Spanish Parts of Speech (Part 2)

     

In Spanish Parts of Speech (Part 1) we did a quick overview of the main parts of speech (nouns, adjectives, etc.). While that information was accurate, we made it look easier than it actually was by glossing over a number of more complicated situations. Now that you're a little older and wiser, it's time to take a closer look at at some of these issues.

Spanish Nouns

Gender of Nouns

In Part 1, we determined that nouns ending in "-o" were masculine and nouns ending in "-a" were feminine. There's a couple of problems with this simple rule: it's not always true, and there are numerous nouns which don't end with "-o" or "-a."

Imposters

First of all, some words are imposters. For instance, moto and foto ("motorcycle" and "photograph") both end in "-o" but they are feminine: la moto, la foto. There's a good reason for it. Moto and foto are actually abbreviations of motocicleta and fotografía. Another example is la disco, short for la discoteca.

Rule Breakers

There are also numberous words which break the "-o" and "-a" rules. The following is a list of common trouble makers:

Note: Most of the rule breakers are masculine words ending in "-a".

el cometa (comet)
el día (day)

la mano (hand)
el mapa (map)

el planeta (planet)
el sofá (sofa, couch)

A substantial number of the words that break the gender rules end in "-ma." Some examples:

Note: Many masculine "-ma" words are of Greek origin.

el aroma (aroma)
el clima (climate)
el diagrama (diagram)
el diploma (diploma)

el drama (drama)
el idioma (language)
el panorama (panorama)
el poema (poem)

el problema (problem)
el programa (program)
el síntoma (symptom)
el tema (theme, subject)

Nouns Not Ending in "-o" or "-a"

What about nouns that don't end in "-o" or "-a"? Here are some general guidelines to help you determine the gender.

Most nouns that end with "-d," "-ión," "-ie," and "-umbre" are feminine

For example:

la amistad (friendship)
la actitud (attitude)
la comunidad (community)
la felicidad (hapiness)
la pared (wall)
la salud (health)

la confusión (confusion)
la migración (migracion)
la misión (mission)
la nación (nation)
la tensión (tension)
la tradición (tradition)

la serie (series)
la especie (species)
la superficie (surface)
la certidumbre (certainty)
la costumbre (custom)
la muchedumbre (crowd)

But this isn't always true. Some notable exceptions:

el avión (airplane)

el camión (truck)

el césped (lawn)

Islands, letters, and illnesses are usually feminine

la Isla Ellis (Ellis Island), la hache (h), la amigdalitis (tonsilitis)

Most nouns that end with "-aje," "-l," or "-r" are masculine

For example:

el garaje (garage)
el paisaje (landscape)
el personaje (character)
el traje (suit)

el control (control)
el final (end)
el hotel (hotel)
el papel (paper)

el favor (favor)
el lugar (place)
el temor (fear)
el valor (value)

Some notable exceptions:

la cárcel (jail)

la labor (labor)

la catedral (cathedral)

la miel (honey)

la flor (flower)

la sal (salt)

Months, days of the week, compound words, numbers, oceans, seas, rivers, and mountains are usually masculine

el noviembre (November), el lunes (Monday), el sacapuntas (pencil sharpener),
el noventa (ninety), el Océano del sur (the Southern Ocean),
el Caribe (the Caribbean), el Amazonas (the Amazon),
el Aconcagua (Mount Aconcagua)

Gender Benders

Many jobs and occupations can be used with people of either gender. The noun itself does not change, the article indicates gender. This is especially true of "-ante" and "-ista" words. For example:

masculine:

feminine:

English:

el artista
el cantante
el ciclista
el estudiante
el gerente
el juez
el periodista
el pianista

la artista
la cantante
la ciclista
la estudiante
la gerente
la juez
la periodista
la pianista

artist
singer
cyclist
student
manager
judge
journalist
pianist

There are also other descriptors which are invariable. Even though it looks like maybe it should, the noun itself doesn't change.

masculine:

feminine:

English:

el astronauta
el modelo
el piloto
el pirata
el soprano
el testigo

la astronauta
la modelo
la piloto
la pirata
la soprano
la testigo

astronaut
model
pilot
pirate
soprano
witness

Other jobs and occupations have slightly different forms for different genders. This is especially true of "-ero" and "-era" words. For example:

Note: Remember that one male member in a group makes the entire group male: Un banquero + una banquera = dos banqueros.

masculine:

feminine:

English:

el banquero
el cartero
el cocinero
el ingeniero
el jefe
el maestro
el mesero
el presidente

la banquera
la cartera
la cocinera
la ingeniera
la jefa
la maestra
la mesera
la presidenta

banker
mail carrier
cook
engineer
boss
teacher
waiter
president

Some words can actually be both genders. A change in gender changes the meaning of the following words:

masculine:

feminine:

el capital (as in city)
el corte (cut)
el cura (priest)
el frente (front)
el guía (guide)
el orden (order)
el papa (pope)
el policía (police officer)

la capital (as in money)
la corte (court)
la cura (cure)
la frente (forehead)
la guía (guidebook)
la orden (command)
la papa (potato)
la policía (police force)

And some nouns have completely different words for each gender (just like in English).

