All nouns in the Spanish language are classified as either masculine and feminine.
This is almost purely a grammatical category. The gender of a noun typically has nothing to do with the physical characteristics of the object it describes. The fact that the noun el libro (book) is masculine and the noun la mesa (table) is feminine, doesn’t imply anything about the manliness of books compared to tables.
The exception is nouns describing people: feminine nouns are used to describe women and masculine to describe men. For example, la mujer (woman) is feminine and el hombre (man) is masculine.
There are a few general rules you can follow to determine if a noun is feminine or masculine.
Most masculine nouns in Spanish end in –o (–os in the plural form). An –o ending can indicate that a person or animal is male or that an object or an idea is grammatically masculine: el fuego (fire), el chico (boy), el libro (book).
Masculine nouns also include nouns ending in:
- -e, e.g. el perfume (perfume)
- an accented vowel (á, é, í, ó, ú), e.g. el ají (chili pepper)
- the suffix -ma, e.g. el idioma (language)
- a consonant other than d, z, e.g. el árbol (tree)
Most feminine nouns end in –a (–as in the plural form). Ending in an –a indicates that a person or animal is female or that an object or an idea is grammatically feminine: la taza (cup), la chica (girl), la playa (beach).
Feminine nouns also include nouns ending in
- the consonants d, z, e.g. la felicidad (happiness), la paz (peace),
- the suffix –ión, e.g. la religion (religion).
There are, of course, exceptions to these rules. They make things a little more confusing, but after some time and with sufficient practice you will easily remember them well. For example, there are nouns ending in –a that are masculine, like el planeta (planet), or el agua (water) or nouns ending in –o that are feminine, like la mano (hand).
As for nouns describing people, there are often pairs of masculine and feminine nouns, describing, say, family members or professions: el hijo – la hija (son, daughter), el maestro – la maestra (teacher). It is also true for some nouns describing animals: el gato – la gata (male cat, female cat).
It is important to know the gender of a noun to be able to use it properly together with the right articles and adjectives, which can also be masculine or feminine.
The articles in Spanish match the nouns in gender: un movil (a mobile phone), el movil (the mobile phone), unos moviles (a few mobile phones), los moviles (the mobile phones), una foto (a photograph), la foto (the protograph), unas fotas (a few photographs), las fotas (the photographs).
Spanish adjectives follow the same rules – they must match the noun in gender and number. Just like nouns, many feminine adjectives end in –a and most masculine adjectives end in –o (–as and –os for the plural forms). For example, una chica bonita (a pretty girl) or los chicos altos (the tall boys).