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I’m writing a card matching game and want to show the name of the item on the card and say the name of the item. In previous games where we ask the child to find a shape, we’ve left out the gendered article, e.g círculo azul, corazón negro. In this game, we aren’t using any adjectives, just the name of the item. It makes sense to me as a non-Spanish speaker to use them with animals, e.g. el oso, el pájaro. I’m not so sure about emoji, e.g. 😃 : cara sonriente, ❤ : corazón.

Is there a preferred or standard way of handling gendered nouns in games like mine?

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It doesn't matter if you use adjectives or not in this game. The noun has a gender. The gender of the adjective just agrees with the gender of the name.

Nouns in Spanish can have two genders, masculine and feminine. From your examples, corazón is masculine ("el corazón) and cara is feminine (la cara) (Note that sonriente is an adjective that has the same form for both genders).

Masculine gender is not just used to refer to masculine individuals, but to refer to the class of the individuals. For example, if I say "los alumnos" I might be referring to both sexes, not just male students. If I say "las alumnas" I'm exclusively referring to females. Realize also that there are nouns that are common for both genders ("pianista", "dentista"). You could use any gender for these ("el/la pianista").

Again, from your examples, you would use "el oso" or "los osos" to refer to bears. If you had a picture of "mother bear", where it is evident that is a female you can use "la osa", but otherwise masculine usually refers to the class. There are exceptions, of course ("las abejas", "las hormigas"), and only few nouns are ambiguous about gender ("el/la mar", "el/la editorial").

So, I would say that there is no special way of handling the nouns, and it should not be difficult to tell which gender to use which for the description of the flashcard or which card to get given a description.

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It isn't clear if your game is completely focused on children.

If this is the case, then you could think about not giving the article, since some of those children won't know the grammatical gender of the noun yet. Including the article could lead to confusion, and to deter the player to select the right answer.

So, as a summary:

  • If the aim is to identify just a name, don't use any articles.
  • If the aim is to identify both the name and its grammatical gender, you are obviously forced to use the article.
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  • The current game fun for everyone, but as a teaching tool, it is just for children. Thanks for the input. – JScarry Mar 4 '15 at 14:51

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