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English

Is there any rule that says that feminine nouns that start with "A" are converted to masculine or is it just done for phonetic (ie beauty) reasons?

Does this happen in all Spanish speaking countries?


Spanish

¿Hay alguna regla que diga que los sustantivos femeninos que empiecen con "A" son convertidos a masculino, o solo se hace por motivos fonéticos (por ej. belleza)?

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Same happens with "el arte" / "las artes". – dusan Nov 15 '11 at 21:30
    
Ah one of the essential Spanish language questions! – hippietrail Nov 16 '11 at 13:33
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Also happens with "el aguila" "las aguilas" – David Grajal Nov 17 '11 at 19:28
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Well "el águila" "las águilas". The stressed á is the key that unlocks the article. – hippietrail Nov 18 '11 at 8:18
    
I want to stress: those feminine nouns are NOT converted to masculine; the rule is to use the masculine article, but the noun is still feminine (see Flimzy's answer). – leonbloy Jul 22 '13 at 15:26
up vote 51 down vote accepted

"agua" is feminine, but starts with a stressed "a". So it needs the article to change, for a phonetic reason.

The plural "las aguas" highlights that "agua" is feminine.

The accent on the starting "a" is important. Look at the feminine "almohada". The accent is on the second "a", not on the starting one, so the article remains "la".

As pointed out by @Flimzy and @Javier, this behaviour happens only with words starting with "a" (accented), because they clash with "la". See instead "la isla", "la épica", "la obra", "la uña".

See also: RAE «El agua, esta agua, mucha agua»

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There are two exceptions I know of offhand where the "la" is retained: "la a" and "la hache". Both are letters of the alphabet. – Kef Schecter Nov 15 '11 at 22:43
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@KefSchecter, what you say about "hache" is quite similar to what happens with most words that begin with "h". For example: while you use "e" instead of "y" before a noun starting with i ("alemán e inglés"), you use "y" before a noun starting with "hi" ("agua y hielo"). Not sure why or how official, but that's how we do it :-) – rsuarez Nov 16 '11 at 12:58
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@rsuarez, but you say "aguja e hilo". Maybe it's because "hielo" has a "ie" diphthong? – dusan Nov 16 '11 at 16:47
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Ouch. Very right, @dusan. My fault. A shame I can't use my own language properly :-) – rsuarez Nov 17 '11 at 8:07
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Just a little comment: That's the reason I don't like RAE, sorry for say it. The real derivation of the "la" is not "ille", is "illa". The real reason for the article "la" in masculine words that begin with 'a' is not for fonetic reason. The migration of this case from latin-middle spanish era-spanish is: Illa acqua - Il-acqua - El agua. "Il" was the preform of "El" (In latin, ille). Actually, so, this "el" in "el agua" has a "femenine nature" :D This happens because is a normal process of the evolution of a language: one "a" instead two. – Leandro Tupone Jun 3 '12 at 18:45

Agua is always feminine, even in singular form. However, to avoid the double 'a' sound in la agua, we use the article el in singular form. In all other respects, agua is still feminine when singluar.

For instance, when adding an adjective, you use the feminine form:

the red water => el agua roja

The same is true for other feminine nouns that begin with an accented 'a'.

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3  
Note that it’s el agua pura but la pura agua. This is just something that happens. It’s because of the articles that came from the Latin demonstratives, ille/illa. It’s like saying an apple but a big apple in English. I really think you should explain the history of how this came to be, but perhaps this is not the right place for that? Seems like it would be. – tchrist May 14 '12 at 3:49
    
... with the funny exception: "la a" (i.e.: "la letra a") – leonbloy Jan 10 '13 at 3:21
    
@leonbloy It’s not an exception: letter-names in Spanish are always feminine, because as you observed, the tacit letra seeming key here. Letter-names are also feminine in Catalan, but not in Portuguese where they are masculine. – tchrist Feb 2 '15 at 9:05

Remember that this is also used for words starting with h followed by an a: El hada madrina / Las hadas madrinas. The idea as many other have said is avoid two consecutive a that are (somehow) hard to pronounce. This is what is called "cacofonía".
Another important question (a commonly forgotten) is that the genre of the word does not mean that the designated object has that same genre. This causes discussion as if the correct way is "el abogado", "la abogado", "la abogada"

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Te he editado la pregunta para cambiar el texto preformateado (código fuente) ya que preferimos evitarlo :) meta.spanish.stackexchange.com/questions/208/… – JoulSauron Nov 27 '12 at 9:42

Actually it's not a gender reversal but a tradition that survives (inherited from latin).

