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Cada vez que me visita mi cuate (pal ), siempre me pregunta por que no tengo una buena chamba
(job). Le pregunto Por que me preguntas siempre lo mismo. Me contesta Como tu cuate, puedo
preguntarte cualquier cosa. Pero contesto a mi vez Quien te crees tu para preguntarme que
chamba tengo. Bueno, si no quieres responderme, Donde trabajas y cual es tu trabajo. Me enoja
(annoys) que insistas tanto. Yo se donde trabajo y como es y parale (that™s enough). Cuando te vas
RB/JPL




9
Unit 2 (Unidad 2)
De¬nite and inde¬nite articles and
gender of nouns (Art´culos de¬nidos
±
´
e inde¬nidos y genero de
sustantivos)

Level 1
1.1 The de¬nite and inde¬nite articles (Los art´culos de¬nidos e inde¬nidos)
±
1.2 General features of gender “ masculine nouns (Detalles generales de
sustantivos masculinos)
1.3 General features of gender “ feminine nouns (Detalles generales de
sustantivos femeninos)
´
1.4 Further features of gender (Otros detalles de genero)
´
1.5 Nouns of varying gender (Nombres de genero variable)



1.1 The de¬nite and inde¬nite articles
The articles in Spanish, as with all Romance languages, vary in form to indicate gender
and number. In this unit we shall deal with gender. There are no available rules for
determining the masculine and feminine genders of Spanish nouns. The gender of most
Spanish nouns have, unfortunately, to be learnt, just as learners of English have to learn
how to spell individual words. It is true that there is usually a reason for the gender
assigned, but the origin is frequently obscure or untraceable. Nevertheless, there are
some general considerations of great help to the learner. What is certain is that retaining
the gender of nouns will help to prevent cerebral decay.
i First we must look at how the de¬nite and inde¬nite article are used before the
noun:

Masculine Feminine
el the la the
De¬nite article
un a/an una a/an
Inde¬nite article

These articles are always placed before the noun:

el hombre la mujer
the man the woman
un hombre una mujer
a man a woman


10
2 De¬nite/inde¬nite articles and noun gender



ii Feminine nouns beginning with a stressed a or ha are preceded by el and not la:

el agua el hacha the ax el (h)arpa the harp el asma
the water asthma
el hambre the hunger el alma the soul el ama de housewife
la casa
Other feminine nouns preceded by el:
el alza el habla
rise, increase speech
el ancla el hada
anchor fairy
el aula el haya
lecture room beech tree
el haba bean
But remember that if the article precedes an unstressed (h)a, la is used:
la ambici´n, la alhaja “ the jewel, la Alhambra/hamaca “ hammock
o
The change does not occur before adjectives of like form:
la alta torre “ the tall tower, la alta estimaci´n “ the high esteem
o
iii When the masculine singular form of the de¬nite article, el, comes immediately
after the prepositions a or de, there is a contraction: al, del

al ni˜ o/al profesor / al bosque
n to the child / teacher / wood
del chico / del hombre / del coche of the boy / man / car
iv If the noun is feminine, a la / de la are used, as you would expect:

a la / de la casa to / of the house
a la mesa / de la mesa to / of the table
From now on, the for el and la will not be used in the lists.


1.2 General features of gender “ masculine nouns
i Names and designations of males, and the males of large and well-known animals,
are masculine, irrespective of endings:

el caballo el le´n
o
horse lion
el cardenal el pr´ncipe
±
cardinal prince
el centinela el monarca
sentry monarch
el cura el tigre
priest tiger
ii Gender associated with noun ending “ in most cases, nouns ending in o are masculine:

el barco el libro
boat book
el caso el ojo
case, example eye
el cigarro el palo
cigar(ette) (i.e. both) stick
el hombro shoulder
Exceptions are:
la d´namo
± la moto
dynamo motorcycle
la foto la radio
photo radio
la mano hand

11
A STUDENT GRAMMAR OF SPANISH




Foto and moto are shortened forms of fotograf´a and motocicleta while radio is masculine in
±
Mexico. Radio meaning “radius” is masculine in Spain and Mexico.

iii Some masculine nouns ending in o do not change their ending when denoting
females:

la miembro la soprano
member soprano
la modelo la testigo
model witness
iv Nouns ending in or are mainly masculine:

el amor el color
love color
el autor el conductor
author driver
el calor el valor
heat courage, valor
Exception:
la labor work
When a feminine noun is implied or understood: la Gestapo, la UNESCO.

v Nouns ending in aje:

el andamiaje el paisaje
scaffolding landscape
el equipaje el viaje
baggage journey
vi Nouns ending in men:

el certamen el volumen
contest volume
el r´gimen
e r´ gime
e
vii Nouns ending in gen:

el origen but imagen is feminine
viii The proper names of countries or territories are masculine, except when they end
in unstressed a.

(el) Brasil, (el) Canad´ , (el) Chile, (los) Estados Unidos (United States), (el) Jap´n, (el) M´xico,
a o e
(los) Pa´ses Bajos (Netherlands), (el) Panam´ , (el) Per´
± a u
The following countries are therefore feminine.
Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, China, Colombia, Espa˜ a, Francia, Grecia, Guatemala, Holanda,
n
India, Italia, Nueva Zelanda, Rusia, Venezuela

ix The following types of noun are all masculine.

el Amazonas (Amazon), el R´o Bravo (M) (Rio
±
Rivers
Grande) but el R´o Grande in Spain, el
±
Paran´ , el Sena (Seine), el T´ mesis (Thames),
a a
el Colorado, el Nilo, el Rin (Rhine)
El Atl´ ntico / el Pac´¬co / el Mediterr´ neo
a ± a
Seas/Oceans
enero (January), mayo
Months
El Himalaya, el Acongagua, los Andes, el
Mountains
Popocatepetl, los Alpes; and volcanos: el