Note: While some animals have different words for the male and the female (el oso / la osa, el lobo / la loba), most animals use the same word for both genders.

masculine:

feminine:

el actor (actor)
el caballero (gentleman)
el héroe (hero)
el hombre (man)
el príncipe (prince)
el rey (king)
el varón (male)

la actriz (actress)
la dama (lady)
la heroína (heroine)
la mujer (woman)
la princesa (princess)
la reina (queen)
la hembra (female)

Persona and Víctima

It sounds strange, but persona and víctima are always feminine regardless of who they refer to. Adjectives describing these nouns will always be feminine too.

Su tío fue víctima de un ataque.
His uncle was the victim of an attack.

Nuestro padre es una persona comprensiva.
Our father is an understanding person.

Changing Nouns from Singular to Plural

In Part 1, we said to make nouns plural, add "-s" to words ending in vowels, and add "-es" to words ending in consonants. So teléfono becomes teléfonos, bicicleta becomes bicicletas, papel becomes papeles, etc., etc. But it's not quite that simple.

Nouns Ending in Vowels

We do add an "-s" to nouns ending in an unstressed vowel:

singular:

plural:

la casa
el coche
el taxi
el pueblo
la tribu





las casas
los coche
s
los taxis
los pueblos
las tribus

And we also add an "-s" to nouns ending in the stressed vowels , , and :

singular:

plural:

el café
el sofá
el bongó



los cafés
los sofás
los bongós

Note: The plural names of vowels look like this: las aes, las ees, las íes, las oes, las úes.

But we usually add "-es" to nouns that end in the stressed vowels or :

singular:

plural:

el esquí
el rubí
el caribú
el tabú




los esquíes
los rubíes
los caribúes
los tabúes

This rule isn't always followed: el esquí → los esquís, el champú → los champús, and el menú → los menús.

Nouns Ending in Consonants

Note: Many foreign words adopted into Spanish follow their own plural rules: robot robots.

We're supposed to add "-es" to words ending in consonants. But what if the words already ends in "-s"?

To nouns that end in a stressed vowel and "-s" we add "-es."

singular:

plural:

el autobús
el gas
el país



los autobuses
los gases
los países

Note: The same rules apply to words ending in "-x": el tórax los tórax.

But nouns that end in an unstressed vowel and "-s" have the same singular and plural forms. Only the article changes:

singular:

plural:

el martes
la crisis
el salvavidas



los martes
las crisis
los salvavidas

Plural Nouns and Accent Marks

Some words will actually gain an accent mark when they becomes plural. Keep an eye out for nouns where the stress falls somewhere other than the last syllable. When we add a syllable by adding "-es," we'll need to add an accent mark to preserve the original stress:

singular:

plural:

el examen
el joven
el orden



los exámenes
los jóvenes
los órdenes

And some words lose accent marks when they become plural:

singular:

plural:

la canción
la oración
el violín



las canciones
las oraciones
los violines

Spelling Changes

Nouns that end in "-z" follow the same rules as nouns ending in "-s," but there is also a z → c spelling change.

singular:

plural:

la actriz
el lápiz
la voz



las actrices
los lápices
las voces

Last Names and Decades

To refer to an entire family in Spanish, we don't add an "-s" to the last name; we simply change the article.

Nuestros vecinos son los García.
Our neighbors are the Garcias.

Los Ortega son una familia muy simpática.
The Ortegas are a very nice family.

And we do the same thing to refer to decades (sometimes including the word años).

En los ochenta la economía mejoró.
In the eighties the economy improved.

La gente llevaba ropa cómica en los años sesenta.
People wore funny clothes in the sixties.

