Is That Noun Masculine or Feminine?

Words Often Follow Predictable Patterns

In Spanish, nouns, pronouns and adjectives all have gender. Juna Pablo Lauriente/Creative Commons license.

Although it is seldom possible to predict with certainty whether a given Spanish noun is of masculine or feminine gender, Spanish has numerous guidelines that can usually be followed.

The most well-known rule or guideline is that nouns ending in -o are masculine and those ending in -a are feminine, but there are numerous exceptions to this gender rule, especially for those ending in -a. Some of the exceptions are listed below.

Following are some other guides to gender determination. Note that many words have definitions in addition to those listed:

Feminine Suffixes

Nouns ending in certain suffixes are usually feminine. They include -ción (usually the equivalent of "-tion"), -sión, -ía (usually the equivalent of "-y," although not in the diminutive sense), -za, -dad (often used like "-ty"), and -itis ("-itis").

  • la nación (nation)
  • la intervención (intervention)
  • la hospitalización (hospitalization)
  • la ocasión (occasion)
  • la tensión (tension)
  • la economía (economy)
  • la taxonomía (taxonomy)
  • la probreza (poverty)
  • la felicidad (happiness)
  • la caridad (charity)
  • la mastitis (mastitis)
  • la meningitis (meningitis)

Masculine Endings

Nouns of Greek origin ending in -a, often -ma, are nearly always masculine. Most of these words have English cognates.

  • el problema (problem)
  • el drama (drama)
  • el poema (poem)
  • el tema (subject)

Nouns ending in an accented vowel are usually masculine.

  • el sofá (sofa)
  • el tabú (taboo)
  • el rubí (ruby)

Nouns with certain other endings are usually masculine. These include -aje (usually the equivalent of "-age"), -ambre, and -or. An exception is la flor (flower).

  • el corage (courage)
  • el mensaje (message)
  • el espionaje (espionage)
  • el hambre (hunger)
  • el calambre (cramp)
  • el calor (heat)
  • el dolor (pain)
  • el interior (interior)

Masculine Infinitives

Infinitives used as nouns are masculine.

  • el fumar (smoking)
  • el cantar (singing)
  • el viajar (traveling)

Months and Days

Months and days of the week are masculine.

  • el enero (January)
  • el septiembre (September)
  • el martes (Tuesday)
  • el jueves (Thursday)

Letters and Numbers

Letters are feminine while numbers are masculine. One way to remember this is that letra is feminine while número is masculine.

  • la d (d)
  • la o (o)
  • el siete (seven)
  • el ciento (100)

Abbreviations and Shortened Words

The gender of abbreviations and acronyms typically matches the gender of the main noun of what the shortened version stands for.

  • la ONU (the O stands for Organización, which is feminine)
  • los EE.UU. (United States; estados (states) is masculine)
  • las FF.AA. (armed forces; fuerzas is feminine)
  • la NASA (NASA; the word for agency, agencia, is feminine)
  • el FBI (FBI; buró, the word for bureau, is masculine)

Words that are a shorter form of another word or of a phrase retain the gender of the longer word or of the main noun in the phrase.

  • la moto (motorcycle; the word is a shortened form of la motocicleta)
  • la disco (disco; the word is a shortened form of la discoteca)
  • un Toyota (a Toyota. The masculine may be used here as a short form of un coche Toyota, as coche, the word for "car," is masculine. However, una Toyota may refer to a Toyota pickup truck, because the common word for "pickup" is the feminine camioneta.)
  • la Alcatraz (the word for "prison," prisión, is feminine)

Compound and Two-Word Nouns

Compound nouns formed by following a verb with a noun are masculine.

  • el rascacielos (skyscraper)
  • el dragaminas (minesweeper)
  • el guardarropa (clothes closet)

Two-word nouns, which are unusual in Spanish, carry the gender of the first noun.

  • el kilowatt hora (kilowatt-hour)
  • el sitio web (website)
  • el año luz (light-year)
  • la mujer objeto (sex object)
  • la noticia bomba (bombshell news story)

Chemical Elements

With the exception of la plata (silver), names of the chemical elements are masculine.

  • el flúor (fluorine)
  • el cinc (zinc)

Geographical Names

Names of rivers, lakes and oceans are masculine because el río, el lago and el océano, respectively, are masculine.

  • el Danubio (the Danube)
  • el Amazonas (the Amazon)
  • el Titicaca (Titicaca)
  • el Atlántico (the Atlantic)

Names of mountains are usually masculine, because el monte (mountain) is masculine. An exception is that the Rockies are usually referred to as las Rocosas or las Montañas Rocosas.

  • los Himalayas (the Himalayas)
  • el Cervino (the Matterhorn)
  • los Andes (the Andes)

Names of islands are usually feminine because la isla (island) is feminine.

  • las Canarias (Canary Islands)
  • las Azores (Azores)
  • las Antillas (West Indies)

Company Names

Names of companies usually are feminine, because la compañía (company) is feminine, as are sociedad anónima (corporation), corporación (corporation) and empresa (business). This rule is not consistently followed, however.

  • la Microsoft (Microsoft)
  • la ExxonMobil (ExxonMobil)

Imported Words

The default gender for foreign words adopted into the language is masculine, but a feminine gender is sometimes acquired if there's a reason for doing so. Thus foreign nouns that end in -a sometimes become feminine, as do some words related in meaning to a Spanish feminine word.

  • el marketing (marketing)
  • la web (the Web or World Wide Web; the feminine is usually used because the Spanish words red and teleraña, words for "web" and "network," respectively, are feminine)
  • los jeans (jeans)
  • el rock (rock music)
  • el software (software)
  • el show (show)
  • el champú (shampoo)
  • el bistec (beefsteak)
  • la pizza (pizza)
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Your Citation
Erichsen, Gerald. "Is That Noun Masculine or Feminine?" ThoughtCo, Sep. 25, 2017, Erichsen, Gerald. (2017, September 25). Is That Noun Masculine or Feminine? Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "Is That Noun Masculine or Feminine?" ThoughtCo. (accessed March 19, 2018).