12
2 De¬nite/inde¬nite articles and noun gender



Vesubio (Vesuvius) (but las (Monta˜ as) n
Rocosas = Rockies)
el Chrysler, el Ford, el Toyota, el Mercedes, el
Cars
Porsche, el Maserati
el Seiko, el Longines
Watches
el Reina Mary, el Nimitz, el Enterprise
Ships and aircraft carriers
el Boeing, el Concorde
Airplanes
el espa˜ ol, el franc´s, el ingl´s brit´ nico / americano,
n e e a
Languages
el ruso, el chino
el hierro (iron), el cobre (copper), el acero (steel),
Metals
el bronce (bronze)
el olmo (elm), el roble (oak), el fresno (ash), el
Many trees
alamo (poplar) but el (i.e. feminine) haya
´
(beech), la encina (holm oak), la higuera
(¬g tree)



1.3 Feminine nouns
i The designations of females are feminine:

la dama la princesa
lady princess
la gallina la reina
hen queen
la muchacha la vaca
girl cow

ii Most nouns ending in a are feminine:

la casa la puerta
house door
la caza la ventana
hunting window
la comida meal, food

Exceptions “ nouns denoting males:
el artista el guardia
artist guard
el cura el jesuita
priest jesuit
Note also that centinela is a masculine noun = sentry

iii The majority of nouns ending in o change it to a to form the feminine:

el alumno / la alumna pupil
el amigo / la amiga friend
el cocinero / la cocinera cook
el conocido / la conocida acquaintance
el criado / la criada male / female servant
el hu´rfano / la hu´rfana
e e orphan
el muchacho / la muchacha boy / girl

´
iv Nouns ending in: “ma, -dad (many of these), -tad (just a few of these), -tud, -ion
(many of these), -umbre, -ie and -sis are feminine:


13
A STUDENT GRAMMAR OF SPANISH




-ma
(el) asma la gema
asthma gem
la cama la lima
bed ¬le
la crema (M) la trama
cream plot
la estratagema la yema
stratagem yolk, ¬ngertip
la forma form
-dad
la agilidad la severidad
agility severity
la ansiedad la sociedad
anxiety society
la enfermedad la verdad
sickness, illness truth
la eternidad eternity
-tad
la libertad (freedom)
-tud
la longitud, virtud (virtue)
´
-ion
la ambici´n, intuici´n, naci´n, pasi´n, regi´n, sensaci´n
o o o o o o
-umbre
la certidumbre (certainty), costumbre (custom), cumbre (peak), muchedumbre (crowd)
-ie
intemperie (bad weather), planicie (plain), serie (series)
-is
crisis, metamorfosis, s´ntesis, tesis
±
But the following are masculine:
el carisma, cisma (schism), clima, cometa (comet), delta, d´a (day), emblema, mapa, planeta,
±
problema, tranv´a (streetcar / tram).
±
In all these cases, save d´a, mapa, and tranv´a, the fact that these nouns end in a but are
± ±
masculine is explained by their Greek origin. Etymology can be fascinating.
Note also: pijama which is masculine in Spain and feminine in Mexico. Matters are not
improved with this word since it is even spelt differently in Mexico: piyama. The same
goes for American and British English (Pajamas [AE] / pyjamas [BE]), so it is dif¬cult to
win here.

v The following are also masculine:

el avi´n
o el sarampi´n
o
airplane measles
el gorri´n
o el cami´n
o truck but commonly bus in M
sparrow
and


14
2 De¬nite/inde¬nite articles and noun gender



el an´ lisis
a el ´xtasis
e
analysis ecstasy
el apocalipsis el par´ntesis
e
apocalypse parenthesis
el ´nfasis
e emphasis

vi The following types of nouns are feminine:

las Filipinas, las Marianas, las Malvinas, C´rcega
o
Islands
(Corsica), Cerde˜ a (Sardinia), Sicilia (last
n
three in the Mediterranean). But las Islas
de los Gal´ pagos (Galapagos Islands)
a
la a, la b, la c, la h (hache), etc.
Letters of the alphabet
la Ford, la British (Airways), la General Motors
Firms

These are all the rules of any value. Much could be said about remembering the gender
of Spanish nouns. However, suf¬ce it to say that the simplest and easiest way to learn the
gender is, when you come across a new noun, put the article in front of it every time, and
you will learn by association, following the pattern of a Spanish-speaking child.


1.4 Further features of gender
i Where the names of animals do not have distinct masculine and feminine forms,
macho and hembra (invariable) are used to make the distinction, but the gender does
not change:

el rinoceronte / los rinocerontes / la ardilla (squirrel) / las ardillas macho (for all four nouns)
el rat´n (mouse) / los ratones / la ardilla / las ardillas hembra (for all four nouns)
o

ii Family relations and titles
With nouns denoting titles and family relations, a masculine plural in Spanish may
correspond to a masculine and feminine pair:

Tengo tres hijos I have three children
los Reyes Cat´licos
o the Catholic Monarchs (Queen Isabel and
King Fernando)
los chicos the boys (and girls)
los ni˜ os
n the children / the boys
los duques de Alba the Duke and Duchess of Alba
los Presidentes the President and First Lady
los Se˜ ores Garc´a
n ± Mr. and Mrs. Garcia
los novios the engaged couple

iii It could sometimes be unclear what certain plurals mean with respect to gender.
Ni˜ os, chicos, hijos and reyes are good cases in point. Hijos, for instance, could signify three
n
sons, or two sons and one daughter, or one son and two daughters. Unfortunately, for
females, even when the male is in a minority, as in the last case, the plural is still masculine.
Clari¬cation comes with, for example: dos hijos y una hija, dos hijas y un hijo. And if this still
does not clear up the ambiguity, and you had three sons, you could say tres varones after
tres hijos: Tiene tres hijos, o sea (that is) tres varones.