Spanish Articles

In Part 1, we briefly discussed definite and indefinite articles. Here's a quick review:

 

definite articles:

indefinite articles:

 

masculine:

feminine:

masculine:

feminine:

singular:

plural:

el libro

los libros

la revista

las revistas

un libro

unos libros

una revista

unas revistas

Remember that each article needs to agree in gender and number with the noun it modifies. What we didn't discuss was contractions, a weird exception, and when to use articles in Spanish.

Contractions

There are two article contractions to be aware of. To avoid pronunciation difficulties, whenever a is followed by el, they combine to become al. Whenever de is followed by el, they become del.

a + el = al

de + el = del

For example:

Voy a ir al mercado.
Quiero saber más del león.

This is only true of el, not la (or los or las).

Voy a ir a la tienda.
Quiero saber más de los osos.
Está cerca de las mesas.

This contraction does not take place with proper nouns, or the subject pronoun él.

Voy a ir a El Salvador.
Quiero saber más de El Salvador.
No voy a decirle a él.

El Agua / Las Aguas (Cacophony)

It's strange and it doesn't happen often, but whenever we have a singular feminine noun that begins with a stressed a sound, we switch its article to the masculine form in order to avoid having to pronounce two a sounds in a row (this is known as "cacophony"). This is true of both definite and indefinite articles.

Note: Since the letter "h" isn't pronounced in Spanish, ha = a.

el agua
el águila
el hada

not: la agua
not: la águila
not: la hada

un agua
un águila
un hada

not: una agua
not: una águila
not: una hada

Note: This is the equivalent of using "an" instead of "a" in English: "an army" (not "a army").

However, when these nouns are plural, the double a situation doesn't exist so we revert back to the feminine article.

singular:

plural:

el agua
el águila
el hada

las aguas
las águilas
las hadas

singular:

plural:

un agua
un águila
un hada

unas aguas
unas águilas
unas hadas

Remember that regardless of the article used, these are still feminine nouns which require feminine adjectives.

Note: Remember to use feminine pronouns too: El agua está sucia. No la bebes. Ésta es mejor.

el agua sucia
el águila brava
el hada vieja

un agua sucia
un águila brava
un hada vieja

This rule does not apply to nouns that begin with an unstressed a because they're easier to pronounce.

la artillería, la agricultura, una avenida

When to Use Definite and Indefinite Articles

Figuring out when to use articles in Spanish can be a bewildering task for an English speaker. Sometimes the two languages correspond beautifully; sometimes they are complete opposites. One general rule of thumb: definite articles are used much more often in Spanish, indefinite articles are used less often.

Using Definite Articles

Use a definite article when using nouns in general or abstract sense (We don't do this in English):

El amor y la fe son muy importantes.
Love and faith are very important.

Las matemáticas son interesantes.
Math is interesting.

Use a definite article (instead of a possessive adjective) with body parts or clothes, especially when using reflexive verbs:

Me duele el brazo.
Not: Me duele mi brazo.
My arm hurts.

Voy a ponerme el abrigo.
Not: Voy a ponerme mi abrigo.
I'm going to put on my jacket.

Use a definite article with names of languages:

El español es un idioma muy bonito.
Spanish is a beautiful language.

El inglés es muy difícil aprender.
English is difficult to learn.

Note: Definite articles are also often omitted after aprender, enseñar, entender, escribir, estudiar, saber, and leer.

But don't use a definite article with languages following de or en or hablar:

Yo sé hablar español muy bien.
I know how to speak Spanish well.

¿Cómo se dice en inglés?
How is that said in English?

Use a definite article with titles when speaking about someone:

Me gustar hablar con el Señor Montes.
I want to talk with Señor Montes.

Necesita ver la doctora Lopez.
He needs to see doctor Lopez.

Note: Definite articles are omitted before Don, Doña, Santo, and Santa.

But don't use a definite article when talking to someone:

¡Hola, Señor Montes!
Hello, Señor Montes!

Note: Don't use an article with days following ser: Hoy es martes.

Use a definite article with days, times, and dates:

Me voy el martes a la una el dos de Abril.
I'm leaving on Tuesday, April 2, at one o'clock.

Note: Certain countries usually do include an article: la Argentina,
el Ecuador, el Paraguay,
el Perú, el Uruguay

Generally speaking, we don't use definite articles with proper nouns:

Quiero estudiar Canadá.
I want to study Canada.

Es un informe sobre México.
It's a report about Mexico.

But we do use definite articles with proper nouns if they are modified by an adjective or descriptive phrase:

Quiero estudiar el Canadá colonial.
I want to study colonial Canada.

Es un informe sobre el México precolombino.
It's a report about pre-Columbian Mexico.

