Lately, I've started noticing how some Spanish nouns are merely past-participles of verbs (with the addition of a -ado/-ada suffix), and that those verbs are sometimes derived from other nouns by adding an agency prefix, like how em- is added to barca ("boat") to make embarcar ("get on a boat").

But I've noticed something odd with what happens to the genders when this happens in a few words, specifically: empanada and emparedado.

  • Empanada seems to come from empanar ("to wrap in bread"), which must come from pan ("bread"). And,
  • Emparedado seems to come from emparedar ("to wall in"), which must come from pared ("wall").

What I find curious is that the gender changes during this:

  • pan (male) gives rise to empanada (female); while...
  • pared (female) gives rise to emparedado (male).

Now, the gender doesn't always switch. For example: papel (male) gives rise to empapelado (male).

So, I was just wondering, are there any guidelines to whether the derived word becomes male or female? Does it depend, at all, upon the word it is derived from?

4 Answers 4


Your derivations (pan -> empanar -> empanada ; pared -> emparedar -> emparedado ) are right.

There is nothing odd with the gender, though.

In the sequence

1. pared (substantive; feminine ) 
2. emparedar (verb ; no gender) 
3. emparedado/a  (participle, works as an adjective; which can in turn be substantivized)

the original gender (la pared) is already lost when the verb (emparedar) is formed. And then, when we use the verb (as participle) to make an adjetive, its gender has nothing to do with the gender of the remote substantive, but must instead follow the usual concordance rule: it takes the gender from the substantive it modifies:

So, we'd say "sandwich emparedado", "bocadillo emparedado", "cadáver emparedado", but also "tortilla emparedada", "mujer emparedada", etc.

Further, when that adjetive works as a substantive (because the real substantive is tacitly assumed), the gender applies still to that same (tacit) substantive:

el emparedado = el sandwich emparedado ( or "el bocadillo emparedado")

la empanada = la carne empanada

In the above: "sandwich/bodadillo" is masculine, and so we say emparedado". "carne" is feminine, and so we say "empanada".

More examples:

   justicia -> ajusticiar -> (hombre) ajusticiado / (mujer) ajusticiada
   malta -> maltear -> (leche) malteada / (café) malteado

There are no guidelines because, in each case, the nouns refer to different things. Usually, a whole on one side and a constituent on the other.

An emparedado is called so because it consists of some food put between two paredes (two slices of bread, in fact); there is no reason why these two paredes should have the same gender as the whole emparedado. Same happens with the empanada and the pan, which is one of its constituents.

The case with empapelado is somewhat different because it refers directly to the papel which is used for a special purpose. Nevertheless, the gender could have varied, same as we have words with different gender that refer to the same thing, even similar words (e.g. hueco is masculine, oquedad is feminine).

The only case where you can find an easy rule for the gender of derived nouns is when the suffix used gives you the gender. In this case it is not so and I'm afraid you just have to learn each case separately.


I believe it could be, at least in some cases, the same that happens in Galician. There is a distinction between feminine and masculine forms of the same word: size. Feminine is usually bigger than masculine. So a "cesta" (basket) is bigger than a "cesto" (smaller basket); a "bolsa" (bag) is bigger than a "bolso" (hand bag); a "cuba" (tub) is bigger than a "cubo" (bucket).

I think it might have to do with the vowels used, since "a" is a more open vowel than "o", but it's only speculation on my part :-)

I've found an article when this use of gender is explained (in spanish, sorry; go to the end of the article): http://www.wikilengua.org/index.php/G%C3%A9nero_gramatical

Hope it helps.


I don't know for this particular case. But many times, when you have a past-participle become noun, you have to think about the original noun:

It could be (I'm guessing):

  • Una comida empanadaUna empanada.
  • Un bocadillo emparedadoUn emparedado.

Some words change even from region to region:

  • Una máquina computadoraUna computadora (most countries)1
  • Un aparato computadorUn computador (Chile, Colombia)

It happens even with trademarks:

  • Me compré una (camioneta) Nissan Frontier.
  • Me compré un (coche) Fiat Siena.

1. There is also the gallicism "ordenador", which it is not related to a m. noun, but it is that way because in French is ordinateur.

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