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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

4 Answers 4

up vote 44 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 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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2  
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

This is a clear example of abuse of the language liberties from the native-speakers in (this case) Spanish. The 'normal' conversation between the waitress and another native-speaker should go:

(the rest of the order) ... y sandia para tomar.

Chica o grande?

Chica.

Here the commensal, assumes the waitress know he's asking for sandia juice or agua de sandia, creating the standard response chica o grande? that the waitress uses most of the time for most of the beverages (jugo de naranja, agua, cerveza, etc). Your sentence construction is perfect but she responded with what she's used to, making you confused about the genre.


Este es un ejemplo perfecto de abusos cometidos por los hablantes (en este caso) del Español. La conversación normalmente hubiera sido:

(el resto de la orden) ... y sandía para tomar.

Chica o grande?

Chica.

En este caso el comensal o cliente, asume que la camarera sabe que el quiere jugo de sandía o agua de sandía, lo que conlleva a la camarera a crear la pregunta genérica chica o grande? que usa para la mayoría de las bebidas servidas (jugo de naranja, agua, cerveza, etc). Tu oración esta perfectamente construida pero ella respondió con lo que ella esta acostumbrada, creándote la confusión acerca del genero.

About the question/Acerca de la pregunta (after edit/despues de edición)

'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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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

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