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Masculine article with feminine nouns in Spanish

Masculine article with feminine nouns in Spanish

How would you translate “the water is cold”?

It would be:

El agua está fría.

Do you see the problem? Why is it “el” and “fría”? If it’s “el”, shouldn’t it be “frío”? If it’s “fría”, shouldn’t it be “la”?

The explanation is quite simple: in Spanish, feminine nouns that start with a stressed “a” (or “ha”, since it’s the same thing phonetically) must be preceded by the masculine definite article (el) instead of the feminine one (la).

Where does this come from? It’s actually quite interesting: In Old Spanish, the feminine article was “ela”. What happens when you place “ela” before a noun that starts with a consonant?

Ela casa

Ela mesa

The “e” tends to disappear. People would tend to pronounce it like this:

(E)la casa

(E)la mesa

That’s what happened eventually, leading to the modern Spanish feminine definite article “la”. However, when you place “ela” before a noun that starts with a stressed “a” (or “ha”)…

Ela agua

Ela alma

Ela hacha

…the “a” in “ela” tends to disappear, as it merges with the “a” of the noun:

El(a) agua

El(a) alma

El(a) hacha

This is where it comes from. So, we can say that we are really using a modified version of the Old Spanish feminine definite article and not the actual masculine definite article. It just happens to be the same thing. Interesting, isn’t it?

Here’s a list of feminine nouns that start with a stressed “a”:

Águila - Eagle

Alma - Soul

Aula - Classroom

Agua - Water

Área - Area

Arma - Weapon

Hacha - Axe

Hada - Fairy

Hambre - Hunger

if you use an adjective with any of these nouns, it should obviously be feminine:

El águila calva

El arma blanca

Download Unit 1 for Free

Download a PDF version of The Graf Method for Spanish Language, Vol.1, Unit 1 for free!

In this unit, we discuss the alphabet, definite and indefinite articles, and verbs ser and estar, among other topics. You'll also find some exercises at the end to practice the material.

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