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English:

I'm referring to words like "el tema" or "el lema". Most words ending in "a" are feminine.

This is actually the opposite of a similar question,

¿Por qué es la palabra «mano» femenina?


Spanish:

Me refiero a palabras como "el tema" o "el lema". La mayoría de las palabras que acaban en "a" son femeninas.

Esto es, de hecho, lo opuesto a una pregunta similar,

¿Por qué es la palabra «mano» femenina?

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3 Answers 3

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There is a large group of words that Spanish inherits from Greek which end in "ma" and, following their Greek roots, are masculine. They may even be the majority of words that end in "a" but are masculine.

  • el clima
  • el programa
  • el sistema
  • el lema
  • el tema
  • el problema
  • el idioma
  • el drama

Mostly they're the sorts of words that English might take from Greek. They're scientific or philosophical or technical terms.

Certainly there are other words that are masculine and end in "a". El tequila doesn't come from Greek! But this covers a big class.

Note: Nouns ending in -μα in the nominative and -ματος in the genitive of the third declension are neuter in Greek. That includes κλίμα (clima) and σύστημα (sistema) and πρόγραμμα (programa) and all the rest I know. Of course, Spanish does not have a neuter gender.

In Latin, these words continue to be third declension neuter. Spanish «Sistema» is systēma, systēmatis; «clima» is clima, climatis.

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  • If I had to guess, I would think that "el tequila" is an indigenous word that the Spaniards appended gender to and moved on with their lives. Well, after passing around the salt and lime, of course.
    – Aarthi
    Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 4:21
  • 1
    Another non-greek example: "el vodka". Always confuses me, because it's feminine in Slavic languages.
    – vartec
    Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 10:26
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    @hippietrail -- yes, they were masculine in Latin and Greek, too. Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 4:20
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    @Brian: It's even more accurate to say that When Latin evolved into Spanish it merged the neuter gender into the masculine. Most if not all of these Greek words were borrowed when Spanish was still Latin. Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 8:38
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    @spanishlinguist.us How about "ginebra"?
    – wimi
    Commented Sep 29, 2020 at 14:55
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There is no rule in Spanish that says that all words ending in "a" are feminine, and all words ending in "o" are masculine, so, why shouldn't they have any gender?

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    I agree with you.
    – karloswitt
    Commented Jul 12, 2022 at 13:56
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Hay algunos casos especiales de palabras terminadas en "-a", cuyo género puede servir tanto para el masculino como para el femenino. Son los denominados "sustantivos comunes en cuanto al género (los que, designando seres animados, tienen una sola forma, la misma para los dos géneros gramaticales)".

En cada enunciado concreto, el género del sustantivo, que se corresponde con el sexo del referente, lo señalan los determinantes y adjetivos con variación genérica: el/la pianista; ese/esa psiquiatra; un buen/una buena profesional.

En el Diccionario panhispánico de dudas, en el artículo sobre el género, dentro del subapartado "Formación del femenino en profesiones, cargos, títulos o actividades humanas" podemos leer:

Los que acaban en -a funcionan en su inmensa mayoría como comunes: el/la atleta, el/la cineasta, el/la guía, el/la logopeda, el/la terapeuta, el/la pediatra. En algunos casos, por razones etimológicas, el femenino presenta la terminación culta -isa: profetisa, papisa. En el caso de poeta, existen ambas posibilidades: la poeta/poetisa. También tiene dos femeninos la voz guarda, aunque con matices significativos diversos (→ guarda): la guarda/guardesa. Son asimismo comunes en cuanto al género los sustantivos formados con el sufijo -ista: el/la ascensorista, el/la electricista, el/la taxista. Es excepcional el caso de modista, que a partir del masculino normal el modista ha generado el masculino regresivo modisto.


Fuente: Diccionario panhispánico de dudas

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