15
A STUDENT GRAMMAR OF SPANISH




1.5 Words of varying gender
i
When masculine singular = individual art: el arte azteca/cl´ sico/precolombiano
arte a
When collective = the Arts: las bellas artes/artes decorativas/pl´ sticas
a
mar Masculine in general: Me gusta nadar en el mar, el Mar Mediterr´ neo
a
Sometimes feminine in formal, poetic style, and frequently in set phrases:
Lo/La (M) pas´ la mar de bien (I had a great time), en alta mar (on the high seas),
e
mar gruesa (heavy sea), mar picada (choppy sea), hacerse a la mar (to put to sea)
When = river bank it is feminine and usually found in literary texts
margen
When masculine = margin (of page/maneuver), edge (of society)
ii There are nouns that are both masculine and feminine and with the same meaning:

casete linde
cassette boundary (usually feminine)
interrogante marat´n marathon (usually feminine)
o
question
lente (= lens but los lentes in M =
armaz´no ( frame of a structure)
glasses, i.e. for seeing)
iii Names of towns
Usually towns are feminine but practice is not always clear, and there is no true guide:
en la Roma antigua, Guanajuato es bella, la atractiva Par´s
±
On the other hand it is perfectly acceptable to say:
todo Chihuahua/Acapulco/Valencia
There seems to be no rigid rule on this point. It would even appear that in Mexico towns
are usually masculine, even when they end in a, like Chihuahua.
iv Soccer teams are referred to as masculine:

El Puebla, el Guadalajara, el Toluca, el Barcelona (more usually el Bar¸a), el Real (Madrid)
c
Exercises Level 1
i Find the gender and meaning of the following nouns, and put el/la/un/una before
them:
casa, silla, plato, mesa, foco (M), bombilla, libro, botella, cuaderno, habitaci´ n, costa,
o
fuente, reina, amigo, burro, caballo, jard´n, mapa (careful!), rey, v´ctima (careful!), area,
± ± ´
arma
ii Put del / de la / al / a la before the following nouns and ¬nd their meaning:
casa, mesa, caballo, habitaci´ n, mapa, v´ctima, area, arma, arbol, calle, pared, taza,
o ± ´ ´
p´ jaro, escuela, departamento (M = apartment), apartamento, angel, aguila, anchoa, alga
a ´ ´
iii Complete with the correct article indicating gender (choose which is more
appropriate between the de¬nite and inde¬nite article but either will do
in some cases):

a ( ) chica trabaja todo ( ) d´a
±
b En ( ) suelo hay ( ) gato
c ( ) padre est´ sentado en ( ) sill´ n
a o
d ¿Ves ( ) reloj en ( ) mesa?

16
2 De¬nite/inde¬nite articles and noun gender



e ( ) ¬‚or est´ en ( ) jard´n
a ±
f ( ) mujer est´ en ( ) calle
a
g Veo ( ) arbol en ( ) parque
´
h ( ) estudiante habla con ( ) profesora / ( ) profesor
i ( ) p´ jaro canta en ( ) cielo
a
j ( ) casa est´ detr´ s de ( ) jard´n
a a ±
iv Paired activity
Objective “ Learn the gender of nouns
Method “ Ask each other, in turn, the gender of a noun.
Both participants spend two minutes collecting a list of ten nouns, from level 1.
Example
The ¬rst person asks: ¿Cu´ l es el g´nero del nombre “carro?” (What is the gender of the noun
a e
carro?) Answer: “Carro” es masculino.
The partner asks: ¿Cu´ l es el g´nero del nombre “casa?” Answer: “Casa” es femenino.
a e
When all ten questions have been asked, the teacher/instructor brings the class together
and asks, in simple Spanish, if there are any dif¬cult genders.

Level 2
´
2.1 More on the de¬nite and inde¬nite articles (Mas detalles sobre los art´culos
±
de¬nidos e inde¬nidos)
´
2.2 The neuter gender (El genero neutro)
2.3 Same noun but different meaning according to the gender (El mismo
´ ´
sustantivo pero otro sentido segun el genero)
´ ´
2.4 Problem genders (Generos problematicos)
´
2.5 Gender of compound nouns (Genero de nombres compuestos)
´
2.6 Words distinguished by the ending a/o (Voces con terminacion a/o)
2.7 Misleading similarities (Falsos amigos)

2.1 More on the de¬nite and inde¬nite articles
i A few nouns with endings other than a have a common form for both genders:

el/la c´mplice, el/la criminal, el/la hereje (heretic), joven (young man or girl), m´ rtir, miembro,
o a
reo (accused person / convicted offender), testigo (witness), vocal (committee member)
ii Names of some cities are preceded by the de¬nite article:

El Cairo, El Cabo (Cape Town), La Coru˜ a (in Spain), El Cuzco (in Peru), El Ferrol (in
n
Spain), La Habana
Hence Voy a El Cabo, a El Cairo, a La Coru˜ a, but in speech, in Spain, you frequently hear
n
Voy al Ferrol, and most Mexicans would say Voy a Cuzco.
iii The names of several countries have traditionally been preceded by the de¬nite
article, especially when the country is masculine, but this usage is fast disappearing.
´ ´
These include el Brasil, el Canada, el Chile, el Ecuador, el Japon, el Paraguay, el
´ ´
Uruguay, but nearly all Spanish speakers say nowadays Voy a Brasil, Canada, Japon,
etc. At the same time, there are three countries where the de¬nite article is still
used: Los Estados Unidos, El Reino Unido (United Kingdom), La India. It should be


17
A STUDENT GRAMMAR OF SPANISH




added that when the plural Los precedes Estados Unidos when it is the subject of a
verb, the verb is in the plural. When Estados Unidos stands alone, i.e. without Los, as
the subject of the sentence, the verb is in the singular: Los Estados Unidos forman un
´
bloque economico muy importante / Estados Unidos se opone a la sugerencia (. . . is
opposed to the suggestion).

