Gender in Spanish Grammar – What You Need to Know

Warning! English speakers! Spanish grammar has two genders, masculine and feminine. It is super important to learn about the gender concept, because all connected words will change to match it. Some words have a gender, others don’t.

How do you say gender in Spanish?

The English word for gender is translated “género” in Spanish grammar. Here are some more Spanish words you’ll need to talk about Spanish gender:

The Genders in Spanish

género — gender
sustantivo — noun
nombre — noun
masculino — masculine
feminino — feminine

Grammar gender or lexical gender has nothing to do with being male or female, usually. Nouns are randomly assigned one gender, either masculine or feminine. This applies to every person, place, thing, event or idea. Also, other words carry gender marks too.

two open boxes one with letter m and other with letter f

Spanish Gender Rules

Like most Spanish grammar concepts, gender has its own set of rules and exceptions. The most important rules are labelling words masculine or feminine and gender agreement.

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Why does Spanish have gender?

The only rock-solid noun gender rule is:

Masculine and Feminine in Spanish

Every noun is masculine or feminine. Adjectives, pronouns and verbs pick up their gender from the noun they connect with. Best practice is to learn the gender of nouns for all new words. The easiest way is to look the word up in the dictionary.

Noun Gender

Every noun is either masculine or feminine. This label is randomly assigned. At times it does match the gender of humans and animals. Some do follow a pattern of ending with the suffix -o or -a.

On the other hand the exceptions are numerous. Here are some noun examples that follow the rules.

Masculine Words in Spanish

Identified with the article “el” or “los”. Some masculine nouns end in -o, -ma.

tiempo — time
coche — car
vestido — dress
libro — book

Feminine Words in Spanish

Identified with the article “la” or “las”. Some feminine nouns end with suffix -a, -tad, -tud, -dad, -ción, -sión, -ción or -umbre.

pared — wall
hora — hour
persona — person
vacación — vacation

A few general rules can help you identify whether a noun is masculine or feminine. However, it’s best to verify gender accurately with a dictionary.

Gender Agreement in Sentences

Nouns determine the gender and number of other connected parts of speech, such as articles, adjectives, pronouns and verbs.

Article (Determiner) Gender

There are four determiners all have carry the gender from the noun.

Definite articles gender

el — the, masculine singular
la — the, feminine singular
los — the, masculine plural
las — the, feminine plural

Gender Neutral Article

lo — the, gender neutral (used with adjectives)

The articles are a special kind of adjective. The gender and number of the article match the noun it describes.

Adjective Agreement

An adjective describes a noun.

adjetivo — adjective

How does gender and number effect an adjective?

An adjective matches the gender and number of the noun it describes. Here are examples of adjective gender agreement:

el hijo contento — the happy son
la hija contenta — the happy daughter
los hijos contentos — the happy sons
las hijas contentas — the happy daughters

As you can see, in each of these examples the gender and number of the noun effects the gender and number of the adjective. However, some adjectives stay the same for both. There are exceptions.

Pronoun Gender

A pronoun replaces a noun to avoid repetition. Unlike the other parts of speech, it has a third gender called neuter.

Neutro — neuter

Gender Neutral Pronouns

lo — it
ello — it
esto — this
eso — that
aquello — that

Lists of Masculine and Feminine Spanish Nouns

Within the noun gender concept, two groups exist – biological gender and randomly assigned gender. Specific examples of masculine and feminine nouns are listed.

Biological Gender

In contrast, humans and animals biological gender coincides with the lexical gender. Males are masculine. Females are feminine. They are distinguished as follows:

Male and female in Spanish

varon — male, masculine
hembra — female, feminine

Human Biological Gender

  1. ​el hombre
  2. niño
  3. anciano
  4. jefe
  5. presidente
  1. mujer
  2. niña
  3. anciana
  4. jefa
  5. presidenta

Above, the biological gender determined the grammatical gender. In some cases, an entirely different word is used for each gender. Otherwise, the suffix changes for masculine or feminine endings.

