Does spanish use l' like French?
In standard Spanish, people always write la
before feminine words beginning with a vowel: la obra,
la uva etc. If the vowel is a
stressed a, they generally write and
say el: el agua,
el arma, el área etc.
When the word after la begins with an unstressed 'a',
in normal speech, one of the as is elided in pronunciation.
In other words la alfombra is generally pronounced
l'alfombra, la antigüedad is
generally pronounced l'antigüedad etc.
How do you tell whether to use el or la?
The definite article in Spanish (the word that generally translates
English "the") depends on the gender of the
noun. All nouns in Spanish are generally either masculine or
feminine. In general:
- certain endings strongly dictate the gender of a noun
(e.g. nouns ending in -ión are practically always
feminine; those ending in -or are practically always masculine);
- nouns that refer to people— and certain common animals— tend to
follow the gender of the person/animal they refer to;
- there are a few arbitrary exceptions.
To choose between el and la, the first stage is to
determine the gender of the noun. Then, the general
- use el with masculine nouns;
- use la with feminine nouns;
- use el immediately before feminine nouns
that begin with a stressed 'a' vowel (el agua).
The last item is the one that it's easy to forget.
There are a very small number of other exceptions, some of which aren't
widely agreed upon.
So the question of whether to use el or la essentially
boils down to: how do you guess the gender of a Spanish noun?
Basic gender rules
The following are the most common patterns for telling whether a Spanish noun
is masculine or feminine, and therefore whether to use el or la.
Note that rules referring to endings typically apply to words of more than one
syllable1. So for example, whilst words ending in -ie
are generally feminine, the word pie (="foot") is masculine.
|-ista||Follows the gender of the person||el/la pianista|
the male/female pianist
|-ad, -ud||Feminine||la verdad|
|Other nouns ending in a consonant||Masculine||el color|
|-ante||Usually masculine unless referring to a female||el desodorante|
the (female) singer
|-e||(Gender of the person if referring to a person, else check dictionary)||el traste|
the dish/piece of junk
|Short forms of words||Follow the pattern of the "full" word||la foto(grafía)|
|Where another obvious noun representing the "category" is implied (e.g. "río", "coche", "vino", "equipo")2||Follow the gender of the implied "category" noun||In all these examples, the noun in brackets is generally removed, but the phrase keeps its gender:|
el (equipo) Madrid
Madrid (the football team)
el (Monte) Everest
el (coche) Mercedes rojo
the red Mercedes
la (montaña) Malinche
Malinche (name of a mountain in Mexico)
1. Strictly speaking, they tend to apply when the given
ending is a derivational suffix (an ending used to derive one
word from another). But sometimes it's difficult to tell whether the ending is
derivational or not, and "more than one syllable" is usually a good enough
2. There are some exceptions or cases of disagreement or geographical variation. For example,
Butt & Benjamin give el champaña,
but in Mexico at least, speakers appear to make champaña
feminine (even referring to the drink), although the alternative
el champán is always masculine.
There are various exceptions to the above patterns, but the following are
some of the most common:
, el mediodía
, (the) midday
Words ending in -ma
that are the same or similar to English:
, el sistema
, the system
Suggest a change / Cambios sugeridos
Introduction to Spanish verbs
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