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I'm just relying on memorization to conjure the gender of nouns. Perhaps if I understood etymologically why these genders came about, I would have an easier time remembering. There are three perplexities that I would like to demonstrate with some example words:

  1. Original Formation. What traits make an object masculine or feminine? "El sonido" does not have sexual organs. Sound is not even visible. So why did the creators of Spanish choose "el sonido" instead of "la sonida"?
  2. Special Rules. If it ends in -a, it is feminine. If it ends in most other letters, it is masculine. However, if it ends in -dad or -ción, it is feminine. What's the rhyme or reason for adding -dad and -ción rules? Why couldn't "la ciudad" just be "el ciudad" for simplicity?
  3. Irregularities. Why is "idioma" masculine and "mano" feminine? Language can be spoken by either gender and hands also belong to creatures of both genders. I have a feeling that there may be a cultural or historical reason why some nouns became irregular in gender.
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closed as unclear what you're asking by c.p., Alexis Pigeon, darkajax, Flimzy Aug 2 '13 at 21:30

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English speaker complaining of irregularities. Doesn't get more ironic than that ;-) –  vartec Aug 1 '13 at 9:03
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btw. this is gonna blow your brains: "la gente" –  vartec Aug 1 '13 at 9:17
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it's true that you come from disadvantaged position of speaking the only European language, which has lost the grammatical concept of gender. I do believe however, that concept of irony does exist in English :-P English is highly irregular, in fact it probably the most irregular language that exists. Of course it's not about gender, but about spelling, verb conjugation, etc. In English there are more words that don't follow any rule, than these that do. Just take a look at list of irregular verbs in English. –  vartec Aug 2 '13 at 8:20
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There is one case where English is less ambiguous than Spanish WRT genders, and that is the third person pronouns. Spanish uses only "su", where English uses "his" or "hers". It's one case where I can get back at my Spanish speaking friends for teasing me when I make gender mistakes... when they say "his" when they mean "hers"... –  Flimzy Aug 2 '13 at 21:32
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@JoJo: English sometimes does use gender on objects with no sexual organs. "She sure is a beautiful ship!" –  Flimzy Aug 3 '13 at 13:22
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2 Answers

May I adopt a pessimistic approach? Partial answer: it could be worse.

  1. The creators of Spanish doesn't seem to be a valid expression: Spanish, as any language, evolved — and evolves! Moreover, the fact that sex concides with gender should be rather seen as a happy coincidence. Some time ago, one said la ingeniero, for women engineers. In German, for instance, that doesn't even happens: one has das Mädchen (la niña), which in Spanish is gendered, but in German isn't: it's neutral. Same case for das Kind (el niño).

  2. (and 3.) Every language has exceptions (English has no gender exceptions, because it doesn't have gender). One has to deal with it, and it shouldn't be hard: Spanish possesses the next to simplest gender structure. Believe me, the rules of the endings are regular enough, so I'd just enjoy this feature (by the way I don't know if there is a gendered language so regular: French isn't, but perhaps Italian, Portuguese or Romanian are. In order to learn other langugages which have two genders, say Dutch, you have to learn which nouns are neutral (with het article) and which have a gender (article de): all that without a far reaching rule, as the -a ending-rule in Spanish !

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First of all, I think you are mixing two different concepts. The English word gender does not always translate as género. In Spanish, género is a grammar category, while living organisms have sexo. Nowadays you can read or hear the word género used for the second meaning due to English influence, but it is incorrect. Sure, most words denoting male humans are masculine and those denoting female humans are feminine, but even here there are exceptions.

Etimology would not be of much use here. Gender is not always kept when a word evolves. Thus, the Spanish word leche (milk) is feminine, while its Portuguese counterpart, leite, which comes from the same Latin word, is masculine. And don't try to make out gender from masculine or feminine characteristics in inanimate objects. It is not difficult to find synonyms with different gender, even for animals (leopardo is masculine, while pantera is feminine, and they are both the same animal).

So the best you can do is stick on word terminations to give you a hint on gender and learn the exceptions. This is unfortunate, if you want, but there is nothing much better to do.

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