Spanish Nouns for Beginners: A Complete Guide to Learning and Using Spanish Nouns

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Gender of Spanish Nouns

Spanish nouns are either masculine or feminine and this has major consequences for the shape of any adjectives, articles or pronouns that may be associated with a noun.

The gender of nouns is not related to the actual gender of something, except when the nouns refer to human beings or to a few well-known animals. There are few absolutely foolproof rules for predicting the gender of the other nouns in the language, so the best rule is to learn every noun with its definite article, which will soon become instinctive.

Masculine nouns in Spanish

If a noun is masculine, it uses masculine articles for the and a/some - el, los, and un, unos. Articles and nouns in Spanish always match with a few rare exceptions covered below.

Feminine nouns in Spanish

If a Spanish noun in feminine it uses feminine articles for the and a/some - la, las and una, unas. As with masculine nouns, there are some rare exceptions to this rule.

What is the difference between Spanish masculine and feminine nouns?

It must be remembered that the grammatical gender of nouns referring to objects and abstractions is basically arbitrary and has nothing to with their meaning. The fact that el árbol tree is masculine in Spanish is arbitrary: ‘tree’ is feminine in the closely-related languages Portuguese and French.

The following generalizations can be made:

How can you determine the gender of Spanish nouns about people?

Nouns referring to men or boys are masculine, and nouns referring to women or girls are feminine:

  • el hombre man
  • la mujer woman
  • el modelo male model
  • la modelo female model
  • el Juez male judge
  • la Juez female judge

What Spanish nouns apply to people of either sex?

There are only a few Spanish words that are of invariable gender and apply to human beings of either sex, e.g.:

  • el bebé baby
  • el genio genius
  • el personaje character (in movie, story etc.)
  • la estrella star (in movies, etc.)
  • la persona person
  • la víctima victim

Do animal names change gender in Spanish?

A few domestic and well-known wild animals have special forms to denote the female of the species:

  • el caballo horse
  • la yegua mare
  • el toro bull
  • la vaca cow
  • el león lion
  • la leona lioness

Apart from those already mentioned and few others like the following:

  • el lobo/la loba wolf/she-wolf
  • el gato/la gata tom-cat/she- cat
  • el perro/la perra dog/bitch

...the names of animals are of fixed arbitrary gender. The gender of these nouns must be learned separately from the dictionary:

  • la ardilla squirrel
  • el avestruz ostrich
  • la culebra grass snake
  • el lagarto lizard
  • la langosta lobster
  • el salmón salmon

The invariable words macho male and hembra female can be added if necessary:

  • el salmón hembra the female salmon
  • las ardillas macho the male squirrels

How do you determine the gender of a noun in Spanish?

Nouns referring to inanimate things (and to plants) are of fixed gender. The gender of these words cannot be deduced from the meaning of the word: compare él cuarto (masculine) and la habitación (feminine) which both mean room.

However, the ending of a Spanish noun that does not refer to a human being often gives a clue to the likely gender of a word:

Nouns ending in -o are usually masculine, e.g. él libro book, el hombro shoulder. Common exceptions are:

  • la foto photo
  • la libido libido
  • la mano hand
  • la moto motor-cycle
  • la radio radio (in Spain and Argentina, but masculine in northern Latin America)

Nouns ending in -r are masculine, except la flor flower, la coliflor cauliflower, la labor labor/(Brit. labour):

  • el bar bar
  • el calor heat
  • el color color/colour
  • el valor value

Nouns ending in a stressed vowel are masculine:

  • (el) Canadá Canada
  • el bisturí scalpel
  • el tisú tissue
  • el sofá sofa/couch

Nouns ending in -aje are masculine:

  • el viaje journey
  • el equipaje baggage
  • el paisaje landscape

Nouns ending in -ie are feminine:

  • la intemperie bad weather
  • la serie series

Other nouns ending in -e are unpredictable and must be learned separately:

  • el arte (masculine) art
  • las artes (feminine) the arts
  • la fuente fountain
  • el puente bridge
  • la parte part
  • el parte bulletin

Nouns ending in -a are feminine, with the important exceptions listed at (a) through (c) below:

  • la cama bed
  • la casa house
  • la mariposa butterfly
  • la pera pear

Exceptions:

(a): Some common Spanish nouns:

  • el alerta alert
  • el cometa comet
  • el día day
  • el insecticida insecticide
  • el mañana the morrow/tomorrow (cf. la mañana morning)
  • el mapa map
  • el mediodía noon
  • el planeta planet
  • el tranvía street-car/tram
  • el vodka vodka
  • el yoga yoga

(b) Spanish compound nouns consisting of a verb + a noun:

  • el montacargas freight elevator/service lift
  • el guardarropa check room/cloakroom

(c) Words ending in -ma that are of Greek origin. These are usually words that have a faintly technical or ‘intellectual’ character, e.g.

