1. How can adult L2 learners learn, master, and remember Grammatical Gender more efficiently? Memorisation and time do not improve advanced L2 learners.
  2. Are there shortcuts or patterns or rules for gender assignment, which L2 learners can try to comprehend, or at least memorise more efficiently than memorising the gender of each noun?
  3. Are there any books or resources or studies that have discovered or exposed shortcuts or aids (as queried in 2 above)?

Unfortunately, this problem also afflicts this learner.

  • My daughter is 6 yrs old and even when we speak Spanish at home all the time, she struggles with this. So I personally don't think so – Andres Calle Jan 15 '16 at 20:06
  • This is a hard issue. Memorisation may be not the best way to solve this. There's no general rule to decide whether we should use the correct gender. I suggest to try to watch movies or texts to enlighten your learning. – Alejandro Jan 15 '16 at 20:15
  • it gets worse when you have words that change according to different cultures, like el calor or la calor....the right way is el calor but many countries will say the opposite – Andres Calle Jan 15 '16 at 21:08
  • @AndresCalle Both el calor and la calor are correct, although only the masculine is used in formal Standard Spanish. The feminine form is the original one and used for centuries until someone started using it in the masculine. A similar change happened with la fin and la vinagre, but la fin is basically not heard every these days, but you can probably still hear la vinagre once in a while. – user0721090601 Jan 16 '16 at 2:46
  • check out this site, it has some common patterns roble.pntic.mec.es/acid0002/index_archivos/Gramatica/… – chuse Jan 25 '16 at 18:06

I'll try to give you an answer to clarify your doubts:

1 and 2- Usually (that is to say 95% of the cases) female gender ends with an -a in a singular and with -as with plural forms.

La mesa tiene 4 patas. 
Las mesas tienen 4 patas.

In male gender, words usually ends with all other vocal and also adding an -s with plural.

El palo de golf es de hierro
Los palos de golf son de hierro.

Of course there is a lot of exceptions but usually with that form you will be able to recognize the gender easily. The other way, as you can imagine, is to practise and try to remember the words.

3- Of course there is a lot of information and resources. Unfortunetely I'm not capable to recommend you any of them, I'm a native spanish in Catalonia and I'm not sure which books are better for a student of L2 or others.

Hope it helps a bit.

  • 1
    The OP talks about the distinction on when we use the proper gender, not about plurals when we already know the gender. – Alejandro Jan 19 '16 at 13:45
  • @Ustanak The post already it's usefull for the answer. If you know the ending of a word, you may estimate his gender – Ferran Buireu Jan 20 '16 at 8:20
  • 1
    There are also a few more guidelines. This website lists them, with a decent number of exceptions: spanishdict.com/topics/show/1 – TreeHouse196 Jan 23 '16 at 19:02
  • @FerranBuireu I cite your estimate of how frequently nouns of feminine gender end with an -a. I actually think it is more than that ... perhaps even as high as 99% or higher, especially if you exclude nouns that have both biological and grammatical gender. If this subject interests you, you may enjoy reading this discussion thread: "What percentage of nouns ending in -a are masculine and what percentage of nouns ending in -o are feminine?" – Lisa Beck Jul 19 '16 at 17:19
  • @FerranBuireu I should add some clarification. What I attempted to convey is that 99% of the time, when a word ends in -a, it is a noun of fem. gender, but many fem. nouns do not end in -a. In a pseudo-scientific study I did on one list of 1,800 of the most frequent nouns, nouns of fem. gender ending in -a constituted 52% of the total, those ending in some other vowel (usually -e), 5%, and those ending in a consonant, 43%. These stats refer to just those fem. nouns which have only grammatical fem. gender ("vida."), not those that have both biological and grammatical gender ("chica."). – Lisa Beck Jul 19 '16 at 17:54

I may have answered my own question. The short answer is: Appeal to and research Linguistics!

For example, I Googled "spanish nouns gender assignment" which revealed many Linguistics articles, such as:

Spanish Gender Assignment in an Analogical Framework by David Eddington,
pp 49-75, Journal of Quantitative Linguistics Volume 9, Issue 1, 2002 (PDF here) (Draft here)

Then consult Citations of this article and this article's References (at the end) to find even more Linguistics research, the latter of which is first referenced in the Introduction:

Previous studies of Spanish gender fall into one of three major categories: 1) In the pedagogical approach (e.g. Bergen, 1978; Bull 1965; Teschner & Russell, 1984), the emphasis is placed on dividing Spanish nouns into masculine and feminine groups based mainly on their final phonemes, and listing the most common exceptions to those groups. This categorization is made to facilitate the acquisition of Spanish as a second language. 2) In the descriptive approach (Teschner, 1983; Rosenblat, 1952), on the other hand, the interest is in finding systematic correspondences between nominal gender and phonological patterns in Spanish words. 3) Generative analyses (e.g. Harris, 1985, 1991; Klein, 1983, 1989) strive to describe gender in terms of a rule system that derives a word's final phoneme(s) given the word's inherent gender and a set of abstract assumptions about the word's underlying structure.

Although each of these analyses may be valid in its own realm of inquiry, none of them have as a goal to determine how native speakers may go about assigning gender when syntactic clues such as gender-marked determiners and adjectives are absent. Given the mentalistic vocabulary often employed in the generative literature (i.e. processes, derive, language acquisition, production, etc.), one could gain the impression that such analyses do explain how native speakers assign gender. (This contrasts with the clearly descriptive goals of the pedagogical and descriptive approaches.) Generative accounts may be elegant representations of linguistic structure, however, their relationship to the psychological mechanisms that play a role in actual language usage is dubious (Chandler, 1993; Derwing, 1973; Eddington, 1996; Lamb, 2000; Skousen, 1975). In addition, some researchers have clearly stated that generative accounts are simply not intended to be taken as models of linguistic performance (c.f. Kiparsky, 1975, p. 198; Chomsky & Halle 1968, p.117; Bradley. 1980, p. 38)


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.