hoop to jump through.

When referring to one cat, we can use the above examples. But, what about when we want to refer to more than one cat? Or, for that matter, more than one, anything? That's where plural articles come into play. And, they aren't as hard as you think. Plural definite articles are: LAS, LOS.

You will use LAS and LOS a lot in writing and speaking. You will know when to use any of these articles depending upon the noun you are referring to. If it is plural, you will use one of the above listed articles. The nouns below (gatas, gatos & perros) are plural. It's that simple. Let's take a look at some of the following (somewhat fun) examples.

Ex. Las gatas estan aqui. - Las gah-tas es-tahn ah-key. (The [female] cats are here.)

Ex. Los gatos estan aqui. - Los gah-toes es-tahn ah-key. (The [male] cats are here.)

Ex. Los perros no estan aqui. - Los peh-rroes no es-tahn ah-key. (The [male] dogs are not here.)

Ex. Las perras no estan aqui. - Las peh-rrahs no es-tahn ah-key. (The [female] dogs are not here.)


Use an article to properly fill in the blank. [El, La or Los, Las or Un, Una]

Answers follow.

  1. _____ gato estaba aqui. (Use definite article.)
  2. _____ gata esta aqui. (Use indefinite article.)
  3. _____ perros no estan aqui.
  4. _____ perros no estan aqui.
  5. _____ pajaros estan en el cielo. (. birds are in the sky.)
  6. _____ cama esta sucia. (. bed is dirty.) (Use definite article.)
  7. _____ gatas no cantan. (. don't sing.)

Answers: 1. El, 2. Una, 3. Los, 4. Las, 5. Los, 6. La, 7. Las

Here is a chart that might be useful when thinking about nouns and what to do if you want to make them plural. Like English, there are only a few rules.

Plural Nouns Outlined:


El libro los libros (the books)
La mesa las mesas (the tables or the desktops)
Una mesa unas mesas (some tables)
Un libro unos libros (some books)

Notice how 'un' and 'una' become 'unos' and 'unas' respectively. This is closely translated to the English article 'some'; some books, some tables, etc.

For nouns that end in a consonant or the letter 'Y', add 'es'.

Un mes unos meses (some months)
El rey los reyes (some kings)
El reloj los relojes (the watches or clocks)
Un examen Unos examanes (some exams)

For nouns that end in 'Z', change the 'Z' to 'C' and and 'es'. And, no changes are made for words that already end with 'S'. And, some nounds are always plural.

Un pez unos peces (some fish)
La actriz las actrices (the actresses)
El viernes los viernes (Fridays)
Las gafas las gafas (the pair of glasses *always plural)
Las vacaciones las vacaciones (vacation *always plural)

Number & Gender with Adjectives

Bueno! Estamos listos! Good! We're ready! Now that we have talked a bit about nouns and how the articles that go with them must agree in number and gender, let's talk about adjectives, because the same rules apply. Once we get this out of the way, it'll be smoother sailing!

An adjective decribes a noun. In English the following: blue, big, smooth, green, & mean, are all adjectives.

In Spanish, adjectives have to agree in number and gender with the nouns they modify.

El hombre pequeno El ahm-bray peh-ken-yoh (The small man.)

Here, hombre is 'man' and pequeno is 'small'. The word pequeno agrees that there is only one man because it does not end in 's' and that he is male because it ends in the letter 'o'.

La mujer pequena Lah moo-hair peh-ken-yah (The small woman.)

Here, mujer is 'woman' and pequena is 'small'. Notice that the adjective (pequena) ends in the letter 'a'.

Las mujeres pequenas Las moo-hehr-ehs peh-ken-yahs (The small women)

Notice that the sentence starts with 'Las'. This tells us that we are talking in the plural sense. Next, notice that the word for 'women' is mujeres with an 'es'. That shows it is a plural noun. Finally, notice that the adjective ends in 'a' and 's'. Pequenas is referring to something or someone that is female and is plural. It agrees in number and gender with what it is talking about or referring to; women or mujeres.

Other Examples:

  1. La camisa roja - Kam-ees-ha row-ha (The red shirt.)

Here, the noun 'camisa' is always feminine. The adjective will have to always agree with the noun. Also, notice that the adjective follows the noun. Literally, in English, this sentence would read: 'The shirt red.'

  1. ****Las camisas rojas - Kam-ees-has roh-has (The red shirts.)

  2. Los libros rojos. - Los lee-bros row-hohs (The red books.)

  3. ****Las camas sucias. - Las kam-as soo-see-ahs (The dirty beds.)

Final Notes

Don't forget that like everything in life, there are expections to almost all the rules. It's the same with the number and gender of nouns. Sometimes they are tricky. Above, we knew that 'camisa' was feminine because it ended in an 'a'. Many nouns can be tricky, so it is best to take the above rules not as concrete, but as a guide to help you along. An example is the cognate noun 'artista'. Many nouns will always end in the letter 'o' or 'a' no matter if you are talking about a male or female person or thing.

You can say:

****Un artista - oohn ar-teese-tah (A male artist)
****Una artista - oohna ar-teese-tah (A female artist)

Always Masculine:

El clima - el clee-mah (the climate)
El dia - el dee-yah (the day)
El problema - el pro-blay-mah (the problem)
El programa - el proh-gram-ah (the program)

Always Feminine:

La mano - la mah-noh (the hand)
La foto - la foe-to (the photo)
La moto - la moe-toh (the motorcyle)

Once you start speaking and reading more, all of this will come quite naturally.

For more comprehensive, effective Spanish lessons, visit our Spanish lesson reviews

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Author: Jada Lòpez
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