The Indeterminate Feminine in Spanish
The indeterminate feminine in Spanish is one of those concepts that our students at Spanishviaskype find mysterious.
The Omission of Words in Spanish
In all languages it is common to omit parts of a sentence because they are implied by the context. If speakers already know the person, place, time or action they are talking about, why they would repeat something they already know?
For example, when we wish someone a good trip or a recovery from an illness, we usually say: ¡Que tengas buen viaje! ¡Que te mejores! But we are actually omitting the verb of wish: ¡Deseo que tengas buen viaje! ¡Espero que te recuperes!
If you want to remember how to express wishes in Spanish with the present subjunctive, don’t forget to visit our free grammar resources section.
The Indeterminate Feminine in Verbal Phrases
Today we are going to talk about one of these omissions: the indeterminate feminine in Spanish. Usually in spoken language and in colloquial situations, we use fixed expressions (group of words that do not change) called phrases.
In one type of phrases, which are the verbal ones (the whole group works as a verb), sometimes the pronoun la / las appears. The problem comes when we think about the referent of this pronoun. What does la refer to? We have the answer.
Lo siento. La he fastidiado.
The speaker has screwed something up, but what is la. Well, it seems clear that it refers to something the speaker was doing and it didn’t work out. But why feminine? What if it refers to a business or a soccer game (masculine in Spanish)? It doesn’t matter, we always use la. Perhaps it could refer to some feminine word like la situación, la cosa, la circunstancia. That is, we use the indeterminate feminine in Spanish.
Examples of Verbal Phrases with the Indeterminate Feminine in Spanish
Let’s see some examples that speakers can use in their daily conversations. By the way, if you want to improve your conversational skills, don’t forget to try our conversation classes, where you can put all this new knowledge into practice.
- Pasarla bien/mal: In America they use the feminine and in Spain the masculine (lo). It has the meaning of having fun.
- Cagarla: It has the same meaning as fastidiarla.
- Montarla: To cause a scandal.
- Jugársela: To take a risk. If we use it with a person (jugársela a alguien), it means to betray that person.
- Palmarla: To die.
- Pegársela: It has two meanings. Either to suffer an accident or mishap, or to cheat a person.
Let’s see the indeterminate feminine in Spanish in action:
Cuando empecé a trabajar en la nueva empresa, no la/lo pasé nada bien. En realidad fue mi culpa porque la cagué varias veces. Pero mis compañeros tampoco me ayudaron: me la pegaron y me la jugaron cuando hablaron con mi jefe. Aquel día mi jefe la montó bien grande. Yo pensaba que la palmaba.
Examples of Verbal Phrases with the Plural las
The indeterminate feminine in Spanish is not only used in the singular. There are quite a few verbal phrases that also use it in its plural variant las. Here are some of them:
- Pasarlas moradas / canutas: To have serious difficulties or problems.
- Apañárselas: To be able to solve a problem.
- Dárselas de: To believe you have more skills than you really do.
- Sabérselas todas: To have a lot of experience and knowledge about something.
- Tenerlas todas consigo: To be totally convinced of something.
As before, let’s look at them in context:
Compré una estantería muy bonita en IKEA. Pero para instalarla las pasé moradas. Yo siempre me las he dado de ingeniero y creía que me las sabía todas. Sin embargo, cuando empecé a leer aquellas instrucciones, no las tenía todas conmigo. Después de varias horas, me las apañé para montar la estantería, pero para la próxima vez, pediré ayuda.
Of course, there are many more examples of phrases with the indeterminate feminine in Spanish. If you want to go deeper into this topic and put into practice everything you’ve learned, don’t hesitate to reserve classes on Spanishviaskype. We will be happy to help you.