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Grammatical Gender in Spanish Language

In Spanish, as in most Indo-European languages except English, gender is a purely arbitrary feature of with nouns. Those concepts representing animate beings tend to have natural sex, although this is not the case in many names of animals, where the feminine is often used to refer to both sexes: mosca (fly), araña (spider), culebra (snake), pantera (panther), ballena (whale), cebra (zebra), jirafa (giraffe) …

The words that represent inanimate concepts are always assigned to one of the two genders (male or female), which gives evidence of the totally arbitrary nature of this assignment: there is no reason why we label “cajón” (‘drawer’) as masculine and “torre” (‘tower’) as female, and there are abundant examples of differences with other languages in our area: the ‘moon’ (la luna) is masculine in German, ‘pain’ (el dolor) is feminine in French, ‘blood’ (la sangre) is feminine in Italian …

Gender, like the number, is relevant from a grammatical point of view due to the agreement rules between the noun and all referring determiners, adjectives and pronouns.

Focusing on form, there are, of course, certain patterns for words of one type or another.

Typically masculine endings:

-o, eg “amigo” (‘friend’), “perro” (‘dog’), “libro” (‘book’), “viento” (‘wind’)…

-or, eg “amor” (‘love’), “calor” (‘heat’), “color” (‘colour’), “sabor” eg. (‘taste’); exception: la flor (flower)

-aje, eg. “coraje” (‘courage’), “viaje” (‘travel’)…

-an, eg. “capitán” (‘captain’)

There are, however, a number of masculine nouns ending in -a: “poeta” (‘poet’), “tema” (‘subject’), “problema” (‘problem’), “día” (‘day’), “mapa” (‘map’) …

Typically feminine endings:

-a, eg “vena” (‘vein’), “casa” (‘house’), “mesa” (‘table’), “corbata” (‘tie’) 
• –-dad, -tad and –ed 
 eg “honestidad” (‘honesty’), “mitad” (‘half’), “red” (‘net’)

-ción, -sión, -zón, 
 eg “nación” (‘nation’), “pasión” (‘passion’), “razón” (‘reason’); notable exception: el corazón (‘heart’)

-dez or –iz, eg “honradez” (‘honesty’), “nariz” (‘nose’)

There are also numerous examples of feminine nouns ending in -o: “soprano”, “radio”, “mano” (‘hand’)…

Some nouns take the same form for both genders: eg.: el/la atleta (‘athlete’), el/la policía (‘police officer’), el/la joven (‘youth’), el/la modelo (‘model’)…

This happens in words ending in -ista 
 (“artista”, “capitalista”…) and in -nte (“cantante” – singer, “amante” -lover …)

In the plural, it is interesting to note that the masculine form is used to refer to both sexes: “el padre + la madre = los padres” (father + mother = parents). However, the obsession of our public representatives for political correctness often ignores this feature of our language and generates such redundant terms as “Españoles y españolas”, “Ciudadanos y ciudadanas” (‘citizens’), “Trabajadores y trabajadoras” (‘workers’), and the like .


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