Asking, asking and asking, there’s no better way to have an answer. During our sessions on Skype, preparing DELE exams or in Spanish for different level classes, our Spanishviaskype’s teachers take notes about our student’s questions, which are usually recurrent. Among those doubts they often have, gender of words is one of the stars.
Casa, mesa or niña are feminine, whereas libro, sueño or beso are masculine. No problem with that: words ending in -a are feminine and the ones ending in -o are masculine. However, what about nouns ending in -e? Hombre, padre or príncipe are masculine, while madre, gente or clase are feminine. Even more, problema is masculine, but radio is feminine. The confusion is obvious. Keep reading and we’ll try to shed light on this.
1. Why are el problema, el tema or el teorema masculine?
All of these terms come from Greek. This language, as Latin was, is synthetic and used a declension system to express syntactic functions and suffixes to change or add meanings to a noun. The suffix ‑μα [ma], introduced the idea of result of the verbal action. In this way, problema was litterally, the result of hurling something (βάλλειν) ahead (πρό). This word, and many others with that suffix, were neuter, firstly in Greek, and later in Latin. However, the Spanish language has not a neuter gender and these terms turned into masculine forms. So, those suffix don’t indicate a gender flexion, they’re just ethymological forms.
For example: El tema que vamos a tratar es el problema con el teorema de Pitágoras (the topic we’re going to talk about is the problem about Pythagorean theorem.).
2. Why are el águila, el agua or el hada masculine?
Although the claim in this question seems to be correct, what about this?: el águila rápida, el agua clara or el hada mágica? Actually, the premise in the original question is not true. The three of them are feminine as it’s usual with words ending in -a. So, why do we need to use the masculine article “el” before them? Here we have a phonetic problem. If we use the feminine article “la” before a word that starts with a stressed a- we would cause a cacophony (disgusting combination of sounds). However, the rest of adjectives should remain in a feminine form. Notice that words starting in ha- are also affected by this rule (la hada), because “h” has no sound in Spanish.
For example: Aprender español por Skype es mucho mejor que hacerlo en esta aula abarrotada. Es mejor estar en el aula tranquila de tu habitación. (Learning Spanish via Skype is much better that doing it in this crowded classroom. It’s better to be in the quiet classroom of your room).
3. Why are la foto, la moto or la radio feminine?
Demos la vuelta a la tortilla (let’s change things up). We’ve seen nouns that finish in -a and they are, or they seem to be, masculine. Nevertheless, are there feminine nouns ending in -o? Of course, there are. Let’s see only one type. Although these terms are used daily, not many people know that they are only shortenings of longer words. So, foto comes from fotografía, moto from motocicleta, and radio from radiofrecuencia. These original words are actually femenine, therefore, the shorten ones, too.
For example: ¿Has visto esta foto de mi nueva moto? (did you see this photo of my new bike?)
As you can see, the Spanish language has not fixed rules; there are exceptions everywhere. However, if you want to learn Spanish and have doubts of this kind, don’t hesitate and send them to us; or even better, try a free trial lesson with us: you will learn and enjoy on Spanishviaskype, no doubt.