In the eighth class of our Absolute Beginner Spanish course we are going to learn how the Spanish nouns work, so we can study the most basic things related to nouns: common endings, plurals and gender.
Main characteristics of nouns
Nouns are the words which refer to things, people, animals, concepts, etc. For example, the word noun is a noun.
In English, nouns (usually) have a singular form (noun) and a plural form (nouns). Nouns are also the words that can be preceded by determiners such as articles (a noun, the nouns), etc.
The biggest difference between Spanish and English is that Spanish nouns have gender (masculine or feminine), even if they refer to an object. Since English nouns don’t have gender per se, this basic characteristic is problematic at first to English speakers.
The first thing we have to understand is that gender doesn’t refer to biology, but to grammar. That’s why we could also talk about grammatical gender.
Only with living beings does grammatical gender coincide with biological gender. With objects, however, there’s no biological gender, but there’s always grammatical gender.
The word for woman is mujer, which is feminine. The word for man is hombre, which is masculine. That’s easy. However, the word for table is mesa, feminine, and the word for book is libro, masculine.
Why would a table be feminine, and a book, masculine? Just like that. Deal with it.
When you learn a noun, you shouldn’t just learn its spelling-pronunciation and meaning: you should also learn its gender.
Common gender endings
Around half of the nouns are quite straight-forward when it comes to gender, since you can get it from its ending. As a rule of thumb, this is the basic correspondence between the ending of a noun and its gender:
- ‑a → feminine (e.g. niña)
- ‑o → masculine (e.g. niño)
Of course, there are some exceptions that you’ll learn on the way, such as mano (feminine) or problema (masculine).
Then, you’ll find that around half of the words don’t fall into any of those two endings. We can’t know the gender of those words beforehand.
There are some common suffixes, such as ‑dad or ‑tad (English ‑ty), for example universidad or libertad, which are always feminine. Other than these cases, you must learn genders by heart.
It is quite easy to make the plural of a noun from its singular (and also to form the singular from its plural).
In general, you just add ‑s to the singular form to make the plural:
- puerta → puertas
- cuaderno → cuadernos
But if the word ends with a consonant, then you need to add ‑es:
- pared → paredes
- papel → papeles
- poder → poderes
- camión → camiones
Yes, there are exceptions to everything we have studied in this class, but for now we’re good!