gender and number in spanish

gendernumber

Gender and Number in Spanish Grammar

Gender

Being an English speaker you’re probably not familiar with this classification of nouns into masculine and feminine forms.

When nouns refer to living creatures, it’s pretty easy to choose the correct masculine or feminine form of the noun, based on the gender of the creature. Usually, nouns ending in “o” are masculine and nouns ending in “a” are feminine. See below:

English word Spanish word (Masculine) Spanish word (Feminine)
The dog El perro (The male dog) La perra (The female dog)
The cousin El primo (The male cousin) La prima (The female cousin)
The teacher El maestro (The male teacher) La maestra (The female teacher)

However, other nouns referring to places, things, etc. are also feminine or masculine.

Below are some common Spanish nouns and their gender:

English word Spanish word (M=masculine / F=Feminine)
The shoe El zapato (M)
The guitar La guitarra (F)
The accordion El bandoneón (M)
The woman La mujer (F)
The man El hombre (M)
The CD El disco compacto (M)
The coffee El café (M)
The pizza La pizza (F)
The meal La comida (F)

As you can see, as a general rule words that end in “o” are masculine and words that end in “a” are feminine. There are many exceptions to this rule, but, to get started, taking this into account might help you a lot! Words ending in a consonant or in other vowels may be feminine or masculine (you’ll have to memorize them at first!)

Some exceptions to this rule:

English word Spanish word
The problem El problema
The language El idioma
The hand La mano
The libido La libido

Other exceptions are words that end in “a” and whose ending cannot be changed. As the noun does not change according to gender it is very important to pay attention to the preceding article to see if the noun is masculine or feminine.

English word Spanish form (masculine) Spanish form (feminine)
The gymnast El gimnasta La gimnasta
The journalist El periodista La periodista
The artist El artista La artista

 

Number

In our previous section we described how words change depending on their gender. In this section we will explain how to change a noun depending on whether the word is singular or plural.

As a general rule, when a word ends in a vowel, its plural form will have an “s” by the end.

English word Singular form Plural form
(Male) The dog(s) El perro Los perros
The artist(s) El artista Los artistas
The house(s) La casa Las casas
The coffee(s) El café Los cafés
The mum(s) La mamá Las mamás

There are exceptions to this rule. Nouns ending in “í” or “ú” usually have two accepted plural forms. One in which only the “s” is added, and another one that ends in “es”.

English word Singular form Plural forms
The scalpel(s) El bisturí Los bisturís / Los bisturíes
The hummingbird(s) El colibrí Los colibrís / Los colibríes
The hindu(s) El hindú Los hindús / Los hindúes
The rhea(s) El ñandú Los ñandús / Los ñandúes

When a word ends in a consonant, we need to add “es” to the noun to make it plural.

See the examples below:

English word Singular form Plural form
The city(s) La ciudad Las ciudades
The accordion(s) El bandoneón* Los bandoneones
The Paper(s) El papel Los papeles
The sun(s) El sol Los soles
The lemon(s) El limón* Los limones

As you can see in “bandoneón” and “limón”, the written accent marks are lost in the plural form. The reason is that by adding these letters and forming a new syllable, the stress of the word changes place.

If a word ends in “z”, the “z” is replaced by a “c” and then the ending “es” is added.

The pencil(s) → El lápiz → Los lápices

The partridge(s) → La perdiz → Las perdices

There are words that remain the same in the singular and plural form. The only way of knowing whether it’s singular or plural is by paying attention to the article that precedes it:

 

Nouns ending in “s” in the singular form

The analysis → El análisis → Los análisis

The ecstasy → El éxtasis → Los éxtasis

 

Compound nouns

The can-opener → El abrelatas → Los abrelatas

“Abre” comes from “abrir” (to open) and “latas” means cans.

The lavatory → El lavamanos → Los lavamanos

“Lava” comes from “lavar” (to wash) and “manos” means hands.

 

Foreign nouns

For many foreign nouns,  only an “s” is added after the last consonant in the plural forms.

English word Singular Spanish word Plural Spanish word
The ticket(s) El ticket Los tickets
The film(s) El film Los films
The surplus El superávit Los superávits

We hope this lesson has helped you to understand more about gender and number in Spanish. For more help, book a class with one of our private tutors