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What are the feminine exceptions to the general rule "Spanish nouns ending -o are masculine"?

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There are only a few, and they come under a handful of classifications:

  • From Catalan:
    • nao(← nau ← nāvis), seo (← seu ← sēdēs)
  • Latin irregular:
    • mano, ratio, libido
  • Female persons:
    • seño, virago, hijadalgo (hija de algo)
  • Abbreviations:1
    • furgo (furgoneta), moto (motocicleta)
    • demo (demostración), radio (radiodifusión)
    • eco (ecografía), foto (fotografía), telefoto (telefotografía)
    • dínamo/dinamo (máquina dínamo-eléctrica), magneto (máquina magneto-eléctrica)
    • disco (discoteca), polio (poliomielitis), quimio (quimioterapia), sado (sadomasoquista), seño (señorita)
  • Implicit feminine noun:
    • Letters: [la letra] o, ro
    • Times: [las horas] cuatro, cinco, ocho  
    • Misc: [la policía] Gestapo, sinhueso ("la lengua")

1. Note however that some abbreviations of feminine words are masculine e.g. el porno, el cromo

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  • Some professions are still said with -o in common gender in some regions (yet falling out of use quickly). Examples: la abogado, la médico, etc. – Rafael Jun 29 '19 at 18:20
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  1. Colloquial shortenings: Results of shortening or abbreviation of compound words. Some maintain the gender with etymological awareness:

    la moto ‘motocicleta’

    la foto ‘fotografía’

    la eco ‘ecografía’ (not included in the DLE).

    But in others the etymological feeling is not preserved: radio, dinamo, magneto, polio ‘poliomielitis’.

    People with little culture can consider, by analogy, these words as masculine and create a vulgarity with prosthetic a-. A phrase of the type "una moto", "alguna moto" they segment it as "*un amoto", "*algún amoto" and, from them, they create: *el amoto, *el afoto, *el arradio...

  2. Common gender nouns referring to women: la testigo, la soprano, la miembro...

  3. Learned nouns: The female latinisms in -o have always been subjected to the analogical force of the masculine ones in -o: la eco, la método or la cartílago ended as masculine nouns: el eco, el método and el cartílago

    “Al vislumbrar de la modesta luna le responde la eco solitaria.” (L. Fernández de Moratín, Poesías completas, 1778-1822).

    “...lo cual se hará escriviendo con la método i términos devidos a cada cosa”. (Juan de Robles, El culto sevillano, 1631).

    Other learned nouns, as caligo, virago or libido, resist as feminine, although the first is not included in the DLE, the second fluctuates in gender due to its own meaning of sexual ambiguity and the third generates, as we saw, numerous errors:

    “Lo oculto de Dios, según el lenguaje del libro del Éxodo, está representado en aquella nube densa y oscura, es decir, en la caligo”. “El ocultamiento luminoso de Dios...” José M. Moraga Esquivel).

    “La caligo beltrao es una mariposa de las selvas brasileñas, que alcanza los 18 centímetros de envergadura alar.” (Animalandia, acceso 21-10-2009)

    "La haitiana era una mulata auténtica; un virago color chocolate". (La Venus mecánica, José Díaz Fernández, 1929).

    "Cuando el germano de estos siglos se ocupa en idealizar la mujer, imagina la walkiria, la hembra beligerante, virago musculosa que posee actitudes y destrezas de varón". (Artículos, Ortega y Gasset, 1917-33)


Note: the above is an abridged translation of this blog entry.

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  • 1
    In the quoted text, virago is used as masculine (the article in suggests so). The word is generally feminine, but it also admits being used as masculine – Rafael Jun 29 '19 at 18:28
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Además, están:

libido

Del lat. libīdo.

1. f. Psicol. Deseo sexual, considerado por algunos autores como impulso y raíz de las más varias manifestaciones de la actividad psíquica.

y ratio

Del lat. ratio.

1. f. Mat. razón (‖ cociente de dos números). U. t. c. m.

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