Spanish Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Spanish language. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

When learning Spanish, there are basic rules taught about word gender: words ending in o are usually masculine, words ending in a are usually feminine.

What about words ending in e? Are there any guidelines or rules of thumb for determining the gender of these words? Are the majority of words ending in e masculine or feminine?

share|improve this question
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Son masculinos terminados en -e:

  • Nouns ending in -aje (sustantivos terminados en –aje): el coraje
  • Colors (colores): el verde
  • Numbers (números): el catorce
  • Rivers (ríos): el Contramaestre
  • Seas and lakes (mares y lagos): el Caribe
share|improve this answer
6  
For the last 4 examples, I would say that the rule is simpler, all those nouns are masculine ( color, número, río, mar, lago ) and thus when naming a specific one of them, they will be also masculine. I'm not sure, but I think it's always like this, except for exceptions :D – Petruza Feb 9 '12 at 0:44
2  
Indeed. el verde can be thought of as a shortening of el color de verde. Same for el número de catorce, etc. – Flimzy May 19 '13 at 5:59
2  
@Flimzy: el color verde and el número catorce – Lucas Sep 22 '14 at 16:27

I think most words ending in -e are femenine. For example:

  • La clase
  • La torre
  • La gente
  • La sangre

However, there are a lot more exceptions for words ending in -e than for words ending in -o. For example:

  • El hombre
  • El equipaje
  • El pie
share|improve this answer

When I was studying Spanish in high school, our teacher taught us a great rule of thumb for determining word gender. While it doesn't apply to every single word in the dictionary, it applies to a majority of them.

LONERS vs DIÓNZA masculine vs feminine

If the word ends with a letter in those two words it takes the appropriate gender.

L-O-N-E-R-S

  • el sol
  • el oso
  • el falcón
  • el chocolate
  • el comedor
  • el paraguas

D-IÓN-Z-A

  • la verdad
  • la traducción
  • la estupidez
  • la cara
share|improve this answer

Whether a Spanish word is feminine or masculine often is a function of etymology. If a word came from Latin, and it was masculine in Latin, it became masculine in Spanish. If a source word was feminine in Latin, it became feminine in Spanish.

However, there is at least one exception, as I discuss below, for which I cannot find a ready explanation.

La clase, la torre and la gente come from the feminine Latin words, classis, turris and gens. DRAE access 19 Sept 2014; Latdict access 19 Sept 2014. Hombre and pie come from the masculine Latin words homo and pie. DRAE; Latdict.

Equipaje comes from the Spanish verb equipar, which in turn is from the French verb équipar. DRAE. In French, the noun équipage is masculine. Collins English-French Dictionary access 19 Sept. 2014. Interestingly, equipage also is an archaic English word that entered the language in 1570. Online Etymology Dictionary access 19 Sept. 2014. A likely reason for equipaje to be masculine is that the -aje words entered Spanish from French in the 16th Century or earlier, and the source words were masculine in French at that time.

Similarly, coraje comes from the Old French word corages. DRAE. It is difficult to find quickly a source that provides the gender of corages, but the modern French courage, as well as the modern words coratge (Catalan) and coraggio (Italian), are masculine. Collins Dictionaries access 19 Sept. 2014. It thus appears likely that these Romance words developed from Vulgar Latin languages in which classical Latin neuter nouns became masculine. "Vulgar Latin," Reference.com access 19 Sept. 2014. In classical Latin, the related words cor and cordis were neuter gender. Latdict.

La sangre does not fit the pattern. It comes from the masculine Latin word sanguis. DRAE. In modern Catalan, French and Italian the words for blood are masculine. There is an online source that provides theories about why sangre became feminine in Spanish, but I have found that the source is unreliable. This is a good issue to research if you are interested in Etymology.

share|improve this answer

This question has received a number of good responses already and I see that one has already been checked as the best one, but I recently did a study on a list of 2,000 of the most frequent nouns in Spanish (which I subsequently whittled down to 1,800). I compiled it to answer this question:

What percentage of nouns ending in -a are masculine and what percentage of nouns ending in -o are feminine?

but in the process compiled data that may add insight to your inquiry. I can't say that what I'm about to add definitively answers your question because, for starters, I didn't look at every noun in the Spanish lexicon, but you may find it interesting, nonetheless.