iv The de¬nite article is required if the name of the country is quali¬ed by an adjective
or a phrase:

el Asia rusa, el Asia Menor, el M´xico contempor´ neo, la fecunda Italia (fertile Italy), la Argentina de
e a
los a˜ os sesenta (( . . . ) of the sixties)
n
v Technically, each noun is preceded by the article but this usage is also slipping away,
and not only in speech. When the nouns are closely associated with each other, this is
especially true. It also applies to nouns of different gender:

la energ´a y celo (m) que muestra
± the energy and zeal he shows
El descuido y negligencia (f ) del soldado the soldier™s carelessness and negligence
El inter´s, inteligencia (f ), honradez (f) del empleado
e the clerk™s interest, intelligence and honesty
vi The article is not repeated after o = or, before a noun that is merely a synonym or
explanation of the preceding noun:

el vest´bulo o entrada de la casa
± the hall or entrance to the house
Edimburgo es la capital o ciudad principal de Edinburgh is the capital or main city
Escocia of Scotland
vii Both de¬nite and inde¬nite articles are omitted before a noun in apposition
(i.e. when it explains a preceding noun):

Veracruz, principal puerto en la costa oriental de Veracruz, main city . . .
M´xico
e
Quito, capital de Ecuador, posee un clima delicioso Quito, Ecuador™s capital, possesses . . .
Unamuno, autor de la Generaci´n del ™98
o Unamuno, author of . . .
viii The article is used to express any of the elements or features of nature, animals and
plants of which only one can be supposed to be under consideration:

El cielo es azul The sky is blue
El sol puede ser peligroso The sun can be dangerous
El lirio es una ¬‚or vistosa The lily is a bright and colorful ¬‚ower
El zorro tiene fama por su astucia The fox is well known for its cunning
La tierra es redonda The earth is round
La cig¨ e˜ a es un ave pasajera
un The stork is a migratory bird
ix The article is used of representatives of a race, or parts or faculties of man, taken in a
general sense:

El paname˜ o
n Panamanian
los estadounidenses/estadunidenses (M) North Americans
el blanco white person
el negro black person
los chinos (the) Chinese
los comunistas (the) Communists


18
2 De¬nite/inde¬nite articles and noun gender



el h´gado
± (the) liver
el coraz´n
o (the) heart
la memoria (the) memory
el alma (the) soul

x It is used of epithets or nicknames following a proper name of a person:

Pedro el Cruel Peter the Cruel
Isabel la Cat´lica
o the Catholic Isabel
Alejandro el Grande Alexander the Great (but also Alejandro
Magno)

xi A striking difference between Spanish and English is the use of the de¬nite article in
Spanish before any noun that is representative of the entire class or species:

El hombre es mortal Man is mortal
El pan es nutritivo Bread is nutritious
Las ¬‚ores son el adorno de la tierra Flowers are the adornment of the earth

xii The Spanish article is used when nouns represent abstract qualities or ideas:

los estragos del tiempo the ravages of time
El orgullo es un defecto Pride is a defect
La envidia es un pecado capital Envy is a capital sin
El destino del hombre no se puede evitar Man™s destiny cannot be avoided

xiii The article is often used before a verb in the in¬nitive:

El hablar tanto es su falta principal Speaking so much is his main fault
El comer y el beber son necesarios a la vida Eating and drinking are necessary to life
El leer alto es una buena pr´ ctica
a Reading aloud is a good practice
El nadar es muy sano Swimming is very healthy

xiv The article is omitted when reference is made to professions:

Es m´dico/doctor(a)/profesor(a)/ingeniero(a)/enfermero(a), contable = (S)he is a doctor/
e
teacher/engineer/nurse/accountant
But if the noun is quali¬ed the article (usually inde¬nite) is used:
Es una doctora muy h´ bil
a She is a very skillful physician/doctor
Es una contable muy competente He is a very competent accountant

xv The article is also omitted when a noun and adjective occur so frequently that they
become a set expression:

Es buena persona (S)he is a very nice person
Es buen cat´lico
o He™s a good Catholic
Es gran orador He™s a great speaker

xvi In elegant style, the article is frequently omitted in enumerations:
Asistieron al partido hombres, mujeres, ni˜ os, ancianos, y hasta burros Men, women, children, old
n
people and even donkeys went to the match


19
A STUDENT GRAMMAR OF SPANISH




xvii Formation of masculine/feminine pairs:
The most common masculine/feminine pairs are:
-o/-a el t´o / la t´a
± ± (uncle/aunt)
-e/-a el monje / la monja (monk/nun)
-or/-ora el autor / la autora (author)
Note also the following less common distinctive feminine endings:
-esa el abad / la abadesa abbott/abbess
-isa el profeta / la profetisa prophet/prophetess
-riz el actor / la actriz actor/actress
Note also nouns ending in -ista, e.g. el/la corista (chorister) / pianista (pianist), violinista
(violinist).
Note that the feminine form of corista has the meaning of “chorus girl.”
xviii However, complications are not far away as illustrated by the two following
categories:

a When the feminine form already has a distinct meaning:
el f´sico
± la f´sica
±
physicist physics
el alcalde mayor la alcaldesa mayor™s wife
el polic´a police of¬cer
± la polic´a
± police (force)
b When there was no feminine form in existence, and few females in the job:
ministro (was masculine and feminine) and now ministra for feminine form
presidente (was M and F) and now presidenta for feminine form
c´nsul (el was used for both genders) but now la c´nsul
o o
agente (formerly el for both genders) but now la agente
As women take on new roles in Western society, Spanish has, like French and Italian,
had to ¬nd new feminines, and feminists are doing their best to establish new forms.
The feminine form of professional nouns is now used regularly and applies to women in
these professions. For example, m´dica signi¬es “female doctor” and not “doctor™s wife”
e
but m´dico is still by far the preferred term; alcaldesa means “female mayor” and can mean
e
“mayor™s wife”; abogada only means “female lawyer”; polic´a is now the accepted term for
±
“policewoman” as well as “policeman” and “police force” (room for dangerous confusion
here?); primera ministra has now supplanted primer ministro for a female “prime minister.”
This change to a markedly feminine form still does not encourage dictionaries to put an
equal number of examples in the feminine, as is the case in the present work, so there is
a residual resistance somewhere.
The following are now acceptable feminine forms, in addition to those quoted above:
arbitra (referee), candidata, clienta, concejala (city / town hall councilor), diputada (member of
´
parliament), edila (member of town hall council), jefa (head of an establishment), reportera,
senadora, sirvienta but, even here, concejal and edil can be feminine.
There is some limited comfort for females with a feminist tendency in the following:
the feminine form modista can mean “male fashion designer” but modisto is in current use.
However, strange as it may seem, un desnudo has to be masculine, as in French and Italian.
Does this say anything about the Latin psyche? Or does the noun simply refer to the
painting or sculpture? Perhaps it is the latter. On the other hand, a male ¬lm star has to
be feminine: una estrella.

