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I went to a Mexican restaurant and this is how my conversation went:

Yo: Quiero un vaso de agua de sandía.

Camarera: ¿Chica o Grande?

Yo: Chica.

Why did the waitress use "chica" instead of "chico"? Isn't she asking me how big of a cup I want? Cup is masculine, so I would presume that the adjective describing it should also be masculine. The waitress also used the same feminine "chica" with the next customer, so I doubt she botched up the word.

In general, how do you decide on the gender of an adjective when its noun is implied?

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It should be "chico" because she is talking about the cup which is masculine. – Alfredo Osorio Jul 19 '13 at 17:22
@JorgeCampos tienes razon, nunca me habia puesto a pensarlo. – Alfredo Osorio Jul 20 '13 at 1:05
@AlfredoOsorio El vaso sale sobrando :) La mesera, en este caso, pensó en la manera común de ordenar de la gente "me da un agua, chica/mediana/grande". – c.p. Jul 20 '13 at 1:05
up vote 4 down vote accepted

That's not incorrect and actually you asked what you shuld have to. But people use to refer to "vaso de agua" as just "agua"

e.g. ¿Me da un agua de sandía? Chica, por favor.
(when a standard unit is understood: e.g. vaso or jarra)

Imagine the lot of times a waitress deal with the expression vaso grande/chico de agua. It's totally correct, but just too long to be pronounced 10 times/hour. Waitress and costumers use the more confortable expression "agua chica/grande", provided there is no missunderstanding whether we are referring to jarra or vaso.

So, in your example,

Usted: Quiero un vaso de agua de sandía.
Camarera: ¿(agua) chica o grande?
Usted: (agua) chica.

What if you didn't have asked that? A possible conversation is

Usted: Quiero un agua grande de sandía.
Camarera: ¿Jarra o vaso?
Usted: Vaso.
Camarera: ¿chico o grande?
Usted: Chico.

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Isn't agua masculine too because it starts with a stressed "a"? El agua. – JoJo Jul 19 '13 at 6:18
"Agua" is femenine. El agua limpia, mucha agua. You might be interested in… – c.p. Jul 19 '13 at 6:27
agua f. Sustancia líquida - "el" used to make it easier to pronounce. Try saying la agua – BrianA Jul 19 '13 at 6:31
It's similar to french mon amie -- amie is femenine, and one changes the article ma to mon to avoid a cacophony. – c.p. Jul 19 '13 at 6:33
So I was wrong to include vaso? I asked my Mexican contractor (Immigrant, not Chicano) how to order aguas frescas and that's how he told me to say it. He explained to me how vaso was the correct size, while copa and taza were wrong. – JoJo Jul 20 '13 at 5:52

It's always the same gender, she messed it up.

Being a native Spanish speaker with good orthography, I see that usually even the native speakers make silly mistakes (especially in verb conjugation), just let it pass through.

Edit: Further explanation from the comments: "Quiero un vaso de agua de sandía.", Quiero un vaso de agua de sandía; el sujeto de la oración es Yo, pero es un sujeto tácito, donde tú tienes que inferir cuál pronombre es, y el resto es el predicado, el núcleo de predicado es el sustantivo "vaso" y "de agua" es simplemente un complemento (y comienza con "de", que de por sí es una preposición). Así que la pregunta correcta es "¿Chico o grande?".

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If most native speakers consistently make the same mistake, then a descriptive linguist will cease to consider it a mistake. A prescriptive linguist might continue to consider the prevailing usage as "new" and "degraded". Take your pick. – Walter Mitty Jul 19 '13 at 14:41
I'd go for prescriptive. Also, I've never heard this specific mistake ("chica" for glass) other than here. – Pato Sáinz Jul 19 '13 at 18:13
@superpatosainz chica does't stand for glass, it is an adjective attached to agua. I tried to explain that in the answer. – c.p. Jul 20 '13 at 1:01
@superpatosainz that's beyond the point. I agree with your grammar analysis, but I don't agree with you considering it to be a mistake. The waitress used a synonim on talking, and just substituted vaso de agua chica/grande for the hugely more common expression agua chica/grande. That's it. There is no error. – c.p. Jul 20 '13 at 8:40
Well, yea, in a more relaxed way it is just a trivial mistake. But if we are talking about speaking properly and formally, demonstrating your good civility, I think matters. – Pato Sáinz Jul 20 '13 at 21:28

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