My native language is a genderless language, there is no masculine/feminine words, and so there is no being agreeable in grammar. This causes a lot of confusion for me as a Spanish Learner and no matter how much I try to be agreeable sometimes make mistake in a/o or el/la or... Spanish teachers tend to say: "You will not be understood if you are not agreeable!".

My question is: How does a native Spanish speaker feel if I mistake word genders? Is it considered a mistake? Is it offensive? Will it totally lose meaning?

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    My wife has been 20 years here and still manages to do that kind of mistakes too often. Nobody bats an eye... Jan 6, 2019 at 17:29
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    My native langugae is not genderless. This doesn't prevent me from (or sometimes even leads me to) mixing gender in foreign languages. Jan 6, 2019 at 23:23
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    In fact your question gives a perfect example of how people behave. You have used the word agreeable in a non-English way but (a) everybody understood you (b) nobody cares. So just carry on learning, and as I suspect you thought: sometimes teachers are wrong.
    – mdewey
    Jan 7, 2019 at 14:18
  • There are indeed situations where a misunderstanding could arise if you make a mistake with agreement. However, most native Spanish speakers are incredibly tolerant and will patiently work through the misunderstanding with you. Why? Because Spanish speakers are by nature quite agreeable. (Your teacher probably purposely misused the word "agreeable", to be cute.) Jan 7, 2019 at 15:19
  • To help you memorize the oddballs that end in "a" but are masculine and vice versa, the book "Accelerated Spanish" has the student assign those words to one side of a street, and the opposite ones on the other side. For some reason the visual left/right position of the names helps one's memory. El Dia. La Noche.
    – JustJohn
    Jan 9, 2019 at 20:29

2 Answers 2


Well, your teachers might get upset if I tell you this but: it's a lie, you will be understood.

I guess they say it to encourage you to correct your mistakes. You should correct them anyways. I trust you will try to speak correctly anyways, so I'm telling you the truth. I don't want you to be so worried and stressed to avoid mistakes. Just try to fix them.

Now I'll answer your next questions:

How does a native Spanish speaker feel if I someone mistakes genders?

A Native Speaker would immediately detect that you are not a Spaniard, although the accent is the first indicator.

Is it offensive?

No, it is not. If it is not your native language, it's normal to commit mistakes. Nobody should get upset for that. If someone does, he's a madman.

Is it considered a mistake?

Yes, it is.

We still understand, but that doesn't mean it's not a mistake. It's like saying

"I are happy" instead of "I am happy". Everybody understands, but it is wrong. In fact, it's kind of "basic" that everything must agree, so it is immediately detected. However, some nouns are difficult, like "agua" or "mano". It's more normal that people get confused there.

or will it totally lose meaning?

Most words are equally well understood if you choose the wrong gender. For example, if you say "la agua", people would perfectly understand.

Some others can be less clear. For example, if you said "el mano", it could be confused with "hermano", so be careful.

And it's worse when similar words change meaning. For example: la puerta (the door) vs. el puerto (the port). If you mix them, like "la puerto", you wouldn't be able to tell what one you meant, unless the context is clear.

So, this is all. My point is that you should not be "scared" about committing mistakes. Everybody does. However, it is important that you correct them.

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    For comparison: I know people from China who are learning English, and they sometimes mess up he/she because they use a gender-neutral third-person pronoun in Mandarin. Generally it's pretty clear it was a mistake and we laugh about it, but in the wrong context, I could see how it could become offensive (like how someone might deliberately call men "ladies" as an insult). It seems that Spanish speakers tend to react the same way as English speakers do in this case. Jan 7, 2019 at 2:24
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    A bit of nitpicking: "la agua" is a pretty complicated example, because agua is actually feminine, but uses "el" in some cases: "el agua" but "la misma agua".
    – Anxo
    Jan 7, 2019 at 8:06
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    @Thunderforge this happens all the time to Spanish people speaking English, too. "le" can mean "he" or "she" and is often translated wrongly.
    – Aaron F
    Jan 7, 2019 at 10:44
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    there are some words which change meaning depending on gender, like "frente", "orden", "editorial".
    – ths
    Jan 7, 2019 at 11:05
  • @Anxo, you nailed it. A large part of Spanish people (not Latinamerican) think agua is masculine because you say it with el, I've heard many Spaniards say "de este agua no beberé", this is also why RAE end up accepting azúcar as masculine, Spanish people say "el azúcar moreno" Jan 8, 2019 at 18:18

I am a native speaker and I would not feel bad if someone mistakes the genders but I understand if someone feels that way, all depends on the person that you are speaking to.

As an example, I am going to tell you what happened to me a few years ago. I ended up calling a guy (male guy) Danielle, the guy was very much offended and after I was explained that that was wrong and why, I understood the guy. The reason why I did it, the guy's name was Daniel, in Spanish there is Daniel (name for guys) but it is pronounced as Danielle, so the guy got upset because I did not know that it was pronounced differently in English.

I would say that if it can't be misunderstood as a personal insult, then the person won't be upset or feel offended. Losing meaning? I can't think of a word where it is masculine or feminine with different meaning, so I would say no as well.

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