Animal Biological Gender

  1. gato
  2. gallo
  3. toro
  4. caballo
  1. gata
  2. gallina
  3. vaca
  4. yegua

Two things happen. First, some animals change the suffix. Second, some animals have two are completely different words between male and female.

Common Nouns

With this special group, both male and female use the exact same word. The gender is only identified by a connected word (a determiner). These labels carry the gender. Here, the label is an article (el or la):

  1. artista
  2. bebé
  3. joven
  4. testigo
  5. idiota
  6. tigre
  1. artista
  2. bebé
  3. joven
  4. testigo
  5. idiota
  6. tigre

Epicene Nouns

Unlike others, this group uses the same word and gender label for both genders.

All are masculine
  • rata
  • águila
  • ratón
  • avestruz

That’s right, even females have the masculine label. After all, who really know whether that rat is male or female? The gender is generalized and defaults to masculine.

Noun gender exceptions

To show how wacky the gender assignments are, here is a list of nouns that don’t follow the rules:

  • vestido
  • mapa
  • amor
  • día 
  • fortaleza
  • mano
  • radio
  • foto

As you can see, the masculine and feminine traits are irrelevant for gender assignment. There are some patterns with word endings and some rule breakers. That’s why it’s best to remember the only rock-solid rule and strategy #1 below.

Ambiguous Nouns

Plus, some nouns have two genders. Each gender has a different meaning. Or one noun can have a different gender for a different geographical region.

  1. capital
  2. cometa
  3. pez
  4. corte
  5. cura
  6. mar
  1. capital
  2. cometa
  3. pez
  4. corte
  5. cura
  6. mar

Is this noun masculine or feminine?

Let’s start with the most important strategy first:

Strategy #1 Spanish Dictionary Identifies Gender

The only absolutely accurate way to determine noun gender is to use the dictionary.

Every noun is identified by masculine and feminine in dictionary definitions. The abbreviations are m. for masculine and f. for feminine. Here is a sample definition from a Spanish dictionary:

picture of spanish dictionary entry with arrows pointing to m. masculino and f. feminino

The sample entry below shows a noun that is ambiguous. Cometa has two meanings that change with the gender. For the people with no Spanish reading experience: cometa is a kite or a comet.

Another option is to use an online dictionary. My favorite online dictionary is

Strategy #2 Always Get the Gender

From the start, it is absolutely necessary to learn the gender for every new noun you add to your vocabulary.

As you build your vocabulary with focused effort, the gender is an essential fact to include with the definition. Vocabulary lists or books gather words and arrange them by topic. Usually, they include the article (el or la) with the word to identify gender.

  • el is masculine
  • la is feminine

Strategy #3 Guess Noun Gender with a Rule

The letter endings are useful to predict the gender of an unknown noun. 

The gender rules are not accurate for building vocabulary. But at times they help to make a wholehearted attempt to be grammatically correct.

Noun Gender Rules

By default, nouns are masculine, unless assigned to be feminine.

With this general rule about 96 out of 100 nouns will be correct with this guess. The word’s ending indicates the gender.

Nouns ending with suffix

-o are masculine-a are feminine

Later, for more precision, add these endings:

Masculine nouns end with letters -s-o-n -e-l -ma-r

Feminine nouns end with suffixes -a -ción -sión, -tad, -umbre

These rules are the reason why some nouns are considered exceptions. Truly, the nouns are not exceptions. In fact, the rules are not always reliable. Do not use the word endings to identify gender for new vocabulary. Because you will make errors.

Strategy #4 Study the Rule Breakers

Include noun exceptions in your vocabulary studies.

Since many nouns do not follow the rules, it’s important to learn the unpredictable ones. Here is a list of rule breakers.

Really, these words are nouns with specific genders that existed before rules. However, since they are so different from typical patterns, grammatical errors occur. Train your brain with the correct gender.

More about Learning Spanish Grammar

How to do grammar analysis

Spanish Nouns – Forms and Examples


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