First of all, I grouped these nouns into two main categories -- those that have both biological and grammatical gender (e.g., "chico") and those that have just grammatical gender (e.g., "año"). I didn't set out to study nouns that ended in -e, but thought it would be good to have a category for nouns that ended in a vowel other than -a or -o. What I discovered, among nouns with just grammatical gender, is that 97 percent of the time, if a noun does not end in -a or -o, that vowel ending is going to be -e. Only 5 words in this set of nouns ended in a vowel other than -e ("ley," "taxi," "espiritú," "menú," and "whisky").

However, to more directly answer your question:

Are the majority of words ending in e masculine or feminine?

it appears that nouns that end in -e are almost three times as likely to be masculine as they are to be feminine. I don't know how much this will help you since nouns ending in -e only appear to comprise 10 percent of nouns (across all categories -- those taking both biological and grammatical gender and those with just grammatical gender). But, if you do encounter one and need to guess, it appears that guessing that it is masculine is a good bet.

The other thing that really jumped out at me from this study of nouns appeared in the category I'll call "epicene nouns," which, linguistically, means the noun form does not change for male or female biological gender. Spanish refers to these types of nouns as "common gender" (género común) nouns. Guifa, a top contributor to this StackExchange, makes reference to this in the thread, "Origin of gender-neutral nouns ...” Examples of this include "artista," "turista," and "estudiante." For more examples, visit "Double-gendered nouns with equivalent meaning (género común)." Male and female are identified by the inclusion of an article (e.g., "el artista" for a male artist and "la artista" for a female artist) or descriptive adjective (e.g., "artista talentoso" would be referring to a male artist). What was surprising to me about this category was how many of these types of words end in neither -a (only 35%) nor -o (only 15%), but -e (63%). Then again, with so many nouns ending in -a being of feminine gender and so many of those ending in -o being of masculine, perhaps the letter -e is something of a logical choice for gender neutrality in noun forms. In other words, it should have actually seemed more surprising if the majority of these ended in -a or -o since the noun itself applies to both male and female.

EDIT: I learned even later that epicene nouns are NOT the same as common gender nouns. Please see guifa's comment below for clarification. For the record, my study lumped both epicene nouns and common gender nouns together, but I believe only two were true epicenes -- "la víctima" and "el miembro." I am not certain whether or not "el bebé" and "la mascota" are also considered epicene nouns. I am assuming "la persona" is another of these epicene nouns, but I scrubbed it from the list, uncertain of which category it should belong to. Does anyone reading this know of a good, comprehensive listing of epicene nouns? I think this would be immensely helpful to a student trying to go from the beginning level to the intermediate or advanced.

share|improve this answer
2  
Epicene words and words of the common gender are actually different categories. An example of an epicene word is víctima or miembro which is always feminine regardless of whether the word refers to a male or female entity. José fue la víctima de un ataque, María fue el miembro más alto del grupo. Common gender nouns can grammatically be treated as either masculine or feminine: Juan es el modelo/policía más guapo, y Susana es la modelo/polícia más guapa. – guifa Jul 19 at 19:51
1  
Gracias for the courteous correction to my post. I learn something new every time I visit this Spanish StackExchange. Thank you also for the clear examples. I will definitely tuck this away into my storage chest of useful resources. – Lisa Beck Jul 19 at 20:19

I read that in general:

  • the words ending in aje are masculine
  • the words ending in ie are feminine

There are words with both genders, and the meanings are different depending on the gender, e.g. arte, corte, frente.
There are words with both genders, and the meanings are the same for each gender, e.g. casete, interrogante.

share|improve this answer
1  
Can you provide some source for the first affirmation? – Gonzalo Medina Nov 27 '11 at 23:44
1  
Yes @Gonzalo Medina, Modern Spanish Grammar – Theta30 Nov 28 '11 at 0:01
3  
Then perhaps you could mention that source (perhaps including the concrete page(s)) in your answer. – Gonzalo Medina Nov 28 '11 at 0:19
    
@Gonzalo Medina Thank you for your comments. – Theta30 Nov 28 '11 at 1:50

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.