Use a definite article with units of weights and measurements:

La gasolina cuesta $4.00 el galón.
Gasoline costs $4.00 a gallon.

Cincuenta centavos la docena.
Fifty cents (for) a dozen.

Using Indefinite Articles

Use an indefinite article to introduce a noun that has not been previously identified (once the noun is introduced, a definite article is used):

Hay un artículo en el periódico sobre mi escuela.
There is an article in the newspaper about my school.

¿De veras? ¿Y que dice el artículo?
Really? And what does the article say?

Don't use an indefinite article with nouns following ser or hacerse that refer to occupation, nationality, religion, or political affiliation:

Mi amigo es hondureño.
My friend is Honduran.

Su hermana quiere ser abogada.
His sister wants to be a lawyer.

But do use an indefinite article with nouns following ser or hacerse modified by an adjective or descriptive phrase:

Mi amigo es un hondureño viejo.
My friend is an old Honduran.

Su hermana es una abogada maravillosa.
His sister is an amazing lawyer.

Use an indefinite article with numbers to indicate approximate amounts:

Tengo unos libros que se trata de arte.
I have some books that are about art.

Unos cinco mil van a venir.
Approximately five thousand are going to come.

Don't use indefinite articles with cien, cierto, medio, mil, otro, semejante, and tal:

Necesito mil dólares y otro coche.
I need a thousand dollars and another car.

Indefinite articles are not required after sin or con:

¡No salgan sin paraguas!
Don't leave without an umbrella.

Vive en una casa con piscina.
She leaves in a house with a pool.

Indefinite articles are not necessary in negative sentences and after verbs like tener, haber, and buscar when the concept of un or una is not important:

No tengo lápiz y por eso busco lápiz.
I don't have a pencil, and that's why I'm looking for a pencil.

No hay mesa.
There isn't a table.

The Neuter Article Lo

Definite articles don't end with el, la, los, and las. There's also a neuter (non-gender) article, lo. How is it used? Lo can be combined with a masculine singular adjective to create an abstract noun. English translations usually involve the words, "thing" or "part":

Lo mejor fue el final.
The best part was the ending.

Lo bueno es que no hay tarea.
What's good is that there's no homework.

Lo más importante es ser sincero.
The most important thing is to be sincere.

Spanish Adjectives

Adjectives Forms

In part 1 we learned that adjectives have four forms based on the gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural) of the nouns they modify. For example:

 

masculine:

feminine:

singular:

plural:

el chico alto

los chicos altos

la chica alta

las chicas altas

Note: The rules for making adjectives plural are the same as the rules for nouns:
atriz → actrices
,
feliz → felices
.

But once again, this isn't always the case. Not every adjective has four forms. Some only have only two forms, singular and plural. These adjectives are known as "invariable" adjectives because they don't change with gender. Many of these adjectives end in "-a" (like azteca, indígena, marina, maya, and violeta). And "-ista" adjectives (like comunista, deportista, optimista, pesimista, realista, etc.) are invariable too. For example:

El imperio azteca era impresionante.
The Aztec empire was impressive.

A los chicos deportistas les gustó el voleibol.
The athletic boys liked volleyball.

Adjectives that end in "-e" or a consonant have only two forms as well. A few examples:

masculine sing.:

masculine plural:

feminine sing.:

feminine plural:

 

cortés

menor

tropical

verde

corteses

menores

tropicales

verdes

cortés

menor

tropical

verde

corteses

menores

tropicales

verdes

(courteous)

(younger)

(tropical)

(green)

Notice how the masculine and feminine forms are the same? Another example:

Quiero un traje azul con una corbata azul.
I want a blue suit with a blue tie.

The adjective azul modifies both the masculine traje and the feminine corbata.

Of course there are exceptions to the rules above. Some nationality adjectives have distinct feminine forms even if they end in consonants. Some examples:

masculine sing.:

masculine plural:

feminine sing.:

feminine plural:

 

alemán

español

francés

japonés

alemánes

españoles

franceses

japoneses

alemána

española

francesa

japonesa

alemánas

españolas

francesas

japonesas

(German)

(Spanish)

(French)

(Japanese)

Also, adjectives that end in "-án," "-ín" "-ón," or "-or," (don't worry, they're rare) have different feminine forms also. For example:

masculine sing.:

masculine plural:

feminine sing.:

feminine plural:

 

hablador

holgazán

juguetón

pequeñín

habladores

holgazanes

juguetones

pequeñines

habladora

holgazana

juguetona

pequeñina

habladoras

holgazanas

juguetonas

pequeñinas

(talkative)

(lazy)

(playful)

(tiny)

Adjective Placement

In Part 1 we learned that adjectives come after nouns in Spanish, but of course this isn't always true. The following "limiting adjectives" come in front of the nouns they're modifying:

alguno
some

bastante
enough

cada
each

mucho
a lot

otro
another

poco
little

suficiente
sufficient

varios
various

The words mejor (best) and peor (worst) and numbers used as adjectives also come before the nouns they modify. Some examples:

Quiere otra hamburguesa.
He wants another hamburger.

