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Doubly Gendered

Nouns Whose Meanings Change With Gender

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Nearly all nouns in Spanish are always masculine or always feminine. But there are a few nouns that can be either.

In most cases, those are the nouns describing what people do, and the gender varies with the person the word stands for. Thus, for example, el dentista refers to a male dentist, while la dentista refers to a female dentist. Un artista is a male artist, while una artista is a female artist. Most, but not all, of the occupational words that follow this pattern end in -ista. One that doesn't is atleta: un atleta is a male athlete, while una atleta is a female athlete.

But there are a few nouns where the matter of gender is more complicated. Those are the nouns whose meanings vary depending on the gender of articles or adjectives used with them. In most cases, there's no immediately obvious reason why one meaning has developed with the masculine gender and another meaning for the feminine, so the only way to learn them is to memorize them or use them until you know them.

Following is a list of the most common such words. Only the basic or most usual meanings are included here; consult a dictionary for more thorough definitions.

  • batería: el batería = male drummer; la batería = battery, female drummer
  • busca: el busca = pager (electronic device); la busca = search
  • capital: el capital = financial capital; la capital = capital city, capital letter
  • cólera: el cólera = cholera; la cólera = anger
  • coma: el coma = coma; la coma = comma
  • cometa: el cometa = comet; la cometa = kite
  • consonante: el consonante = rhyme; la consonante = consonant
  • corte: el corte = cut, blade; la corte = court (law)
  • cura: el cura = Catholic priest; la cura = cure
  • delta: el delta = delta (of a river); la delta = delta (Greek letter)
  • doblez: el doblez = fold, crease; la doblez = double dealing
  • editorial: el editorial = editorial (opinion article); la editorial = publishing business
  • escucha: el escucha = male sentry or guard; la escucha = female sentry or guard, the act of listening
  • final: el final = end; la final = championship game in a tournament
  • frente: el frente = front; la frente = forehead
  • guardia: el guardia = policeman; la guardia = protection, custody, guard, police force, policewoman
  • guía: el guía = male guide ; la guía = guidebook, female guide
  • mañana: el mañana = future; la mañana = morning
  • margen: el margen = margin; la margen = bank (as of a river)
  • moral: el moral = blackberry bush; la moral = morale, morality
  • orden: el orden = order (opposite of chaos); la orden = religious order
  • ordenanza: el ordenanza = order (opposite of chaos); la ordenanza = orderly
  • papa: el papa = pope; la papa = potato
  • parte: el parte = document; la parte = portion
  • pendiente: el pendiente = earring; la pendiente = slope
  • pez: el pez = fish; la pez = tar or pitch
  • policía: el policía = policeman; la policía = police force, policewoman
  • radio: el radio = radius, radium; la radio = radio (Note: In some areas, radio is masculine in all uses.)
  • tema: el tema = subject; la tema = obsession
  • terminal: el terminal = electrical terminal; la terminal = shipping terminal
  • trompeta: el trompeta = male trumpeter; la trompeta = trumpet, female trumpeter
  • vista: el vista = male customs officer; la vista = view, female customs officer
  • vocal: el vocal = male committee member; la vocal = vowel, female committee member

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