20
2 De¬nite/inde¬nite articles and noun gender



2.2 The neuter gender
i The neuter form of the article, lo, is not applicable to nouns since all nouns are
masculine or feminine. It is used before adjectives, participles, adjectival pronouns
and occasionally adverbs. The effect of placing lo before such words is to form a
phrase which often has an abstract idea:

lo agradable what is pleasant, pleasantness
lo mexicano what is Mexican
lo hecho/dicho/mencionado what is/was done/said/mentioned
Lo ocurrido me impact´ o What (had) happened affected me deeply
Hice lo posible / lo necesario I did what I could / what was necessary
Pre¬ero lo pr´ ctico a lo decorativo
a I prefer what™s practical to the decorative
ii The substantive or “noun” nature of the adjective or participle preceded by lo is very
clear when it is followed by de and a noun. This construction is not always easy to put
into English:

lo claro de la frase the clarity of the phrase/sentence
lo extra˜ o del asunto
n the curious thing about the business
lo tonto de sus palabras the dumb thing in what he said
sin pensar en lo complicado de la tarea without thinking about how complicated
the job would be
Lo m´ s dif´cil fue entenderlo
a± The most dif¬cult thing was to understand
him

2.3 Same noun but different meaning according
to the gender
A number of Spanish nouns are both masculine and feminine, but have different meanings
which are sometimes related. This phenomenon, common to all Romance languages,
really does test our memory.
i The feminine noun is collective while the masculine is individual:

F M
bater´a
± battery (of guns), (car) battery, drummer (in band)
footlights, percussion section of
orchestra, set of kitchen utensils
defensa defense (in most senses) defender (in soccer)
escolta escort (group) escort (individual)
guardia guard (group), custody guard (individual), policeman
polic´a
± police, policewoman policeman
ii The feminine noun is literal, while the masculine noun is a person or thing associated
with a metaphoric function:

F M
bestia beast, uncouth woman uncouth man, brute
cabeza head head of an organization


21
A STUDENT GRAMMAR OF SPANISH



calavera skull reckless/rakish man
c´ mara
a camera cameraman
caza hunt ¬ghter (airplane)
cura cure priest (Catholic)
espada sword swordsman, matador
facha appearance, look fascist (term of abuse)
g´nesis
e origin Book of Genesis
gu´a
± guidebook, female guide guide (person)
ma˜ ana
n morning future
meta objective, goal goalkeeper
pareja couple (of people), female male partner
partner
recluta recruitment rookie, recruit
vig´a
± watchtower watchman
NB Cabeza is always feminine in Mexico, whether referring to a part of the anatomy or
to the head of an organization or the family: El padre es la cabeza de la familia = The father
is the head of the family
iii Others

F M
capital capital city (national or capital (i.e. money)
provincial)
central head of¬ce, telephone center forward, central defender (soccer)
exchange; central nuclear/
hidroel´ctrica = nuclear/
e
hydroelectric power station
c´lera
o anger cholera
coma comma coma
cometa kite comet
corriente ¬‚ow, current (of water, current month
electricity)
(royal) court, Las Cortes =
corte cut (general), outage, power cut
Spanish Parliament
editorial publishing house lead article
¬nal ¬nal (match) end (of street, show, game)
frente forehead front (part) (battle, political front)
hincha grudge, ill will supporter (in sport)
moral ethics, morale blackberry bush
orden order, arrangement as in orden alfab´tico,
e
order, command, military or
religious order as in la Orden civil order as in las fuerzas del orden
de Calatrava
ordenanza decree, ordinance of¬ce boy, orderly (in armed forces)
panda gang panda
report as in parte meteorol´gico = weather
parte o
part (of something)
forecast
pendiente slope (on hill) earring



22
2 De¬nite/inde¬nite articles and noun gender



pez pitch, tar ¬sh (alive in water)
radio (but in M = masculine)
radio radius, spoke (in wheel), radium
terminal bus/airplane terminal (but (electrical) terminal
both are feminine in Mexico)
vocal vowel, female committee male committee member
member


2.4 Problem genders
The gender of the following words is especially liable to confusion, particularly if you have
studied, or are studying, French and/or Italian. Please have sympathy with the present
author.

i Words ending in e:

M F
auge base
boom, highest point base
avance cat´ strofe
a
advance catastrophe
cauce gripe
(river) bed/course ¬‚u, bad cold
declive higiene
slope, incline hygiene
enchufe ´ndole
±
electrical plug, in¬‚uence nature, character
fraude mole
fraud mass, bulk
peine pir´ mide
a
comb pyramide
s´ndrome
± sede
syndrome see, seat (of government)
timbre bell, postage stamp (in M)

ii Words ending in al:

M F
cereal cal
cereal lime
zarzal central
bramble, thicket power station,
telephone exchange,
head of¬ce
espiral spiral
multinacional multinational
postal postcard
sal salt
se˜ al
n sign
sucursal branch (of¬ce)

iii Words ending in ante and ente:

M F
ante constante
suede, elk constant
componente mente
component mind
paciente patente
patient patent
pendiente
(but can be feminine) slope
simiente seed


23
A STUDENT GRAMMAR OF SPANISH




iv Words ending in z:

M F
aprendiz faz
apprentice, learner surface, face
avestruz hoz
ostrich sickle, gorge
c´ liz
a lombriz
chalice worm
matiz perdiz
hue, shade (of meaning) partridge
pez (alive) tez
¬sh complexion
regaliz licorice
v A number of feminine words:

armaz´n o metr´poli
o
frame (work) metropolis
bilis miel
bile honey
c´ rcel
a sangre
prison blood
circular sien
circular temple (on head)
crin tos
horse™s mane cough
¬‚or tribu
¬‚ower tribe
l´bido
± v´ctima
±
libido victim
´
NB Armazon can be masculine. Sart´ n (fry/frying pan) is feminine in Spain but
e
masculine in Mexico. This is also true of radio when it means “radio.”
There is much variation in Spanish in the naming of new gadgets:
el aspirador / la aspiradora vacuum cleaner
el batidor / la batidora whisk
la freidora deep-fat fryer
la lavadora washing machine
el secador hair dryer
el tostador / la tostadora toaster
These modern gadgets become a gender mine¬eld when we consider them in Mexico,
and it serves no great purpose to dwell lengthily on them. However, as an illustration,
and no more than this, of the other possibilities, the following genders are standard in
Mexico:
la aspiradora / la batidora / la secadora (hair dryer)
And now for a piece of information that baf¬‚es the author as much as it
will you.
´
Azucar (sugar) is masculine in Spain and other countries like Colombia, but feminine
´
in Mexico. That™s the easy bit. Since azucar is feminine in Mexico, you would expect the
de¬nite article preceding it to be la. But no. All Mexicans whom I have consulted make
´
it clear that they say el azucar. Furthermore, they say and write: El az´ car es blanca /
u
re¬nada / morena (brown). How you reconcile el in this case with the feminine form of the
adjective, i.e. blanca, etc., is anyone™s guess. Here is an attempt at an explanation. The
´
author suspects that most Mexicans confuse the initial a of azucar with that of agua,
for example, where el is required (see 1.1. ii above), to deal with the spoken stress on
´
the ¬rst a. But, there is no spoken stress on the initial a of azucar. It falls on the u. Of
course, Iberian Spanish requires: El az´ car es blanco/re¬nado/moreno. At the same time,
u
´
most dictionaries cover themselves by saying that azucar is masculine and feminine
(ambos = both)!

24
2 De¬nite/inde¬nite articles and noun gender



2.5 Gender of compound nouns
Another possible mine¬eld, since many of these terms are fairly modern and therefore
have unestablished forms, and, in keeping with the ease with which English lends itself
to placing two or more nouns side by side, compound nouns are starting to burgeon in
Spanish. However, the gender of compound nouns follows a certain logic.

i Two masculine nouns are obviously masculine:

caf´ concierto
e retrato robot
caf´ (with live music)
e photo ¬t
caf´ teatro
e tiempo r´cord
e
dinner theater record time
piso piloto veh´culo todo
±
show apartment, ¬‚at land rover, 4x4,
terreno off-road vehicle

ii Two feminine nouns are naturally feminine:

bomba trampa palabra clave
booby trap (bomb) key word
etapa reina prueba reina
star part (of cycle race) key event (in sports race)
hora punta commute hour, rush hour
lengua madre mother tongue
madre patria mother country
NB bocacalle (street turning) and madreselva (honeysuckle) now constitute single words and
follow the above rule

iii When two nouns are of different gender, the ¬rst determines the gender of the
compound noun. Masculine nouns include:

cami´n cisterna
o factor sorpresa
tanker (vehicle) surprise factor
coche bomba gas ciudad
car bomb town gas
coche cama papel moneda
sleeper (train) paper money
coche patrulla patrol car
But this is not true of radiorreceptor (radio receiver), which is masculine, since radio
is feminine.

iv Similarly, if the ¬rst noun is feminine, the compound noun is feminine:

cama nido fecha tope
trundle bed, bunk bed ¬nal/closing date
c´ rcel modelo
a hora pico (M)
prison in Barcelona commute hour
c´lula madre
e luz piloto
mother cell (organism) pilot light
ciudad dormitorio zona euro
dormitory town euro zone

v Compound nouns formed with other parts of speech are usually masculine and form
one word:

abrelatas pasatiempo
can opener hobby, pastime
altavoz portavoz
loudspeaker spokesperson
espantap´ jaros
a quedir´ n
a
scarecrow public opinion
hazmerre´r± quehaceres
laughing stock domestic chores
paraguas rompecabezas
umbrella puzzle
pararrayos terremoto
lightning conductor earthquake


25
A STUDENT GRAMMAR OF SPANISH




Finally three other compound nouns: el/la purasangre (thoroughbred horse), la sinraz´n
o
(injustice), la enhorabuena (congratulations).


2.6 Words distinguished by the ending a/o
Because of its distinctive gender endings, Spanish does not have many words with the same
form but different meanings. However, as in Italian, there are numerous pairs of words
distinguished only by a and o endings which are easily confused, and are a splendid test
of your memory. The Mexicans do not make it any easier as with bolso/bolsa below.
These are known as gender paronyms, or doublets (dobletes in Spanish). Below is a
small selection of such testing words, so put your memory cap on now:
Feminine Masculine
acera acero
sidewalk, pavement steel
acta acto
minutes, record of a meeting action, deed, act (in play)
arca arco
chest, box arch(way), bow (violin, archery)
banca banco
banking (as system) bank (as individual establishment), bench
bolsa bolso
(any) bag, lady™s purse / handbag (M), lady™s purse / handbag
Stock Exchange (Bolsa)
bomba bombo
bomb, pump bass drum
˜ ˜
cana cano
reed, stalk, (sugar) cane, (¬shing) rod, beer pipe, jet
glass
carga cargo
load to be carried, charge (military and burden, responsibility
explosive)
casa caso
house case, instance
copa copo
wine glass, trophy, top of tree snow¬‚ake / corn¬‚ake
cuenta cuento
account, bill story, tale
fonda fondo
tavern, small restaurant bottom, background, fund
fosa foso
grave, sea / land depression pit, hole, ditch
fruta fruto
fruit (as on the table) fruit (as on a tree)
Note that frutos secos = nuts
helada helado
frost ice-cream