The complete rules are intrincate and arbitrary, kind of "well that sounds good to me", full of exceptions and even exceptions to the exceptions (see the variable use with toponyms or the "árbitra" or "árabe" cases). It is used with common names ("El ágata es una piedra preciosa") but not with proper nouns ("Ella ya no es la Ágata que conocí").

It has nothing to do with cacophony. Note:

  • El águila ávida se lanzó sobre la presa.
  • La ávida águila se lanzó sobre la presa.

Is it more cacophonic the first than the second word just because one is a noun and the other is an adjective? Oh, we all forgot to say that the article change must be used with nouns but not with adjectives.

It's sometimes said that this way it's easier to pronounce. What about this?

  • ¿Qué es ese papel?
  • El alta.

  • ¿Cuál es tu hija?
  • La alta.

You will see that you can pronounce both sentences without being damaged (at least permanently).

Ask me and I will answer "let it disappear". At least, the academicians might let it be optional. I think it's good for nothing more than confusing people to make them say:

  • Nunca digas «de estaeste agua no beberé».
  • A buenabuen hambre no hay pan duro.
  • La nuevaEl nuevo aula es más grande.

It should be:

  • Nunca digas «de esta agua no beberé».
  • A buena hambre no hay pan duro.
  • La nueva aula es más grande.
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The first half of the answer is very interesting however the "este agua" and "nuevo aula" examples at the end sound wrong to me and make this answer confusing. In the DPD reference on paragraph 2.1 it is clear that "aula" is feminine, is noun and starts with stressed 'a' so you should say "el aula" however being feminine you should say "la nueva aula". Also you can find at the "Instituto Cervantes" site a reference to "de esta agua no beberé I don't think is right to leave that part there. – DGaleano Jul 4 at 14:19
    
The asterisk means it's incorrect. Sorry, I did not make it clear. That's the point: this outdated (it's latin) and nonsensical (incoherent) rule makes people say things like those (I've heard them all). That's because they end thinking that words like agua, hambre or aula are masculine. – cdlvcdlv Jul 4 at 16:35
    
So the problem is that the first and last are wrong (correctly marker) but second is right (incorrectly marked) because it is right to say a buen hambre no hay pan duro – DGaleano Jul 4 at 16:47
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No, it's not: "pero los adjetivos deben ir en forma femenina". Note that "buen" is an adjective and it should be "buena". The change before the noun is mandatory with "la" or "una" and optative with "alguna" or "ninguna" but it never concerns adjectives. Thanks for the link. It proves that the rule it's so toxic that it confuses even people in the CVC! – cdlvcdlv Jul 4 at 16:56
    
My brain still don't like it hahaha. Anyway I think this is the most complete answer of all +1 – DGaleano Jul 4 at 18:05

'Agua' is feminine by definition (bluish already posted the RAE link). The article 'el' is used to avoid stressing of two consecutive letters (note that this doesn't happens in all the sustantives that starts with 'a'). And yes, in this case all spanish countries do change 'la' article for 'el' for the previous reason.

'Agua' es femenino por definición (blusih ya proveyó el link de la RAE). El articulo 'el' es usado para prevenir el arrastre de la vocal (esto no ocurre con todos los sustantivos que inician con 'a'). Y sí, en este caso todos los países hablantes del español cambian el articulo 'la' por 'el' debido a la misma razón antes expuesta.

More info/Más informacion: http://spanish.about.com/cs/grammar/a/genderreversal.htm

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No entiendo la relación del ejemplo de la sandía con la pregunta original. – Diego Jul 13 '15 at 21:29
    
@Diego um... yo recuerdo que habia un ejemplo con esa conversación. Apparentemente otra pregunta. – Braiam Jul 14 '15 at 1:08

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