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Spanish Gender Rules and Exceptions


Please note: This page is in beta status. There are some difficult points which will certainly need corrections.
Esta página es una versión beta. Hay algunas partes difíciles que necesitan correcciones.

Table of contents

  1. General Rules
  2. Feminine nouns ending in -o
  3. Feminine nouns ending in -i
  4. Feminine nouns ending in -y
  5. Feminine nouns ending in -j
  6. Feminine nouns ending in -l
  7. Feminine nouns ending in -n
  8. Feminine nouns ending in -r
  9. Feminine nouns ending in -u
  10. Feminine nouns ending in -s
  11. Feminine nouns ending in -z
  12. Feminine nouns ending in -e
  13. Masculine nouns ending in -a
  14. Masculine nouns ending in -d
  15. Masculine nouns ending in -ión
  16. Masculine nouns ending in -umbre
  17. Double-gendered nouns with equivalent meaning (género común)
  18. Double-gendered nouns with different meaning (ambiguo)
  19. Feminine nouns using el
  20. Feminine nouns not using el though they should

General rules

The Spanish language has two grammatical genders: Masculine and Feminine. In general, every noun has exactly one well-defined grammatical gender. There are some exceptions to this rule: Some nouns are called de género común (of common gender), those nouns can be used with either the masculine or the feminine article to refer to a male or female being. See the list of them here. Another class are substantivos epicenos (epicene nouns) which use the same article and noun to refer to both male and female beings. The third class of exceptions are called ambiguo (ambiguous), those nouns can either have different meanings if being used with masculine and feminine articles or have no well-defined grammatical gender. Sometimes their genders are also a subject of regional variations.

The gender of a noun defines which articles are used with it. The masculine articles are el, los, un and unos, the feminine articles are la, las, una and unas. The table below shows their usage:

Masculine Feminine English Equivalent
Definite Singular el la the
Indefinite Singularun una a/an
Definite Plural los las the
Indefinite Plural unos unas -

As you can see, Spanish offers a greater variety of articles than English. There is one exception to these rules, most of the feminine nouns beginning with a stressed a- use el instead of la, see the list of them below.

So how do you know the gender of a noun? If you want to be sure, you have to learn them by heart. For this reason, nouns should always be learnt with their respective article. If you don't know the article, you will have to guess. For German and French this does not work very well, but the Spanish language has some useful rules and a finite list of exceptions to them. Most word endings have a gender associated with them:

Masculine -o , -i , -y , -j , -l , -n , -r , -u , -s , -z , -e , -w
Feminine -a , -d , -ión , -umbre , -triz
Common -ista

Some of these rules are more useful than others. There are a lot of Spanish nouns ending in -o, -a or -ión and a comparatively short list of exceptions. Some word endings are just very rare in Spanish. There may be two nouns ending in -w (el bungalow, el dhow) and both of them are masculine, so you can make a rule out of that, but what's the point? Others endings have whole classes of exceptions, there are only few feminine nouns in -n except a legion ending in -ión. The point is, don't waste your time arguing about what should be considered a rule and what not. Just remember the rules which make sense to you. Forget about the rest.

Feminine nouns ending in -o

Note that some of these words are just abbreviations of regular words such as la discoteca, la fotografía, la motocicleta.
la disco° the disco
la foto the photo
la mano the hand
la modelo* the femalo model
la moto the motorcycle
la nao the boat (specific boat type)
la radio the radio
la reo* the female criminal
la seo the cathedral, Christian temple
la soprano* the female soprano
la testigo* the female witness
* equivalent masculine noun exists
° masculine noun with different meaning exists

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Feminine nouns ending in -i

la diócesi the diocese
la metrópoli the metropolis

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Feminine nouns ending in -y

la grey the flock
la ley the law

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Feminine nouns ending in -j

There are only few Spanish words ending in -j, most of them are of Arabic origin and masculine.
la troj the granary
la contrarreloj the time trial
la sij* the (female) sikh
* equivalent masculine form exists

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Feminine nouns ending in -l

la cal the lime
la capital the capital (town)
la cárcel the prison
la col the cabbage
la miel the honey
la piel the skin
la sal the salt
la señal the signal
la vocal the vowel

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Feminine nouns ending in -n

Excluding all nouns ending in -ión.
la cargazón the load
la crin the horsehair, the mane
la desazón the ailment
la imagen the image
la razón the reason
la sinrazón the injustice
la sartén the frying-pan
la sien the (anatomic) temple

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Feminine nouns ending in -r

la flor the flower
la labor the work
la segur the axe

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Feminine nouns ending in -s

la bilis the bile
la crisis the crisis
la elipsis the ellipsis
la lis the fleur-de-lis
la mies the crop
la perífrasis the periphrase
la tos the cough

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Feminine nouns ending in -u

la tribu the tribe

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Feminine nouns ending in -z

Excluding all nouns ending in -triz
la codorniz the quail
la cerviz the cervix
la cruz the cross
la coz the back-kick
la luz the light
la nariz the nose
la nuez the nut, Adam's apple
la pez° the tar, pitch
la voz the voice
la raíz the root
la tez the complexion

