Languages › Spanish Substituting ‘El’ for ‘La’ for Spanish Feminine Nouns Share Flipboard Email Print Tocar el arpa. (Playing the harp.). Daniela Vladimirova/Flickr Spanish Grammar History & Culture Pronunciation Vocabulary Writing Skills by Gerald Erichsen Gerald Erichsen, Spanish language expert, has created Spanish lessons for ThoughtCo since 1998. Updated May 11, 2019 El is the singular, masculine definite article, meaning "the," in Spanish and is used to define masculine nouns, while la is the feminine version. But there are a few instances where el is used with feminine nouns. Gender in Words An interesting thing about Spanish is the fact that words have gender. A word is considered male or female, depending on what the word refers to and how it ends. A general rule of thumb is if a word ends in -o, it is most likely masculine, and if a word ends in -a, it is most likely feminine. If the word is describing a female person, then the word is feminine and vice versa. Definite Articles for Nouns In most cases, el is used for masculine nouns and la is used for feminine nouns. Another rule supersedes this, and that is when the feminine noun is singular and starts with a stressed a- or ha- sound, like the words agua, meaning water, or hambre, meaning hunger. The reason the definite article becomes el is mostly a matter of how it sounds to say la agua and la hambre and the clunkiness of the "double-a" sounds repeating. It sounds more definitive to say el agua and el hambre. There is a similar grammar rule in English about the use of the "an" versus "a." An English speaker would say, "an apple" instead of " a apple." The two repeating "double-a" sounds are too close to each other and sound too repetitive. The English rule states that "an," which is an indefinite article modifying the noun, comes before nouns that have a vowel sound at the beginning of the word and "a" comes before consonant-starting nouns. Feminine Words that Use the Masculine Article Notice the substitution of el for la takes place when it comes immediately before words starting with an "a" sound. Feminine Nouns English Translation el agua the water el ama de casa the housewife el asma asthma el arca the ark el hambre hunger el hampa the underworld el arpa the harp el águila the eagle If the feminine noun is modified by adjectives that follow the noun in the sentence, the feminine noun retains the masculine article. Feminine Nouns English Translation el agua purificada purified water el arpa paraguaya the Paraguayan harp el hambre excesiva excessive hunger Reverting Back to the Feminine Article The thing to remember is that words that are feminine remain feminine. The reason why this matters is if the word becomes plural, the word goes back to using the feminine definite article. In this case, the definite article becomes las. It sounds fine to say las arcas since the "s" in las breaks up the "double-a" sound. Another example is las amas de casa. If a word intervenes between the definite article and the noun, la is used. Feminine Nouns English Translation la pura agua pure water la insoportable hambre the unbearable hunger la feliz ama de casa the happy housewife la gran águila the great eagle If the accent of the noun is not on the first syllable, the definite article la is used with singular feminine nouns when they begin with a- or ha-. Feminine Nouns English Translation la habilidad the skill la audiencia the audience la asamblea the meeting The substitution of el for la does not occur before adjectives that begin with a stressed a- or ha-, the rule only applies to nouns, despite the "double-a" sound. Feminine Nouns English Translation la alta muchacha the tall girl la agria experiencia the bitter experience Exceptions to the Rule There a few exceptions to the rule that el substitutes for la immediately before a noun that begins with a stressed a- or ha-. Note, the letters of the alphabet, called letras in Spanish, which is a feminine noun, are all feminine. Feminine Nouns English Translation la árabe the Arabic woman La Haya The Hague la a the letter A la hache the letter H la haz uncommon word for face, not to be confused with el haz,meaning shaft or beam Feminine Words Can Use the Masculine Indefinite Article Most grammarians consider it correct for feminine words to take the masculine indefinite article un instead of una under the same conditions where la is changed to el. It is for the same reason la is changed to el, to eliminate the "double-a" sound of the two words together. Feminine Nouns English Translation un águila an eagle un ama de casa a housewife Although this is widely considered correct grammar, this usage is not universal. In everyday spoken language, this rule is irrelevant, due to elision, which is the omission of sounds, especially as words flow together. 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