This is lesson 3 in Crashed Culture’s Spanish Grammar series.
The Masculine and Feminine in Spanish: Irregular Nouns
Thanks to our earlier conversation regarding Spanish nouns, we’re already familiar with the masculine and feminine in Spanish, and the idea that the Spanish language puts lots and lots of emphasis on gender when it comes to everyday speech. In that post, we saw how the Spanish language usually tells us if a noun is masculine or feminine. But what about irregular nouns?
There are a few examples of patterns where the masculine and feminine in Spanish isn’t because of ‘o’ or ‘a’ endings. Not all nouns end in vowels, for example, so we need to know what consonant endings mean. I mean, at the very least, you can just use rote memorization, plugging a note on which gender the noun is into your Anki deck, but there’s another way.
When the masculine and feminine in Spanish aren’t regular
So, if you come across a noun that doesn’t end in a vowel, and it doesn’t have ‘el’ or ‘la’ behind it, there are ways to figure out the gender for yourself. These, for example, are acknowledged patterns in the Spanish language, so all you gotta do is familiarize yourself with them.
Irregular feminine endings
Let’s start with the irregular feminine endings. These consist of:
Any and all of the Spanish nouns that you come across ending in these collections of letters will be feminine. Therefore, these words are feminine, even though they don’t end in an ‘a’:
La explosión (the explosion)
La discusión (the discussion)
La emoción (the emotion)
La lección (the lesson)
La costumbre (the tradition)
La certidumbre (the certainty)
La universidad (the university)
La amistad (the friendship)
La luz (the light)
La nariz (the nose)
Irregular masculine nouns
There aren’t quite as many examples of irregular masculine Spanish nouns fortunately, so don’t get too wrapped up in this! Look out for the following endings:
- consonant other than -d or -z
- accented vowel
Following this, these words are all masculine, even though they don’t end in an ‘o’:
El idioma (the language)
El problema (the problem)
El perfume (the fragrance)
El maquillaje (the makeup)
El rumor (the rumor)
El árbol (the tree)
El ají (the chili pepper)
El colibrí (the hummingbird)
Irregular gender of nouns in Spanish examples: rulebreakers
Unfortunately, even with all of these perfectly great rules for irregular nouns in Spanish, there are still examples of irregular noun genders that don’t follow any rules except their own. And, because there’s no rhyme or reason for it, it will take a little bit of straight memorization on your end.
So, without further ado, here are some examples of nouns in Spanish that are just pure rulebreakers when it comes to gender. Don’t get confused – always look to the el or la to confirm a noun’s gender!
La mano (the hand)
La disco* (the club)
La foto* (the photo)
La modelo (the model)
El mapa (the map)
El día (the day)
El agua (the water)
El planeta (the planet)
*These words are shortened versions of words that are regular gendered nouns, ie. discoteca and fotografía
When noun gender depends on the person
Finally finally finally, after all that, we do have one more rule. Sometimes the gender of the noun depends entirely on the gender of the person. This is the case with professions, like atleta or dentista; they may end in an ‘a’, but a male dentist is still el dentista. It’s a thing, I swear.
El/la artista (the artist)
El/la dentista (the dentist)
El/la periodista (the journalist)
El/la telefonista (the operator)
El/la joven (the youth)
El/la estudiante (the student)
El/la doctor (the doctor)
El/la víctima (the victim)
Masculine and feminine nouns in Spanish: irregulars
That’s all, folks! If learning to recognize that “normal” Spanish nouns that end in ‘o’ and ‘a’ are Spanish 101, this info is Spanish 102, which means you’re taking baby steps to conquer Spanish grammar. To summarize:
- Irregular feminine endings: -sión, -ción, -umbre, d, z
- Irregular masculine endings: -ma, -e, consonants besides d & z, accented vowels
- Nouns that are types of people do not change based on gender
- Some nouns are still rule-breakers, plain and simple.
Ready to move on?
Check out the next lesson: how to make nouns plural