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Feminine nouns ending in -e

Excluding all nouns in -umbre
el ave the bird, fowl
la barbarie the barbarity
la base the basis
la calle the street
la carne the meat
la fiebre the fever
la fuente the fountain
el hambre the hunger
la mente the mind
la noche the night
la parte the part
la quiete the quiet
la sangre the blood
la serpiente the serpent
la torre the tower

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Masculine nouns ending in -a

Including some nouns ending in -ista. These nouns often have a feminine counterpart and belong to the common group. They usually refer to professions or other groups of people.
el albacea* the executor
el aroma the aroma
el atleta* the athlete
el aristócrata* the aristocrat
el artista* the artist
el astronauta* the astronaut
el Belga* the male Belgian
el Canadá Canada
el clime the climate
el cólera° cholera
el cometa° the comet
el comentarista* the commentator
el cortaplumas the penknife
el cura the priest
el dentista* the dentist
el día the day
el diagrama the diagram
el dilema the dilemma
el diploma the diploma
el drama the drama
el enigma the enigma
el epigrama the epigram
el esquema the outline, diagram
el Etna† the Etna
el fantasma the ghost
el florista* the florist
el gimnasta* the male gymnast
el gorila the gorilla
el guardacostas the coastal vessel
el guardia°* the policeman, male guard
el guía°* the male guide
el homicida* the murder
el idioma the language
el idiota* the male idiot
el indígena* the indigenous male
el izquierdista* the leftist
el jurista* the jurist
el mañana° the future
el mapa the map
el morfema the morpheme
el oficinista* the office worker
el panorama the panorama, outlook
el papa° the pope
el paraguas the umbrella
el pijama the pyjamas
el planeta the planet
el plasma the plasma
el poema the poem
el poeta* the poet
el policía°* the policeman
el problema the problem
el profeta* the prophet
el programa the program
el quechua the Quechua language
el reúma the rheumatism
el síntoma the symptom, sign
el sistema the system
el sofá the sofa
el suicida* the male suicidal person
el tanga the thong
el tecnócrata the technocrat
el telegrama the telegram
el tema° the theme, subject
el teorema the theorem
el tequila the tequila
el tirabala the pop-gun
el tranvía the streetcar
el trauma the trauma
el turista* the tourist
el Volga† the Volga
el yoga yoga
† Holds for all rivers and mountains ending in -a.
* equivalent feminine noun exists
° feminine noun with different meaning exists

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Masculine nouns ending in -d

el adalid the warrior or chieftain
el ardid the trick
el ataúd the coffin
el césped the turf, lawn
el sud the south

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Masculine nouns ending in -ión

el embrión the embryo
el gorrión the sparrow
el morrión the morion (type of helmet)
el sarampión the measles

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Masculine nouns ending in -umbre

el azumbre old measure of volume, about two liters

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Double-gendered nouns with equivalent meaning (género común)

Excluding all nouns ending in -ista
el/la albacea the executor/executrix
el/la Belga the Belgian
el/la espía the spy
el/la idiota the idiot
el/la indígena the native
el/la mártir the martyr
el/la reo the criminal
el/la culpable the culprit
el/la gimnasta the gymnast
el/la homicida the murder/murderess
el/la sij the sikh
el/la suicida the suicide/suicidal person
el/la testigo the witness
Also all other nouns of nationality ending with -a

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Double-gendered nouns with different meaning (ambiguo)

Spanish Noun Masculine Translation Feminine Translation
el/la batería the male drummer the battery, the female drummer
el/la busca the pager the search
el/la capital the investment the capital (city), the capital letter
el/la cólera the cholera the anger
el/la coma the coma the comma
el/la cometa the comet the kite
el/la corte the cut, blade the court (justice)
el/la cura the (Catholic) priest the cure
el/la delta the delta (river) the delta (Greek letter)
el/la disco the disc the disco, club
el/la doblez the fold, grease the duplicity, double-dealing
el/la editorial the editorial the publishing business
el/la escucha the male guard the female guard, the act of listening
el/la final the end the final game of a tournament
el/la frente the front the forehead
el/la guardia the policeman the protection, custody, guard, police force, policewoman
el/la guía the male guide the female guide, guidebook
el/la mañana the future the morning
el/la margen the margin the bank (of a river)
el/la moral the blackberry bush the morale, morality
el/la orden the order (law & order)the (religious) order
el/la ordenanza the (military) order the official person, regulation
el/la papa the pope the potato
el/la parte the document the portion
el/la pendiente the earring the slope
el/la pez the fish the tar, pitch
el/la policía the policeman the policewoman, police force
el/la radio the radius, radium the radio
el/la tema the subject the obsession
el/la terminal the electronic terminal the shipping terminal
el/la trompeta the male trumpeter the female trumpeter, trumpet
el/la vista the male custom officer the female custom officer, the view
el/la vocal the male committee member the female committee member, vocal

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Feminine nouns using el

el agua the water
el ama the woman of the house
el asma asthma
el arca the ark
el hambre hunger
el hampa the underworld
el arpa the harp
el águila the eagle
el ave the bird, fowl

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Feminine nouns not using el though they should

la áraba the Arabic woman
la Haya the Hague
la a the letter A
la hache the letter H
la haz the face

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