Nouns and Articles
In Spanish, nouns have a gender; they are either masculine or feminine. For words that describe people, the masculine form is used when referring to men, while the feminine form is used when referring to women.
Nouns that Describe People
Nouns ending in –o tend to be masculine, while nouns ending in –a are usually feminine. Masculine nouns take the definite article el (the) and the indefinite article un (a), while feminine nouns take la (the) and una (a).
el enfermero (the male nurse), un enfermero (a male nurse)
la enfermera (the female nurse), una enfermera (a female nurse)
The general rule to form the plural is to add an –s at the end of the noun when it ends in a vowel, and an –es when it ends in a consonant. The plural form of el is los. La becomes las, un becomes unos, and una becomes unas.
los enfermeros (the male nurses), unos enfermeros (some male nurses)
las enfermeras (the female nurses), unas enfermeras (some female nurses)
los doctores (the male doctors), unos doctores (some male doctors)
las doctoras (the female doctors), unas doctoras (some female doctors)
There are some exceptions to this general rule, as their ending does not change whether they are masculine or feminine.
el/la pediatra (male/female pediatrician)
el/la asistente (male/female assistant)
el/la terapeuta (male/female therapist)
Nouns That Describe Things
Why is la cama (bed) feminine but el bisturí (scalpel) masculine? Don't men and women use both? Nouns that describe objects can get complicated, as there is no way to tell whether the word is masculine or feminine. Do not try to reason your way through it.
The best way to know the gender of a word is to always learn the word with the article el (masculine) or la (feminine). This phrasebook includes articles for every new word.
There is a general rule, however, that applies to the gender of nouns. Words that end in –o tend to be masculine, while words that end in –a tend to be feminine.
- el estetoscopio … stethoscope
- el cráneo … skull
- el intestino … intestine
- la venda … bandage
- la aorta … aorta
- la próstata … prostate
But don't live by this rule. There are plenty of exceptions, such as el diafragma (diaphragm), and many words end in a consonant: el paladar (palate), la nariz (nose), la cavidad (cavity), el pulmón (lung).