How do I speak about my pet rats in Spanish? Firstly, do I understand correctly that "rata" means "rat" and "ratón" means "mouse"? I also realize that "rato" means "a short while," so does that mean that even male rats are spoken of in the feminine gender in Spanish?

For example, would I say "tengo una rata hembra y tres ratas machas"? And if I started to speak about "mi rata Miguél" do I then switch to the masculine or continue speaking of him in the feminine? I would never say "rata macho" would I?

  • 1
    A fast note: the gender terminology for raton y rata is unwieldy in common usage. In conversation, it is common for people to refer to male mice and rats as "ratones" and to female mice and rats as "ratas." Sep 14, 2018 at 19:22
  • And of course, since those are pets you may also use the more affectionate names "ratoncito" for him & "ratoncita" for her
    – enxaneta
    Sep 14, 2018 at 20:29

1 Answer 1


Rata means rat and is always feminine, while ratón means mouse and is always masculine.

The word macho and hembra are actually nouns (not adjectives) that are used in juxtaposition with the base animal. Therefore, you'll always use macho or hembra, regardless the gender of the base noun. This happens with a number of animal species, such as with tiburón (always masculine) or pantera (always feminine).

Because they're juxtaposed nouns (rather than adjectives), when following a plural noun, there is considerable variability amongst speakers as to whether the one should use macho/hembra or machos/hembras (specifically, with respect to ratas, macho is preferred to machos and hembras more than hembra, go figure).

So to answer the last bit, you would say

Tengo una rata hembra y tres ratas macho(s)

Initially the sentence, strictly speaking, should be "Mi rata Miguel es simpática" agreeing in feminine, but after that, it would be quite common to say something like "él también puede ser muy antipático si no le doy de comer con tres veces al día". It's literally just the word rata that's feminine, any other time, you're talking about him, not the animal (which sounds a bit weird, I know).

  • A very helpful answer, thank you. I can't seem to accept it, perhaps because I am too new to the site, but I am grateful for your help.
    – PaulL
    Oct 29, 2015 at 2:28
  • Just one thing, "macho" and "hembra" are actually adjectives, the thing is that they don't have gender variation.
    – FGSUZ
    May 27, 2018 at 17:14
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    @FGSUZ if there is no variation for gender and that were it, it would be impossible to know whether it's an adjective or noun. But the fact that it's invariable with respect to gender, but when used alongside a noun it may or may not be invariable with respect to number gives much more weight to it being a noun, given that this doesn't happen with any adjectives but does with nouns (ex. ideas clave(s)). Note that to macho, in the sense of a masculine thing, is only marked as a noun in the DLE: dle.rae.es/?id=NndQJAy|Nnghkls May 27, 2018 at 23:09

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