Spanish grammar tells us that the gender of nouns is either masculine (el coche) or feminine (la moto).
Sometimes we take the root of the word to form the gender, for example, amig– and then add the suffix -o/a: amigo and amiga. Another example of root + desinence is conde and condesa.
Sometimes we resort to heteronomy, which is designating the gender of nouns with different words that do not share the root, as in hombre and mujer.
Then, there are other Spanish nouns that do not have a specific gender, but the same word is used to speak in both feminine and masculine. These are the common gender nouns, but we also have the gender-ambiguous nouns and the epicene nouns. Don’t worry! iScribo tells you a bit about them.
1. Common Gender Nouns
They have only one form to designate the masculine and feminine. What tells us that gender is the determiner or adjective that accompanies them:
El turista alemán es el mejor valorado en la hostelería. (The German tourist is the most highly rated in the hospitality industry.)
La turista compró muchos recuerdos para sus familiares. (The tourist bought a lot of souvenirs for her relatives.)
El juicio se va a retrasar porque falta la testigo. (The trial is going to be delayed because the -female- witness is missing.)
Este testigo no recuerda lo que pasó. (This -male- witness does not remember what happened.)
2. Epicene Nouns
They have a masculine or feminine grammatical gender, but they designate both sexes. It is not as confusing as it seems, here are some examples to make it clearer:
- Masculine epicenes:
Personaje (character): El personaje principal, Eva, aparece desde el primer capítulo. (The main character, Eva, appears from the first chapter.)
Vástago: Los vástagos comienzan a aparecer en primavera. (The rods begin to appear in spring.)
- Feminine epicenes:
Víctima: La victima era un hombre de cincuenta años. (The victim was a man in his fifties.)
Avispa: La avispa que me picó era macho. (The wasp that stung me was male.)
If we are talking about animals, we can always add macho (male) and hembra (female) to clarify the speech.
3. Gender-Ambiguous Nouns
These are nouns that can be used with masculine and feminine determiners and adjectives without altering the meaning. The choice of masculine or feminine will depend on the register, the area in which they are spoken, or simply a personal preference. These are nouns that designate inanimate beings.
El mar o la mar (the sea)
El mar estaba picado cuando fuimos a la playa.
La mar estaba picada cuando fuimos a la playa.
(The sea was rough when we went to the beach.)
El calor o la calor (the heat)
Este fin de semana hará mucha calor.
Este fin de semana hará mucho calor.
(This weekend it will be very hot.)
The context it’s Key
Most of the time, the context of the speech will help you choose each option, but it’s good to know that Spanish grammar distinguishes different genders of nouns in addition to masculine and feminine. iScribo helps you practice them. Visit the website and try our tool, you will see how it corrects and helps you with common gender nouns, epicenes, and ambiguous nouns, among other functions.