Hay muchas flores allí
There are a lot of flowers there.

¡Ése fue el peor día!
That was the worst day!

Su familia tiene tres coches.
Her family has three cars.

Possessive and demonstrative adjectives also precede nouns:

Mi perro es muy viejo.
My dog is very old.

Esta chaqueta es caro.
This jacket is expensive.

Sometimes an adjective that emphasizes an inherent characteristic can be placed in front of a noun for stylistic reasons. This is especially true in poetry. Examples:

la bella flor
the beautiful flower

la blanca nieve
the white snow

la dulce miel
the sweet honey

el azul cielo
the blue sky

And sometimes an adjective can be placed in front of a noun for emphasis. Notice the difference in the following sentences:

Es una jefa buena.
She's a good boss.

Es un buena jefa.
She's a really good boss.

Some adjectives can come before or after nouns. The position of the adjective actually changes its meaning:

adjective:

before noun:

after noun:

antiguo

cierto

diferente

grande

mismo

nuevo

pobre

propio

raro

triste

único

viejo

former, old

same, certain

various

great

same

different, another

pitiful

own

rare

dreadful

only

former

ancient, old

sure, certain

different

large

itself, very

new

poor

proper

strange

unhappy

unique

old, aged

For example:

Mi viejo maestro es muy joven.
My former teacher is very young.

El maestro viejo es muy simpático.
The old teacher is very nice.

Shortened Forms

Some adjectives have different (shortened) forms when they are used before masculine singular nouns. In these cases the meaning of the adjective doesn't change.

Note: Santo does not change before words starting with "Do-" or "To": Santo Domingo.

adjective:

 

becomes:

Santo

uno

bueno

malo

primero

tercero

alguno

ninguno

San Antonio

un coche

un buen amigo

un mal trabajo

el primer capítulo

el tercer día

algún momento

ningún libro

Note: Adjectives based on these adjectives have different forms too: vientiuno → vientiún coches.

And some adjectives have different (shortened) forms when they are used before either masculine or feminine nouns.

adjective:

 

becomes:

ciento

cualquiera

grande

cien mujeres

cualquier persona

una gran escritora

Using Multiple Adjectives

Everything we've studied to this point is based on the notion that we're only going to use one adjective per noun, but like English we're not actually limited to the number of adjectives we use:

Jugaron con un balón rojo, blanco, y azul.
They played with a red, white, and blue ball.

Furthermore, when using multiple adjectives, we have several options for where to put them. Place adjectives before then noun for emphasis, or to stress inherent characteristics:

Era un valiente y fuerte caballero.
He was a valiant and strong knight.

Place adjectives after the noun that narrow, restrict, or clarify the noun:

Escogí un libro pequeño y negro.
I chose a small black book.

And you can split your adjectives too. When doing so, place the more subjective (opinion) adjectives in front, and the more objective (factual) adjectives behind:

Gloria Estefan es una maravillosa cantante cubanoamericana.
Gloria Estefan is a fantastic Cuban American singer.

Spanish Conjunctions

In Part 1 we learned that "and" and "or" are y and o in Spanish, but that's not always the case.

If y is followed by an "i" sound, then we use an e instead so that we can avoid having to say two "i" sounds in a row. The meaning does not change:

Tomo clases de francés e inglés.
I'm taking French and English classes.

Prometemos campañas de salud e higiene.
We promise health and hygiene campaigns.

Note: Since the letter "h" isn't pronounced in Spanish, hi = i and ho = o.

If o is followed by an "o" sound, then we use a u instead so that we can avoid having to say two "o" sounds in a row. The meaning does not change:

Estudian matemáticas u ortografía.
They study math or spelling.

Prefiero beber café u horchata.
I prefer to drink coffee or horchata.

If we change the order of the words in the examples above, we'll return to the more familiar y and o: Tomo clases de inglés y francés. Prometemos campañas de higiene y salud. Estudian ortografía o matemáticas. Prefiero beber horchata o café.

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