How to know the gender of Spanish words

Knowing the gender of a noun in Spanish is relatively easy in Spanish compared to some other European languages, such as French or German. In Spanish the ending of the word can in almost all cases can be used to determine the gender using a few simple rules.

Masculine endings

The following noun endings almost always indicate that the noun is masculine:

  • -o e.g. el mundo (the world), el libro (book)
  • -aje e.g. el garaje (the garage), el paisaje (the countryside)
  • -or, e.g. el color (colour), el valor (value)

Feminine endings

The following almost always indicate that it is feminine:

  • -a e.g. la mesa (the table), la camisa (the shirt) (although not normally words ending in -ma - see below)
  • -dad e.g. la cuidad (the city), la libertad (liberty)
  • -tud e.g. la virtud (virtue)
  • -tad e.g. la voluntad (will)
  • -ión e.g. la canción (the song), la revolución (revolution), la excepción (the exception)

However words ending -ma are also generally masculine rather than feminine.

  • el tema (the theme)
  • el clima (the climate)
  • el sistema (the system)

Common exceptions

Unfortunately there are a few exceptions that just need to be learnt. These are some of the most common:

  • el día - the day
  • la tarde - the afternoon/evening
  • la noche - the night
  • la nube - the cloud
  • la mano - the hand
  • el mapa - the map
  • el sofá - the sofa (not that this ends in -á and not -a, so it’s not really an exception)
  • el planeta - the planet
  • el avión - the plane
  • el camión - the truck
  • la flor - the flower
  • la parte - the part
  • la clase - the class
  • la leche - the milk

Shortened words that appear to be exceptions

Many shortened version of words appear to be exceptions but once you realise the full original word they are not:

  • la moto - long version - la motocicleta - the motorbike (or moped)
  • la tele - long version - la televisión - the television
  • la bici - long version - la bicicleta - the bicycle
  • la peli - long version - la pelicula - the film

Words that follow a natural gender

As would be expected the words for masculine and feminine people follow their natural gender:

  • la mujer (the woman)
  • el hombre (the man)

Additionally many words for relations have masculine and feminine versions depending on the sex of the person, just by changing the ending:

  • el niño / la niña (the boy / girl)
  • el señor / la senora (the gentleman / lady)
  • el muchacho / la muchacha (the young man / woman - used more commonly in Latin America)
  • el chico / la chica (the young man / woman)
  • el tio / la tia (the aunt / uncle)
  • el sobrino / la sobrina (the nephew / niece)
  • el abuelo / la abuela (the grandfather / grandmother)
  • el primo / la prima (the male / female cousin)

Words that have different meaning if masculine of feminine

A few words have a different meaning if the article is changed:

  • el cometa (the comet), la cometa (the kite)
  • la guía (the guide book, or guidance), el guía (the guide, as in a person) - however a woman who is a guide is also la guía
  • el frente (the front), la frente (the forehead)
  • el corte (the cut), la corte (the court - either legal or royal)
  • la meta (the goal), el meta (the goalkeeper, although a female goalkeeper would be la meta)
  • el radio (the radio - the device for listening), la radio (the radio - the broadcast medium)
  • el cura (the priest), la cura (the cure)

Words that change slightly by changing the final vowel and gender

These words change their meaning to a related meaning:

  • la manzana (the apple), el manzano (the apple tree) - this applies for many fruit trees:
  • la oliva / el olivo (olive / olive tree), la naranja / el naranjo (orange / orange tree)

  • el barco (ship), la barca (boat)
  • la bolsa (bag - often a plastic bag), el bolso (handbag)
  • la puerta (door), el puerto (port)

Nouns that can appear masculine but are not

When a noun starts with an a or ha that is stressed (e.g. agua) it cannot be proceeded by la, so then el is used instead even though the noun is feminine

Other common examples of feminine nouns that use el:

  • el hambre (hunger)
  • el alma (the soul)
  • el águila (the eagle)

N.B. any adjective will still agree with the real gender of the noun - e.g. el agua fria (the cold water)

Nouns with common gender

Some words, particularly related to some professions, keep the same form regardless of whether the person is male or female. However, the article changes to indicate their gender. For example el dentista (the male dentist), la dentista (the female dentist); Other examples include el/la presidente (the male/female president) and el/la estudiante (the male/female student).

Nouns with epicene gender

Known in the field of linguistics as epicene gender, this refers to nouns for living creatures that keep the same form and article regardless of whether the animal is male or female. e.g la rata can be a male or female rat despite the word being of female gender. Similarly el ratón can be a male of female mouse.

Nouns with ambiguous gender

The words mar (sea) and azúcar (sugar) can be either masculine or feminine, although in both cases the masculine is used more commonly - i.e. el mar not la mar.