El problema and la solución, a masculine/feminine problem

26 March 2017
door Regina Coeli

When someone says in Dutch ‘het fiets’ (the bicycle) or ‘de vliegtuig’ (the aeroplane), it can come across as irritating because it should be ‘de fiets’ and ‘het vliegtuig’. When you’re learning a foreign language, it is important to avoid making mistakes in the use of the definite articles. English is easy as far as that is concerned! ‘The’ is the only option. In Latin-based languages, however, the definite article changes according to whether the noun is masculine or feminine (or even neuter in certain languages – ‘het’ is actually neuter), and whether the noun is singular or plural.

Spanish definite articles

In Spanish, the Dutch ‘de’ and ‘het’ are ‘el’ (singular) and ‘los’ (plural) for masculine nouns. The definite articles for feminine nouns are ‘la’(singular) and ‘las’ (plural). Luckily the rules governing masculine and feminine nouns are fairly clear:

  • Masculine nouns end in ‘o’;
  • Feminine nouns end in ‘a’.

How to remember the exceptions

Spanish is fairly consistent and there are not many exceptions to this rule. However, there are lots of Spanish learners who do make mistakes. Our (predominantly) female language trainers, therefore, have great pleasure in giving their course members the following memory aid to help them avoid making mistakes with words that end in ‘ma’ and ‘ión’:

  • El problema is masculine: Men cause problems
  • La solución is feminine: Women solve them!

 

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