The first shock many students face when learning Spanish is that, in our language, every single noun has a gender. The worries about how to correctly express something and the frustration coming from the constant challenge of remembering if something is masculine or feminine are constantly with them, even for advanced students. Even if we don’t have a logical explanation for it, every noun is categorized into one of these groups.
And I stop at this point because from my experience as a teacher, when some students in basic levels feel frustrated by the difficulty of remembering the gender of every object in Spanish, they start asking for the reasons why in Spanish a spoon is feminine but a knife is masculine, if they both belong to the same category (cutlery); and they try very hard to find an explanation for the genders, even sometimes a philosophical one. All these attempts to understand can end in even more frustration, mainly because the student cannot find a magic formula to understand every instance.
That’s why I want to share with you some little tricks to detect some specific cases when, in fact, you can be sure you are choosing the right gender:
- The nouns ending with –dad, such as la sociedad, la comunidad, or la humanidad, will always be feminine.
- La humanidad debe aprender a cuidar el planeta = Humankind must learn to take care of the planet
- La educación es fundamental para la sociedad = Education is fundamental for society
- The nouns ending with –ción such as la canción, la conversación, la comunicación, la educación, etc. will always be feminine.
- Me gusta mucho esa canción = I like that song very much
- La comunicación en la familia es muy importante = Communication in the family is very important
- The vowels and consonants will always be feminine:
- No hay muchas palabras con la letra “W” en el español = There are not many words with “W” in the Spanish language.
- La “h” no tiene sonido en el español = “H” does not have any sound in Spanish.
- The names of rivers, volcanos, deserts, jungles, and forests will always be masculine:
- Quiero viajar a los alpes = I want to travel to the Alps.
- El río Magdalena es el más largo de Colombia = The Magdalena River is the longest in Colombia.
- The days of the week and months:
- Diciembre es mi mes favorito = December is my favorite month.
- El lunes trabajo, los domingos no = I work on Mondays, on Sundays I do not.
- Cardinal points: el sur, el oriente, el occidente, el norte.
- En el oriente de la ciudad está Monserrate = In the east of the city is Monserrate
- En el norte del país está La Guajira = In the north of the country is La Guajira
- En el sur de Colombia está la región del Amazonas = In the south of Colombia is the Amazon region
- Numbers and dates:
- El veinte de julio es el día de la independencia de Colombia = July 20th is Colombia’s Independence day.
- El 7 es mi número de la suerte = 7 is my lucky number.
Femenine and Masculine cases:
- Nouns ending in -ante and -ente can be feminine or masculine without changing any letters in them: el estudiante/la estudiante, el paciente/la paciente, el comerciante/la comerciante, etc.
- El estudiante de español quiere visitar Colombia = The Spanish student wants to visit Colombia.
- Los comerciantes invierten mucho dinero antes de recibir ganancias = Merchants invest a lot of money before receiving profits
- Nouns ending in -ista, which usually refer to a profession, can be masculine or feminine: el periodista/la periodista, el violinista/la violinista, el dentista/la dentista.
- El periodista trabaja en los medios de comunicación = The journalist works in the media
- La violinista está tocando una pieza de Mozart = The violinist is playing a piece by Mozart.
Audio to practice
For another cool article, check Despacito, Ahorita and Other Diminutives in Spanish.
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Written by Ángela, profesora at Whee.