Spanish Gender and Articles

In Spanish, unlike English, all nouns (persons, places or things) are either masculine or feminine. The article (‘a’, ‘an’ or ‘the’ in English) must change according to whether the noun that follows is masculine or feminine. It must also agree with the number of the noun – whether it is singular or plural:

Definite article (‘the’) Indefinite article (‘a’ or ‘an’)
el masculine singular un masculine singular
la feminine singular una feminine singular
los masculine plural unos masculine plural
las feminine plural unas feminine plural

Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules to tell you which gender a noun should be and most simply need to be learnt.

However, here are some guidelines to show you some common patterns.

Nouns denoting male people and animals are usually but not always masculine:

el hombre the man
el toro the bull
un enfermero a (male) nurse

Nouns denoting female people and animals are usually but not always feminine:

la niña the girl
la vaca the cow
una enfermera a (female) nurse

Some nouns are masculine or feminine depending on the sex of the particular person to whom they refer:

el/un médico the/a (male) doctor
la/una médico the/a (female) doctor
el/un belga the/a (male) Belgian
la/una belga the/a (female) Belgian (NB nationalities are not capitalized in Spanish, but nations are.)

A noun ending in –ista can be masculine or feminine, depending on whether it refers to a male or female:

el artista the (male) artist
la artista the (female) artist
el pianista the (male) pianist
la pianista the (female) pianist

Similarly, a noun ending in –nte can be masculine or feminine, depending on whether you are talking about a male or female:

el estudiante the (male) student
la estudiante the (female) student
el presidente the (male) president
la presidente the (female) president

Some nouns can refer to men or women but have only one gender, whether the person is male or female:

la/una persona the/a person
la/una víctima the/a victim
la/una estrella the/a star

Although you’re likely to be understood by Spanish speakers if you use the wrong genders, there are some instances where it could cause a great deal of confusion. A few nouns change their meaning radically, depending on whether they are masculine or feminine, so they’re well worth learning. Here are some of the more common examples:

Masculine Feminine
el capital capital (money) la capital capital (city)
un corte a cut una corte a court (royal)
un cura a priest una cura a cure (medical)
el moral the mulberry tree la moral morals
el papa the Pope la papa the potato
un policía a policeman la policía the police (force)
el radio the radius la radio the radio