Spanish Nouns

Nouns are words used to name or identify a person, animal, place, thing, or idea. Examples include: girl, hat, coat, weather, picture, coffee, hotel.

Just as in English, Spanish nouns can either be singular, such as “cat” or gato, or plural (i.e., more than one), like “cats” or gatos.

The first thing that you must learn about Spanish, however, is that all nouns also have a gender. In other words, all objects and living things are either masculine or feminine.

Understanding Spanish Nouns: Is it a boy or a girl?

The concept of gender can feel confusing for new students of Latin languages. Having a gender does not mean that nouns actually refer to male or female things, although, in most circumstances, the nouns that refer to males (such as a male doctor or a male animal) are masculine, while nouns that refer to females are generally feminine.

In many situations, you will be able to distinguish between masculine and feminine nouns by the distinctive association to a gender. For example, the sun tends to be associated with masculine imagery, and in Spanish we find that its gender is also masculine: el sol. The moon tends to be associated with feminine imagery, and, in Spanish, it is feminine: la luna.

You may find it impossible to figure out the gender of other nouns, however. For example, how would anyone know whether a table or a cup is masculine or feminine? (La mesa and la taza are both feminine.)

You won’t be able to figure out the gender of most nouns from their English equivalents. Once you know the word in Spanish, however, you’ll be able to figure out the gender in a snap.

Talking about People and Animals

Masculine nouns often end in –o or –or, while feminine nouns often end in –a or –ora.

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Masculine nouns

Feminine nouns

el hombre

Ends with –o

el perro

el gato

Ends with –or

el doctor

el señor

Ends with -ista

el pianista

the man

 

the (male) dog

the (male) cat

 

the doctor

the gentleman

 

the pianist

la mujer

Ends with -a

la perra

la gata

Ends with -ora

la doctora

la señora

Ends with -ista

la pianista

the woman

 

the (female) dog

the (female) cat

 

the (female) doctor
the lady

 

the (female) pianist

Examples:

1. ¿Dónde está el gato?
- Where is the cat?

2. ¿Cúando fue el doctor a ver a la señora?
- When did the doctor go to see the lady?

3. La mujer está llorando.
- The woman is crying.

4. ¿Cómo está el señor?
- How is the gentleman?

5. El hombre está en España.
- The man is in Spain

What “The”?!

One of the most common words in the English language is “the.” In Spanish, “the” is not a single word, however. Rather it has four forms, depending on the gender and quantity of the noun to which it is matched.

This isn’t as confusing as it sounds! For right now, just remember that the word “the”, if followed by a masculine noun, is el. If followed by a feminine noun, use la.

• the + masculine noun = el
• the + feminine noun = la

Same Endings, Different Story

When you find a noun ending in –ista (e.g. pianista) you will notice the ending is the same for both the masculine and feminine forms. In these cases, the gender of the noun will be indicated by whether it is preceded by el (masculine) or la (feminine). Other nouns follow this pattern.

Review the following:

el artista la artista
the male artist the female artist
el atleta la atleta
the male athlete the female athlete

Examples:

1. La atleta sale a correr todos los días.
- The athlete goes for a run every day.
2. Jose es el artista en la familia.
- Jose is the artist in the family.

Talking about Things and Ideas

Who could guess that the word “problem” would be masculine? Or that the word “destruction” would be feminine? Non-living things can be quite tricky to assign a gender to.

As mentioned before, figuring out the gender of these nouns from the English is impossible, but you can figure out gender easily once you know how the noun ends in Spanish.

• Nouns that end in –o, –ma, and –s (in their singular form) are generally masculine.
• Nouns that end in –a, –ción, and –dad are generally feminine.

Review the examples in the following table:

Masculine nouns

Feminine nouns

Ends with –o

el cuchillo
el zapato
el pelo
el ajo
el gato

Ends with –ma

el problema
el sistema

Ends with -s

el país

 

the knife
the shoe
the hair
the garlic

 

the problem
the system

 

the country

Ends with -a

la computadora
la puerta
la guitarra
la ventana

Ends with -ción

la conversación
la destrucción

Ends with -dad

la universidad
la sociedad

 

the computer
the door
the guitar
the window

 

the conversation
the destruction

 

the university
the society

Hermaphroditic Nouns

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules. For example, la mano (the hand) finishes on –o, but it is a feminine noun.

There’s no way around it: some memorization will be necessary. Once you get into the habit of associating a gender with each new noun you learn, however, the el or la will come naturally.

Examples:

When There’s More than One

How do you take a singular noun in Spanish and make it plural?

Amazingly enough, it’s not that different from English. Just as you add an –s or –es in English (such as cats or buses), you add the same endings in Spanish. The rules of their application are just a bit different.

1. For nouns ending in a vowel, add an –s to make it plural.

2. For nouns that end in a consonant, add –es to make it plural.

3. For nouns that end in –z, replace the –z with –ces.

4. When you refer to a group of mixed gender items or people, always use the masculine plural form.

1 gato + 2 gatas = 3 gatos


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