Using the Spanish masculine and feminine correctly

Using the Spanish masculine and feminine correctly


For me the trickiest thing about learning Spanish is using the Spanish masculine and feminine correctly.


I have to hold up my hands and admit that so far it is getting the better of me.


Everybody has their own personal nemesis. Some point to the Subjunctive, others to the vast number of different verb conjunctions, others to listening comprehension, others to pronunciation.


But for me, without doubt, the challenge of using the Spanish masculine and feminine correctly gives me the most consistent discomfort. It is not a massive problem. It is more of a niggling nuisance. But it is something that must be overcome sooner rather than later.


It is not that Spanish grammatical gender is something deeply complicated, requiring months of study to understand it. The problem is adjusting my English brain to use it automatically when speaking naturally and relaxed in conversation.


I understand perfectly well that Spanish utilises a linguistic noun-class system in which there is a division and agreed relation between noun classes and other facets of the language such as adjectives and articles.


I understand that a quarter of the world’s languages use a similar gender system. Some languages, like Spanish, use two genders, masculine and feminine, others, such as German, use three, masculine, feminine, and neuter.


I understand also that most feminine Spanish nouns finish in “a” and most masculine Spanish words finish in “o”. And that most feminine nouns use the article “La” and most masculine nouns use “El”. For example, “La chica” and “El chico”.


And I even understand, and am relatively relaxed about, the fact that not all the nouns follow these rules and you can be hit at any time by a curveball such as “El día” (day), “El planeta” (planet), “la mano” (hand), or “La foto” (photo).


I have all of the necessary information for my task, but I am still a long way from using the Spanish masculine and feminine correctly.


I studied Spanish. I bought the right books, found a good teacher, listened to my teacher, lived in Spain, and enjoyed practising. I did what I had to do and am proud to have achieved a high level of Spanish with which I can happily and relaxedly converse with native speakers, read books, watch TV and movies, and write.


I still have to think when I am using some of the past tenses and I still make quite a few errors with the Subjunctive. But I know these areas are improving little by little and are heading tidily towards the point when they will completely and quite painlessly cease to exist.


My pronunciation is far from perfect. But neither is it terrible. And my personal opinion is that cultivating an authentic Spanish accent is not the be-all and end-all. I know I can speak confidently and correctly enough to be understand and, anyway, I think different accents add a bit of colour to the proceedings.


I have also developed a decent repertoire of Spanish vocabulary.


In all these areas I am quite content with my progress and have no cause to moan or groan.


It is my command of the Spanish masculine and feminine that lets me down. I still make lots of grammatical gender errors and fret that I will never succeed in using the Spanish masculine and feminine correctly.


My English brain just doesn’t seem to want to concede that things can be classified by an “El” or a “La”. And, even when it does and I get that bit right, it then decides to switch off again mid-sentence so that I make a later mistake with a related word that should have followed suit.


And they seem like such pathetic errors as well to a Spanish native speaker who has never known anything but their automatic system of classifying everything as either masculine or feminine. I can make an awesome set of sentences using the past tense or the Subjunctive with loads of impressive vocabulary and native expressions, and then I mix up the masculine and feminine and suddenly I sound childish and beginner.


I guess I should slow things down, focus and concentrate a lot more on using the Spanish masculine and feminine correctly. I think in my head I also see the gender challenge as a little bit kindergarten and unworthy of my undivided attention. This must be why it has continued to haunt me for so long.


I think the time has come for me to confront my foe with a clear mind, properly prepared for battle. It’s never too late to go back to basics and iron out the creases and one should never get too big for one’s boots!


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