The definite article in Spanish (the word that generally translatesEnglish "the") depends on the gender of thenoun. All nouns in Spanish are generally either masculine orfeminine. In general:

certain endings strongly dictate the gender of a noun(e.g. nouns ending in -ión are practically alwaysfeminine; those ending in -or are practically always masculine); nouns that refer to people— and certain common animalstend tofollow the gender of the person/animal they refer to; there are a few arbitrary exceptions.

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To choose between el and la, the first stage is todetermine the gender of the noun. Then, the generalrule is:

use el with masculine nouns; use la with feminine nouns; use el immediately before feminine nounsthat 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"twidely agreed upon.

So the question of whether to use el or la essentiallyboils 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 nounis masculine or feminine, and therefore whether to use el or la.Note that rules referring to endings typically apply to words of more than onesyllable1. So for example, whilst words ending in -ieare generally feminine, the word pie (="foot") is masculine.

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Words ending...GenderExample
-oMasculineel niñothe boy
-aFemininela niñathe girl
-istaFollows the gender of the personel/la pianistathe male/female pianist
-iónFemininela estaciónthe station
-ad, -udFemininela verdadthe truthla actitudthe attitude
Other nouns ending in a consonantMasculineel colorthe colour
-ajeMasculineel equipajethe luggage
-anteUsually masculine unless referring to a femaleel desodorantethe deodorantla cantantethe (female) singer
-ieFemininela seriethe series
-e(Gender of the person if referring to a person, else check dictionary)el trastethe dish/piece of junkla frentethe forehead
Short forms of wordsFollow the pattern of the "full" wordla foto(grafía)the photo(graph)la moto(cicleta)the motorbike
Where another obvious noun representing the "category" is implied (e.g. "río", "coche", "vino", "equipo")2Follow the gender of the implied "category" nounIn all these examples, the noun in brackets is generally removed, but the phrase keeps its gender:el (equipo) MadridMadrid (the football team)el (Monte) Everest(Mount) Everestel (coche) Mercedes rojothe red Mercedesla (montaña) MalincheMalinche (name of a mountain in Mexico)

1. Strictly speaking, they tend to apply when the givenending is a derivational suffix (an ending used to derive oneword from another). But sometimes it"s difficult to tell whether the ending isderivational or not, and "more than one syllable" is usually a good enoughapproximation.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 champañafeminine (even referring to the drink), although the alternativeel champán is always masculine.

Common exceptions

There are various exceptions to the above patterns, but the following aresome of the most common:

el día, el mediodíathe day, (the) middayla manothe handel mapathe mapel pandathe pandala pielthe skinWords ending in -ma that are the same or similar to English:el poema, el sistemathe poem, the system
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