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.
Untitled Document Masculine nouns
Ends with –o
Ends with –or
Ends with -ista
the (male) dog
the (male) cat
Ends with -a
Ends with -ora
Ends with -ista
the (female) dog
the (female) cat
the (female) doctor the lady
the (female) pianist
¿Dónde está el gato? - Where is the cat?
¿Cúando fue el doctor a ver a la señora? - When did the doctor go to see the lady?
La mujer está llorando. - The woman is crying.
¿Cómo está el señor? - How is the gentleman?
El hombre está en España. - The man is in Spain
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
- La atleta sale a correr todos los días. - The athlete goes for a run every day.
- 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:
Ends with –o
el cuchillo el zapato el pelo el ajo el gato
Ends with –ma
el problema el sistema
Ends with -s
the knife the shoe the hair the garlic
the problem the system
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
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.
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.
- For nouns ending in a vowel, add an –s to make it plural.
- For nouns that end in a consonant, add –es to make it plural.
- For nouns that end in –z, replace the –z with –ces.
When you refer to a group of mixed gender items or people, always use the masculine plural form.
1 gato + 2 gatas = 3 gatos