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A few words in Spanish have no specific gender. Generally (to my knowledge) these words refer to people, and the gender follows the gender of the person about whom is being spoken. Some examples:

  • dentista
  • comunista
  • almacenista
  • guitarrista

Is there a name or classification for such nouns? For example, if asked on a test to identify the gender of a few words (don't worry, I'm not--this isn't homework!), how could I answer for these?

Neuter doesn't seem right--there is (mutable) gender present. Is 'both' correct? Does dual-gender exist? What's the linguistic name for this concept if so?

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    I asked a similar question on Linguistics.SE, which helped me answer this question more satisfactorily. – Flimzy Feb 20 '15 at 19:33
  • This is a great question. I Thought that Spanish had "masculino, femenino and neutro" and I just learned that there is no "neutro" but that there is "género epiceno, común and ambiguo" as well. Thank you!! – Diego Feb 21 '15 at 3:00
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According to RAE's DPD, these are called sustantivos comunes en cuanto al género.

a) Sustantivos comunes en cuanto al género. Son los que, designando seres animados, tienen una sola forma, la misma para los dos géneros gramaticales. En cada enunciado concreto, el género del sustantivo, que se corresponde con el sexo del referente, lo señalan los determinantes y adjetivos con variación genérica: el/la pianista; ese/esa psiquiatra; un buen/una buena profesional. Los sustantivos comunes se comportan, en este sentido, de forma análoga a los adjetivos de una sola terminación, como feliz, dócil, confortable, etc., que se aplican, sin cambiar de forma, a sustantivos tanto masculinos como femeninos: un padre/una madre feliz, un perro/una perra dócil, un sillón/una silla confortable.

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  • This is the correct answer. Although «epiceno» refers to a related, but different concept. – Flimzy Feb 21 '15 at 18:34
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Your examples are known as 'common gender' nouns (sustantivos de género común).


There are a few other classes of noun in Spanish that can 'take either gender':

  • Beings
    • Persons
      • Common (común): el/la artista
        (grammatical gender changes for sex of referent)
      • Epicene (epiceno): el miembro
        (grammatical gender unchanged for sex of referent)
    • Animals
      • Epicene (epiceno): el camello [macho/hembra]
        (grammatical gender unchanged)
  • Things
    • Vacillant (ambiguo): el/la mar
      (grammatical gender is dialect, poetic usage etc dependent)
    • Homonyms (homónimos): el cura | la cura
      (different words, different meanings, same spelling)
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