Grammatical gender in Spanish

Grammatical gender in Spanish refers to the classification of Spanish nouns to form agreement in grammatical gender with Spanish determiners and Spanish adjectives. All Spanish nouns have a lexical gender of either masculine or feminine, and most nouns referring to male humans are grammatically masculine, while most referring to females are feminine.[1][2] In terms of markedness, the masculine is unmarked and the feminine is marked in Spanish.[2] Compared to other Romance languages, Spanish kinship terminology derives more female terms from male terms: for example, uncle/aunt is tío/tía in Spanish but oncle/tante in French; brother/sister is hermano/hermana in Spanish but fratello/sorella in Italian. Spanish pronouns also uniquely retain feminine forms of the first and second person plural (nosotras, vosotras).[3]


The most common genders are called masculine and feminine, while some Spanish pronouns are considered to have neutral gender. A few nouns are said to be of "ambiguous" gender, meaning that they are sometimes treated as masculine and sometimes as feminine.[4] Additionally, the terms "common gender" and "epicene gender" are used to classify ways in which grammatical gender interacts (or not) with "natural gender" (the gender identity of a person, or the sex of an animal). Many adjectives ending in -a may be masculine or feminine, while adjectives ending in -o are almost always masculine.[2]


The masculine (masculino): As a general rule, nouns ending in -o (libro 'book', zapato 'shoe') and nouns which refer to males (profesor, padre 'father') are masculine. Exceptionally, mano ('hand') is feminine. Also some colloquial shortened forms of feminine nouns end with -o: la foto(grafía) ('photograph'), la disco(teca) ('discothèque'), la moto(cicleta) ('motorcycle'), la radio(difusión) ('radio [broadcasting]').


The feminine (femenino): As a general rule, nouns ending in -a (casa 'house', boca 'mouth') and nouns which refer to females (madre 'mother', mujer 'woman, wife') are feminine. Similarly, the endings -ción, -sión, -dad, -tad, and -umbre indicate feminine gender. Exceptionally, día ('day'), mapa ('map') and sofá ('sofa') are masculine. Likewise, nouns of Greek origin ending in -ma (drama, problema) or "-ta" ("planeta", "profeta") are masculine. (These "Greek" nouns can often be identified by their derived adjectives ending in -mático.)


The neuter (neutro): The pronoun ello ('it, the aforementioned concept') and the demonstrative pronouns esto ('this [idea or unnamed thing]'), eso ('that'), and aquello ('that') are said to have neuter gender because they do not have a gendered noun as their antecedent, but rather refer to a whole idea, a clause, or an object that has not been named in the discourse. The neuter article lo (not to be confused with the masculine/neuter object (clitic) pronoun lo), is not used with nouns, since there are no neuter nouns. It is used with adjectives to create abstract "nouns": lo bueno, the good part (of it); lo importante, what is important (about it). Contrast el bueno/la buena, the good person or thing.


"Common gender" (común) is the term applied to those nouns, referring to persons, that keep the same form regardless of the sex of the person, but which change their grammatical gender. For example, el violinista ('the male violinist'), la violinista ('the female violinist'), el mártir ('the male martyr'), la mártir ('the female martyr'), el testigo ('the male witness'), la testigo ('the female witness'), el espía ('the male spy'), la espía ('the female spy'), etc. To this gender belong present participles derived from active verbs and used as nouns, such as el estudiante ('the male student'), la estudiante ('the female student'), el atacante ('the male attacker'), la atacante ('the female attacker'), el presidente ('the male president'), la presidente ('the female president'—although la presidenta is also often used), etc.


"Epicene gender" (epiceno) is the term applied to those nouns that have only one grammatical gender, masculine or feminine, but can refer to a living creature of either sex. Most animal names are of this type. E.g.: el ratón ('mouse'), la rata ('rat'), la rana ('frog'), la comadreja ('weasel'), la liebre ('hare'), la hormiga ('ant'), el búho ('owl'), el escarabajo ('beetle'), el buitre ('vulture'), el delfín ('dolphin'), el cóndor ('condor'), la paloma ('dove'), la llama ('llama'). To specify sex, a modifying word is added, with no change of gender: el delfín macho ('the male dolphin'), el delfín hembra ('the female dolphin'), la comadreja macho, la comadreja hembra (male and female weasels respectively).


Ambiguous nouns (ambiguo) whose grammatical gender varies in usage are said to be of "ambiguous" gender. Often the change of gender brings about a change of connotation. E.g.: el mar ('the sea'), la mar ('the sea', poetic or among sailors), el calor ('heat'), la calor (archaic), el azúcar, la azúcar ('sugar').[5]


In the recent history of the Spanish language, there is a unidirectional tendency for words with unusual gender to be regularized by analogy to other words of their class. For example, in some Spanish dialects, la tribu ("tribe"), which is the only word ending in -u to be feminine, has been changed to el tribo.[dubious ] The word idioma ("language"), which is masculine in standard Spanish, has become feminine in some dialects.[2]


Some feminist movements and ideologies have criticized certain grammatical rules in Spanish which use grammatically-masculine forms rather than grammatically-feminine forms. These include the grammatical custom (inherited from Latin) of using a grammatically-masculine plural for a group containing at least one biological male; the use of the masculine definite article for infinitives (e.g. el amar, not la amar); and the permissibility of using Spanish male pronouns for female referents but not vice versa (e.g. el que includes women, la que does not include men). There also exist solely-masculine apocope forms (e.g. al ("to him", from a + el), del ("of him", from de + el), algún (from alguno) and buen (from bueno)) simply due to inherited tendencies in phonology and morphology. Some early proposals for gender neutrality in Spanish have included extending the use of the gender-neutral -es ending for plural nouns, so that mis hijos ("my children" or "my boys") becomes mis hijes).[3]


  1. ^ Gender of nouns in Spanish - Gender rules
  2. ^ a b c d Harris, James (1991). "The Experience of Gender in Spanish". Linguistic Inquiry. The MIT Press. 22 (1): 27–62.
  3. ^ a b Eisenberg, Daniel (1985). "Grammatical Sexism in Spanish" (PDF). Journal of Hispanic Philology. 9: 189–196. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 28, 2018.
  4. ^ E-spanish | Gender of Spanish nouns. Retrieved on 2011-01-22.
  5. ^ Spanish Nouns of Ambiguous Gender — Spanish Grammar. (2010-06-17). Retrieved on 2011-01-22.

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