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Both agua and águila, which mean "water" and "eagle," respectively, are feminine nouns. Yet we say el agua and el águila, making exceptions to the rule that la is used with feminine nouns. The reason has to do with pronunciation — la agua would sound the same as lagua and might be confusing. But language is seldom logical, so don't try substituting el for la whenever a word that starts with a- follows. Learn more...


October 18, 2006 at 5:34 am
(1) giovanna says:

what about abolicion, it begins with a but it is LA

March 22, 2007 at 10:33 am
(2) Christian Rothenbach says:

The explanation here lacks something.

The way it works is in Spanish we say EL agua instead of LA agua because of sound, which is explained there.

However, it fails to recognize something.

The only words where this happens are words that begin with a STRESSED a, where the word has its stress. Agua and Águila both have the stress on the first syllable, the A, yet when they are feminine, you still use EL in front of them. If you put adjectives behind them, then you say agua blancA or águila rojA.

Another word that works like that is ALMA, also feminine.

Basically, if the word is stressed on the first syllable, and it happens to be an A, then you use EL as the article, even when the noun is feminine.

Abolicion, as giovanna is asking, is a feminine noun, yes (cion ending always feminine), BUT, the A is not stressed. The stress is on the ó on abolición.

So there, explained.

February 15, 2009 at 8:24 pm
(3) Alonso Munoz says:

Don’t know if it helps, but the way I was taught it was both “agua” and “aguila” come from Latin (“acqua” and “acquila” if I don’t badly remember.) The article would make them “illa acquilla” for instance, but after evolution in the Middle Ages of Romanic languages, the article ille-illa-illum changed to el/la. But because “la agua” was a case of cacophony, it took exceptionally the first part of “illa”, el. So technically speaking, it is a variation of the feminine article, instead of the masculine one (?) Can’t vouch for this explanation, though, so if anyone knows more about this subject, I’d be glad to hear about it.

January 30, 2010 at 2:54 am
(4) roberto says:


some words have Greek roots and in Greek words ending in ata, ate are masculine.

Now, agua is NOT a word with Greek root, in fact in Italian we say la acqua, more common l’acqua so here you go, it’s a mistery in Spanish.

January 30, 2010 at 11:04 pm
(5) Keith says:

It would be possible. In Esperanto, the definite article is always “la” and there are no problems with “la akvo” (the water) and “la aglo” (the eagle) being pronounced “lakvo” and “laglo”. This is just another example of Spanish forgoing logic in favor of euphony.

April 24, 2011 at 5:08 am
(6) Keith Eng Ellington says:

this kind of thing is an example of a degeneration of a great language. to use a masculine article with “water” implies non-potability…no masculine fluid is drinkable; one cannot drink from a bull, but one can drink from a cow. thus, “el agua” is comparable to “el vaca” or even worse, “la toro”. a further example of this gender confusion is the use of the feminine ending with nominal adjectives of ideology, as in “las comunistas”, who are as we all know almost always a clique of left-wing latin males.

an original speaker of spanish would be affronted and correct the modern “el agua” to the obvious contraction “l’agua”.

May 15, 2011 at 9:58 pm
(7) LEIRBAG says:

“Agua” is femenine, sure, but in spanish exists one thing called “cacofonía”. It means that the sounds with ended vocal and started vocal sound bad.

Try to pronounce it:


Another words like this:

El águila (“lA_Águila” would sound bad)

Other exmples is the “e” & the “u” instead “Y” and “o”

Y means AND, but you cannot place the same sound after each other, so when your right a sentence for example, “juan y Imelda” see how its /ee/ ee/? it sounds “dirty” so you use e instead, example “Juan e Imelda” get it? you only replace the “y” when there is an /ee/ sound after the “y”, same thing with o and u “Yo o otro” that’s wrong, “Yo u otro” is right.

It’s like in english the article “A” when the next word starts with vocal: “an orange

December 2, 2012 at 4:55 pm
(8) Noelle Bridge says:

It seems there’s no definitive answer to this question. Alonso, the Latin/Greek argument sounds plausible. Do you know of any words in Spanish that have Greek roots and follow the pattern? I can’t think of any. But, as Giovanna says,”abolicion” is feminine. “Apéndice” is masculine in both the singular and plural forms. What the heck?

December 1, 2013 at 5:22 pm
(9) Jack Levinton says:

* “to use a masculine article with “water” implies non-potability…no masculine fluid is drinkable; one cannot drink from a bull, but one can drink from a cow. thus,”

1) Grammatical gender is not the same as sex. They often correlate in Latin languages, but in many languages around the world there is no relationship.
2) Many fluids are masculine. el café, el té, to name two.
3) I would suggest that at least two masculine fluids are drinkable. Whether you like to drink them or not is another thing.

* ““las comunistas”, who are as we all know almost always a clique of left-wing latin males.”

- It’s “Los comunistas”, apart from that, great comment.

April 17, 2014 at 11:51 am
(10) Javi says:

As a native speaker, I’ll try to give some valid examples and rules that most likely hold in Spanish language:

- As pointed out by the second poster, singular feminine substantives starting with tonic (stressed) ‘a’ cannot take adjectival determiners ‘la’ or ‘una’. Instead, masculine counterparts are used, in order to prevent cacophony: el agua, el águila, un agua, el África septentrional, el ágata (a gem), el álgebra. This rule is not applicable with adjectives, however: ‘la ágil pantera’. For anything else, such substantives are feminine, as in: ‘álgebra booleana’, ‘agua fría’, ‘la puta águila me ha cagado’, etc. The reason why the same rule is not applied to other words ending in -a preceding the substantive, is that ‘la’ and ‘una’, when used as adjectives (una may also be a pronoun), are always non-stressed, so no pause is made in speech. Instead, a long vowel is produced, wich is undesirable.

April 17, 2014 at 11:56 am
(11) Javi says:

A final note: The comment by Keith Eng Ellington should be skipped as it doesn’t contain any actual information. There only ‘el agua del río’, whether or not it can be drunk safely, while ‘comunista’ is a word used for both genders, as ‘electricista’, ‘periodista’, ‘malabarista’, ‘camorrista’, ‘nacionalista’, ‘jesuita’, etc.

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