26
2 De¬nite/inde¬nite articles and noun gender



libra libro
pound (weight, money) book
manga mango
sleeve (coat, shirt) handle
marca marco
brand, trademark, record (sport), stain frame (of picture)
moda modo
fashion, style way (of doing something), method
˜ ˜
muneca muneco
male doll (muneco de nieve = snowman)
˜
wrist, female doll
pala palo
shovel, spade stick, post, mast
papelera papelero
waste (paper) basket, paper mill paper manufacturer
partida partido
departure, register, certi¬cate (of (political) party, game (football)
birth/marriage/death), game (chess)
pata pato
leg (of animal) duck
pimienta pimiento
pepper (for seasoning) pepper (vegetable)

plata plato
silver, money (M) plate, dish, course of meal
puerta puerto
door port, pass (in mountains)
punta punto
point, sharp end dot, speck, point (in scoring)
rata rato
rat short time
seta seto
mushroom hedge
tormenta tormento
storm (usually violent) torment, anguish
trama tramo
plot, intrigue section, stretch (of road)
vela velo
sail, candle veil

* At the risk of emphasizing the generation gap between reader and author, Plata is also the name
of the Lone Ranger™s horse = Silver. If, like the author as a child, you followed the western series
entitled The Lone Ranger (El Llanero solitario), you would know what I mean.


2.7 Misleading similarities
This section is less to do with grammar than with semantics or ¬elds of meaning. However,
it seems useful to introduce you to the problem of “misleading similarities” or falsos
amigos which include not only nouns but also verbs and adjectives. By “misleading
similarities,” we mean a word which has a similar form in two languages but which has

27
A STUDENT GRAMMAR OF SPANISH




different meanings in both languages. The expression falso amigo is less common in
Spanish than in French (faux ami) where the phenomenon is very frequent (French >
English and vice versa “ and Italian > English and vice versa for that matter), although
among the well-informed it is well known. Interference from one language to another is
likely in these cases, so it is worthwhile giving special attention to them. Mexican impor-
tations from the USA can also produce considerable confusion. (See * after the list below.)
So, when you consult a Spanish-speaking physician / doctor, you don™t want to be treated
for a cold when you are constipated, and you don™t want to consult a psychotherapist
for embarrassment when you are pregnant (see constipado and embarazada below).
And never treat your carpeta like a carpet or your company will soon be plunged into
bankruptcy, or you will fail your examinations. Also be careful with the use of lujuria
and lujo, listed below. In order then to avoid these pitfalls, give some attention to this
small list of the most common falsos amigos (there are many more):
Falso amigo English equivalent English cognate Spanish equivalent
actual verdadero, real
present, i.e. now actual
la barraca el cuartel
hut, shed barracks
la carpeta la alfombra
¬le, folder carpet
la con¬dencia la con¬anza
con¬dential remark con¬dence

constipado estre˜ ido
n
cold constipated
la decepci´n
o el enga˜ o
n
disappointment deception
la desgracia la verg¨ enza, el esc´ ndalo
u a
misfortune disgrace
el disgusto el asco, la aversi´n
o
displeasure disgust
——
embarazada confuso, violento
pregnant embarrassed
el ´xito
e la salida
success exit
fastidioso quisquilloso, puntilloso
annoying fastidious
gracioso afable, cort´se
witty, funny (person) gracious
la ingenuidad el ingenio, la ingeniosidad
frankness ingenuity
largo extenso, amplio, ancho
long large
la lectura la conferencia, la clase
reading lecture
la librer´a
± la biblioteca
bookstore/shop library
la lujuria el lujo
lust luxury
la miseria la pena, el sufrimiento
poverty, squalor misery
el muslo el m´ sculo
u
thigh muscle
notorio de mala fama
famous notorious
= medio litro
la pinta appearance, look pint
quitar dejar, salir de
to remove / take away to quit
sensible sensato, prudente
sensitive sensible
simp´ tico
a compasivo, comprensivo
nice sympathetic
el suceso el ´xito
e
event success
la tabla la mesa
board table

* You can understand the confusion here if you consider the etymology of these two words.
Constipado and “constipated” come from the Latin stipor = “to compress” / “¬ll” / “block up.”
It should be added that Mexican Spanish can be ambiguous here. Constipado can mean
“constipated” in Mexico, so that if you went to a Mexican physician/doctor, and said you were
constipado, you would need to add, for example: Tengo la nariz tapada (My nose is blocked up) or:
Estoy constipado de la panza/del est´mago.
o




28
2 De¬nite/inde¬nite articles and noun gender



** Yes, strange as it may seem, violento can certainly have the meaning of “embarrassed,” as in:
Si te sientes violenta, volveremos a casa = If you feel embarrassed, we™ll go home. Mexico does not use
violento with this meaning, and would offer apenado, for example. Of course, violento has the
meaning of “violent” in both countries.

Ejemplos
Es un chiste muy gracioso It™s a very funny/witty joke
Es el gracioso de todas las reuniones He™s the funny man at all the parties
¡Ni˜ o! eres un poco fastidioso, no paras de molestar
n Hey, there, you really are a bit troublesome,
you don™t stop playing around
Su novia es hermana de una novelista notoria His girl friend is the sister of a famous
novelist

Exercises Level 2
i Rellena el blanco / Llena el espacio (M) con la palabra correcta, o sea el art´culo
±
de¬nido o inde¬nido, donde sea necesario. En algunas casos hay que anadir tambien
˜
a o de.