  • el aroma aroma
  • el clima climate
  • el coma coma
  • el crucigrama crossword puzzle
  • el diagrama diagram
  • el dilema dilemma
  • el diploma diploma
  • el dogma dogma
  • el enigma enigma
  • el esquema scheme
  • el fantasma ghost
  • el panorama panorama
  • el pijama pajamas/pyjamas (feminine in Latin America)
  • el plasma plasma
  • el poema poem
  • el problema problem
  • el programa program/programme
  • el síntoma symptom
  • el sistema system
  • el telegrama telegram
  • el tema theme/topic/subject

Words that end in -ma and are not of Greek origin are feminine, e.g. la cama bed, la forma shape, la lima lime (the fruit) or file (i.e. for wood or fingernails). Two words that are of Greek origin but are nevertheless feminine are la lágrima tear (i.e. the sort that one weeps) and la estratagema stratagem.

Spanish nouns ending in -tad, -dad and -tud are feminine:

  • la ciudad city
  • la libertad liberty
  • la verdad truth
  • la virtud virtue

Spanish nouns ending in -ción are feminine:

  • la intuición intuition
  • la nación nation
  • la reproducción reproduction

Nouns ending in -is are feminine:

la tesis thesis

la crisis crisis

la apendicitis appendicitis

Exceptions: él análisis analysis, el énfasis emphasis, el éxtasis ecstasy, él oasis oasis, los paréntesis brackets.

Feminine words beginning with stressed a- or ha- take the masculine definite article in the singular despite always being feminine in gender: él agina water, el alma soul.

Is there a difference in the meaning of Spanish nouns according to gender?

Some Spanish words have different meanings according to gender. Here is a list of Spanish nouns that change when preceded by el or la :

Masculine Feminine
el capital money la capital capital city
el cólera cholera la cólera wrath/anger
el coma coma la coma comma
el cometa comet la cometa kite
el corte cut la corte the Court
el cura priest la cura cure
el editorial editorial la editorial publishing house
el frente front (military) la frente forehead
el guardia policeman la guardia guard
el mañana tomorrow la mañana morning
el margen margin la margen riverbank
el orden order la orden order (command or religious order)
el papa Pope la papa potato (Lat. Am.)
el parte document la parte portion
el pendiente earring la pendiente slope
el pez físh la pez pitch or tar
el policía policeman la policia police force
el radio radius la radio radio

What are the forms of Spanish Nouns referring to females?

The following remarks apply to nouns referring to female human beings and to those few animals for which there is a special word denoting the female.

There are special words for the female of some persons and animals:

Spanish English
el actor la actriz actor actress
el alcalde la alcaldesa mayor mayoress
el caballo la yegua stallion mare
el cabrío la cabra billy-goat she-goat
el carnero la oveja ram ewe (sheep)
el conde la condesa count countess
el duque la duquesa duke duchess
el emperador la emperatriz emperor empress
el gallo la gallina rooster hen (chicken)
el héroe la heroína hero heroine
el león la leona lion lioness
el marido la mujer husband wife or woman
el padre la madre father mother
el príncipe la princesa prince princess
el rey la reina king queen
el toro la vaca bull cow
el varón la hembra male female
el yemo la nuera son-in-law daughter-in-law

With the exception of la oveja sheep/ewe, la gallina chicken/hen, la cabra goat/she-goat and el toro bull, the masculine form of words referring to humans and animals also refers to mixed groups or the species in general:

  • los reyes kings/the king and queen/kings and queens
  • los hermanos brothers/brothers and sisters
  • los padres fathers/parents
  • los tíos uncles/uncles and aunts
  • los zorros male foxes/foxes

With the exceptions shown, words referring to females are formed from the words referring to males in various ways, according to the ending:

-és -esa:

  • el francés—la francesa Frenchman/woman
  • el Inglés—la inglesa Englishman/woman

-o -a:

  • el abogado—la abogada lawyer
  • el americano—la americana American
  • el cerdo pig—la cerda sow
  • el gitano gypsy—la gitana gypsy woman
  • el perro dog—la perra bitch
  • el psicólogo—la psicóloga psychologist

Exceptions: el/la miembro member, el/la modelo model, el/la soldado soldier, el/la piloto pilot, racing driver.

Varón is a polite word for male. Macho is used for animals and, pejoratively, for the type of man who tries to dominate women.

Las vacas = cows. Cattle is él ganado vacuno. El ganado includes cows, horses, sheep, donkeys and pigs, and can be made specific with adjectives like caballar (horses), lanar (sheep), menor (sheep, goats, pigs), etc. These terms are rather technical in style.

-a no change:

  • el artista—la artista artist
  • el belga—la belga Belgian

-i no change:

  • el iraní—la iraní Iranian
  • el marroquí—la marroquí Moroccan

-e usually no change, but a few change -e to -a (although the invariable forms are common and are more formal in style) :

  • el estudiante—la estudiante student
  • el amante—la amante lover
  • el principiante—la principianta beginner

-ón -ona:

  • el preguntón—la preguntona inquisitive person
  • el campeón—la campeona champion
  • el león—la leona lioness

Some words denoting professions tend to be invariable in formal language, especially in Spain, but they may form their feminine with -a in informal speech, although usage is at present in flux. The formal form is safer and is felt to be more respectful.

