¿Masculino o femenino?

Who is to decide whether mesa (table) is masculine or feminine? What determines a silla (chair) to be a feminine noun? And what makes cuchillo (knife) a masculine term? If you are already familiar with the concept behind grammatical gender, you will then not be devastatingly puzzled by it.

In fact, those whose mother tongue is a Romance language (that is, a comprehensive set of words, sounds and grammar rules directly deriving from Latin) should already be well familiar with such concept. Contrastingly, speakers who usually refer to both material and intangible ideas (i.e., objects and feelings) in neutral terms may find Spanish grammatical gender challengingly extravagant.

Although challenges may often pose obstacles, ¡no hay nada imposible¡ On top of that, be reassured: there are rules which help bring order to such gender-related craziness. So, once again, the crucial fact is that everything in Spanish is either male or female and this results into grammatical gender of a noun affecting the form of other words related to it (e.g., adjectives, articles, etc.). And now let’s delve straight into it!

Regla general (main rule)

words ending in -o, –e or consonant words ending in –a
libro coche pantalón casa mesa puerta

When it comes to living beings, they are referred to by the gender they represent.

perro → male dog perra → female dog
chico → boy chica → girl
señor → man, Mr. señora → ma’am, Mrs.
profeso male teacher profesora → female teacher

The table above shows how to form the feminine counterpart of a masculine noun. In particular, masculine nouns terminating in -o change the final vowel into -a. On the other hand, when a masculine noun ends in consonant (non-vowels) it forms its corresponding feminine form by adding a final -a.

Those nouns ending in -ista and –nte, though, have the same form for both masculine and feminine and generally indicate professions.

periodista → male/female journalist
artista → male/female artist
cantante → male/female singer
estudiante → male/female student

Pero, ¡ojo (Be careful, though!)! Mysterious exceptions are always around the corner.

día → day foto → photo
mapa → map mano →  hand
cura → priest leche →  milk
planeta → planet carne → meat


However, to tackle them we can luckily rely on rules which regulate most exceptions so that damage is contained.

numerous words ending in vowel + -ma
programa → program
problema → problem
clima → weather
words ending in -sión, -ción, -dad, -tud, -umbre
situación → situation
felicidad → happiness
incertidumbre → uncertainty


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