Ejemplo Espa˜ a es ( ) gran pa´s agr´cola > Espa˜ a es un gran pa´s agr´cola
n ± ± n ± ±
a M´ xico es ( ) gran naci´ n
e o
b ( ) muchedumbre est´ en ( ) plaza
a
c ( ) estudiante prepara ( ) tesis
d ( ) ambici´ n ( ) hombre no tiene l´mites
o ±
e ( ) alma es eterna
f ( ) avi´ n imita ( ) gorri´ n
o o
g ( ) cocinera prepara ( ) comida
h Es ( ) m´ dico y muy listo
e
i ( ) padres tienen cuatro hijos, ( ) hijas y ( ) hijos
j ( ) f´sico estudia ( ) f´sica
± ±
k ( ) ministro llega con ( ) ministra
l ( ) abogada habla con ( ) alcalde
m Voy ( ) Cairo/( ) Cabo
n ( ) polic´a forma parte ( ) polic´a
± ±
o ( ) bueno es que hable muy bien ( ) espa˜ ol n
p Me impresion´ mucho ( ) ocurrido
o
ii Pon las siguientes palabras segun su orden correcto para crear frases coherentes. En
´
algunos casos, hay que anadir tambien a o de.
˜ ´

a comedor chica el come la en
b a escuela la el va muchacho
c reina viaja la el Isabel Reina en
d autor de largo libro el es
e trama lo es una tiene interesante que complicada
f extra˜ o que no es lo venga
n
g c´ nsul habla presidenta con la la
o
h probable haga ma˜ ana lo lo que es
n
i el Coru˜ a Cairo naci´ la vive pero en en
n o
j apag´ n estrope´ un se central la y se produjo
o o


29
A STUDENT GRAMMAR OF SPANISH




k arreglar para hice posible asunto lo el
l lo carta f´ cil es m´ s escribir la
a a
iii ¿Cual es cual? Pon el genero correcto en las frases siguientes. En algunos casos, hay
´ ´ ´
que anadir tambien a o de.
˜ ´

a ( ) bater´a se encontr´ ( ) bater´a estropeada
± o ±
b ( ) defensa de hoy no suele jugar en ( ) defensa
c ( ) guardia formaba parte de ( ) guardia
d ( ) cabeza se hizo da˜ o en ( ) cabeza
n
e ( ) c´ mara tom´ ( ) c´ mara
a o a
f( ) cura se interesa por ( ) cura de las almas
g ( ) G´ nesis se re¬ere ( ) g´ nesis del hombre
e e
h Entiendo ( ) c´ lera del m´ dico cuando contempla ( ) c´ lera
o e o
iEs imposible poner ( ) coma cuando has sido afectado por ( ) coma
jHubo ( ) corte el´ ctrico durante una sesi´ n de ( ) Cortes
e o
k ( ) ¬n ( ) ¬nal fue emocionante
lEl sargento dio ( ) orden para imponer ( ) orden
m ( ) panda fue al zool´ gico para ver ( ) panda
o
n Se me cay´ ( ) pendiente y rod´ por ( ) pendiente
o o
o No funcionaba ( ) terminal en el circuito el´ ctrico y hubo un apag´ n en ( ) terminal
e o
de autobuses
p ( ) vocal no sab´a pronunciar todas ( ) vocales
±
q ( ) facha ( ) facha parec´a amenazante
±
iv Aqu´ tienes catorce frases incompletas. Se trata de completarlas. Cada frase
±
contiene dos palabras (dobletes) a las cuales les falta la a o la o, y posiblemente una
s que indica el plural. Tienes que poner la a o la o en su lugar correcto para que la
frase tenga un sentido logico. Busca tambien el art´culo de¬nido o inde¬nido, o
´ ´ ±
posiblemente el adjetivo demostrativo/posesivo que convenga.

Ejemplos
Anda con cuent( ) cuando habla de( ) cuent( ) corriente > Anda con cuentos cuando
habla de su cuenta corriente
Comer helad( ) cuando ha ca´do un( ) helad( ) tan fuerte me parece una bobada >
±
Comer helados cuando ha ca´do una helada tan fuerte me parece una bobada
±
a Usa es( ) pal( ) para sacar es( ) pal( ) del camino porque no nos deja pasar
b To lo advierto por ultima vez, si t´ no me haces cas( ), entonces saldr´ corriendo
´ u e
hacia tu cas( ) y te acusar´ con tu mam´
e a
c Cuando llueve mucho, y hace fr´o, nuestr( ) set( ) se llena de hongos y set( )
±
d En invierno, cuando est´ nevando, saldr´ a llenar mi cop( ) con cop( ) de nieve
e e
e Vivo cerca de( ) puert( ) que es muy famoso por sus casitas con puert( ) de color rojo
f Un( ) plat( ) de plat( ) es mucho m´ s costoso que un( ) plat ( ) de loza
a
g Un( ) pat( ) usualmente tiene dos pat( ), y si no, entonces es( ) pat( ) que no tiene
dos pat( ) es cojo
h Mi libr( ) pesa menos que medio kilo pero m´ s que un( ) libr( )
a
i Hace un rat( ) que no veo un( ) rat( ) en el parque. ¿Ser´ que se fueron de
a
vacaciones?
j El accidente dej´ un( ) marc( ) en la pintura; ahora tendremos que cambiar su
o
marc( )

30
2 De¬nite/inde¬nite articles and noun gender



k Yo te aseguro que, aunque no sepa de m´ sica, un( ) bomb( ) no puede hacer tanto
u
ruido como un( ) bomb( )
l Las chicas de un harem podr´an fabricar much( ) vel( ) con un( ) vel( )
±
m El lugar donde comemos todos los d´as, que es un( ) fond( ), tiene un pasillo tan
±
largo que es imposible ver que hay a( ) fond( )
n Me gusta ver la cara de mi amada a trav´ s de su vel( ), alumbrada s´ lo con un( )
e o
vel( )
v Rellena los blancos / Llena los espacios (M) con la palabra que convenga. En cada
caso, intenta encontrar una palabra espanola que pueda ser enganosa o
˜ ˜
malinterpretada cuando se traduce literalmente al ingles. La lista de arriba
´
concerniente a falsos amigos te ayudara. Al ¬nal de la frase, escribe una traduccion
´ ´
inglesa de la palabra que elijas.

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