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1.10: Los sustantivos y los artículos

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    Nouns and articles


    Nouns identify people, animals, places, and things. In Spanish, all nouns have gender (masculine or feminine), and number (singular or plural).

    Nouns referring to people who are males or females are easy to categorize by gender:

    Masculine English Feminine English
    el hombre man la mujer woman
    el chico boy la chica girl
    el muchacho boy la muchacha girl
    el profesor professor la profesora professor
    el señor Mr.; sir la señora Mrs.; Madam

    Some nouns referring to people have identical masculine and feminine forms. The article indicates the gender of these words:

    Masculine English Feminine English
    el joven young man la joven young woman
    el estudiante student (male) la estudiante student (female)
    el turista tourist (male) la turista tourist (female)

    Some nouns referring to animals by default will use either the masculine or feminine definite article ("el" or "la"). In this case, to specify whether we are referring to a male or female "animal", we need to use the words "macho" (male), and "hembra" (female):

    Default English Default English
    el chimpancé chimpanzee la abeja bee
    el canguro kangaroo la araña spider
    el gusano worm la ardilla squirrel
    el gorila gorilla la ballena whale
    el pez fish la mariposa butterfly
    el rinoceronte rhinoceros la serpiente serpent
    el sapo toad la jirafa giraffe
    el tiburón shark la rana frog
    el canguro macho; el canguro hembra; los canguros machos; los canguros hembras
    la ballena macho; la ballena hembra; las ballenas machos; las ballenas hembras

    It is harder to understand nouns that refer to places and things. Here are some guidelines that may help, but they do not apply to all of the nouns, they all have exceptions. Because of this, it is best to always learn the noun with its corresponding article to remember whether it is masculine or feminine.

    General guidelines for nouns referring to places and things

    In the following list of examples, the endings of nouns are in bold.

    1. Most nouns that end in -o, -ma, -pa, -ta, -l, -n, -r and -s, are masculine.
    2. Most nouns that end in -a, -ción, -sión, -dad, -tad, -sis, -itis, and -z are feminine.
    3. Nouns that end in -e can be either masculine or feminine.
    Masculine English Feminine English Exceptions English Exceptions English
    el libro book la escuela school la mano hand el día day
    el problema problem la lección lesson la foto photo el alerta alert
    el mapa map la televisión television (station) la suma sum el camión truck
    el planeta planet la comunidad community la sopa soup el césped grass (lawn)
    el estante shelf la clase class la chaqueta jacket la análisis analysis
    el papel paper la libertad liberty la miel honey el lápiz pencil
    el examen exam la dosis dose la imagen image el arroz rice
    el color color la artritis arthritis la flor flower    
    el autobús bus la luz light la tos cough    

    Some nouns have a different meaning depending on whether they are masculine or feminine:

    Masculine English Feminine English
    el capital capital (money) la capital capital (city)
    el cólera cholera la cólera anger
    el coma coma la coma comma
    el cometa comet la cometa kite
    el corte cut (fabric) la corte court (judicial; king's/queen's)
    el cura priest la cura cure
    el frente front la frente forehead
    el mañana tomorrow la mañana morning
    el orden order (arrangement) la orden order (command)
    el papa pope la papa potato
    el parte message, report la parte part, portion
    el pendiente earring; errand la pendiente hill or slope
    el pez fish la pez tar
    el radio radius, radium la radio radio (some say 'el radio')


    As mentioned above, it is best to learn the nouns with its corresponding article. There are four forms that are equivalent to the English definite article "the". The same goes for the indefinite article: a, an, or some.

    Definite Articles: Indefinite Articles:

    Number Masculine Feminine Number Masculine Feminine
    singular el papel la clase singular un papel una clase
    plural los papeles las clases plural unos papeles unas clases

    Plural of nouns

    To form the plural of a noun that ends in a vowel by simply adding "-s".

    For nouns ending in a consonant, add "-es". If the consonant is the letter "z", change the "z" to "c" before adding "-es".

    Singular Plural
    la clase las clases
    el papel los papeles
    la luz las luces

    In general, the accent mark of a singular noun must be also used when forming into a plural noun unless the accent mark is on the last syllable of the singular noun.

    Singular Plural
    el lápiz los lápices
    el autobús los autobuses
    la lección las lecciones

    The masculine plural form is also used when the group there is a masculine noun is a mixed-gender group:

    1 muchacho + 2 muchachas = 3 muchachos OR los muchachos

    Gender-neutral individuals

    Spanish has always been viewed as a highly gendered language because it is a "Romance Language" (mostly derived from Latin). This is not to say that it denies the existence of gender-neutral identities rather the nature of the language itself makes it hard to adapt systematically to account them. While there is a movement to use terms such as Latinx, the “x” is not currently used in sentence structures and is not yet widely used outside of the United States. Some Spanish-speaking communities have also adopted the use of –e endings instead of –o or –a endings on gendered nouns, articles, and adjectives but this is not a unanimously accepted solution since this would mean a total change for the language itself. This is an ongoing conversation, therefore if you identify yourself as a gender-neutral individual, it would be beneficial for you to initiate a conversation with your instructor to discuss ways that you can use the language to best describe yourself.