How to make nouns plural in Spanish

The plural of Spanish nouns is formed as follows:

Nouns ending in an unstressed vowel or in stressed e add -s.

Nouns ending in a stressed vowel other than -e add -es:

  • el iraní Iranian / los iraníes Iranians
  • el marroquí Moroccan / los marroquíes Moroccans
  • el tabú taboo / los tabúes taboos

Exceptions:

  • el menú menu / los menús menus
  • el papá father / los papás fathers
  • el sofá sofá / los sofás sofas
  • el tisú paper tissue / los tisús tissues
  • la mamá mother / las mamás mothers

There is a growing tendency in informal spoken language to make the plural of all nouns ending in a stressed vowel by simply adding -s.

Nouns ending in a consonant add -es:

  • el inglés Englishman / los ingleses Englishmen
  • la nación nation / las naciones nations
  • la red net, network / las redes nets, networks

As the examples show, an accent written on a vowel disappears after -es is added, unless the vowel is i or ú:

  • el baúl trunk (for storage) / los baúles trunks
  • el pais country / los países countries

Nouns whose singular ends in -en require an accent on the second vowel from last in the plural to show that the stress has not shifted:

  • la imagen image / las imágenes images
  • el origen origin / los orígenes origins
  • la virgen virgen / las vírgenes virgins

Many recent foreign borrowings add -s in the plural even though they end with a consonant:

  • el bit bit (in computing) / los bits bits
  • el iceberg iceberg / los icebergs the icebergs
  • el show show / los shows shows

Which Spanish nouns do not change in the plural?

The following Spanish nouns do not change in the plural:

(a) Nouns whose singular ends in an unstressed vowel + -s:

  • la crisis crisis / las crisis crises
  • el lunes Monday / los lunes Mondays
  • el miércoles Wednesday / los miércoles Wednesdays
  • la tesis thesis / las tesis theses

(b) Nouns ending in -x:

el fax fax / los fax faxes

(c) A few foreign words which must be learned separately:

  • el déficit deficit / los déficit deficits
  • el láser laser / los láser lasers

In the case of compound nouns consisting of two nouns, only the first noun is pluralized:

  • el año luz light year / los años luz light years
  • el hombre rana frogman / los hombres rana frogmen
  • el perro guía guide-dog / los perros guía guide-dogs
  • la ciudad estado city-state / las ciudades estado city-states
  • la idea clave key idea / las ideas clave key ideas

One important exception is el país miembrolos países miembros member country/member countries.

The following plurals are irregular:

Three nouns show a shift in the position of the accent:

  • el carácter character / los caracteres characters
  • el espécimen specimen / los especímenes specimens
  • el régimen regimes / los regímenes regimes

The plural of the word lord lord (British title) is los lores lords.

Collective Nouns in Spanish

Collective Nouns are treated as singular, whereas familiar English often treats them as plural:

  • La minoría votó por el partido nacionalista The minority voted for the nationalist party
  • La mayoría es cristiana The majority are Christian
  • El público se está irritando The audience are/is getting irritated
  • El pueblo está descontento The people are discontented
  • La policía es... The police are...

This applies even to collective numerals :

  • Un billón de pesetas fue invertido A billion pesetas were invested
  • La primera treintena the first thirty or so

However, plural agreement is optionally possible when a singular collective noun and a plural non-collective noun are joined by de:

  • Una treintena de personas perdieron (or perdió) la vida About thirty people lost their lives
  • La mayoría de los indígenas son católicos The majority of the natives are Catholics

A billion is a million million in Spain. The American billion (1000 million) is much used in Latin America.

FAQs

What is an abstract noun in Spanish?

Spanish abstract nouns refer to objects that do not have a material existence. These words are often used in Spanish for concepts such as "love" or "happiness."

Abstract nouns are words that describe something that cannot be seen. Abstract nouns can also be called “non-physical, nonspecific, or non-material”.

They are often abstract in the sense of not being easily described and intangible. They can be used to describe an idea, a feeling, a sensation - anything you cannot see and may not be able to fully understand or explain. Some examples of abstract nouns would be: love, bravery, peace-of-mind, anger.

What is a concrete noun in Spanish?

Concrete nouns are the nouns that represent something that is physically present in the world. In Spanish, these words are usually preceded by a definite article, such as el or la. In Spanish a concrete noun is any object or creature that can be seen and touched.

Concreteness is the opposite of abstractness. The concrete nouns are things that you can see, touch, taste, hear or smell. One good example of a concrete noun could be "hamburger."

How can you tell the difference between a common and proper noun in Spanish?

To tell the difference between a common and proper noun in Spanish: use the article in front of it. If it is preceded by el, la, los, las (the), it's most likely a proper noun. If it is preceded by un, una, unos, unas (a, some), it's most likely a common noun.

In Spanish, a noun is either common or proper. Proper nouns are specific to the person, place, group, or thing that is being talked about. Common nouns are more general and can be used to speak about more than one person, place, group, or thing.

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