How Gender Changes the Meaning of Spanish Words

When we speak Spanish, it is truly important to use the right gender of nouns, even more than what you might expect. In this lesson, we will explain how grammatical gender changes the meaning of some Spanish words. As we will soon see, we must use them carefully, as their meaning will change radically under specific conditions. Let’s start…

Introductory video: 10 Confusing Spanish Words

First, we will ask you to watch a short video with some of the words that we will be covering in the lesson. Pay attention to the way the words are pronounced and how their meaning changes based on each word’s ending.

A list of Spanish words that change meaning with gender

Now, we will discuss a little more about the examples in the video and introduce a few other words whose meaning change with gender. If you watched the video, then this will be familiar and easy to follow. Here is a collection of pictures showing how some Spanish words change their meaning depending on the definite or indefinite article that goes with them:

Spanish words that change meaning with gender depending on the articles that accompany them

La cometa/ El cometa

When the word “COMETA” is used as a feminine noun as in “UNA COMETA” or “LA COMETA” then we are referring to “a kite”. On the contrary, when saying “EL COMETA” we will not be referring to a kite, but “a comet”. As you can see, indefinite articles like “UN” and “UNA” and the definite articles “EL” and “LA” are the key to find out whether a word like COMETA is being used as a masculine or feminine noun. Here are a couple of sentences for you to see this word in use:

¿Crees que puedo volar la cometa hoy? – El viento está muy fuerte.
Do you think I can fly the kite today? – The wind is very strong.
El cometa Halley es un cometa grande y brillante.
Comet Halley is a large, bright comet.

La capital/ El capital

When we say “La capital” we are referring to a state or country’s capital city. Here we are using the word capital as a feminine noun. When the word CAPITAL is preceded by a masculine word, then we will be talking about the wealth owned or employed in business. Some examples are:

Moscú es la capital de Rusia.
Moscow is the capital of Russia.
La empresa tiene un capital de 1 millón de dólares.
The company has a capital of 1 million dollars.

El radio / La radio

We will use “El radio” to talk about the device used to listen to radio broadcasts and also for the radio of a circumference. “La radio”, on the other hand, would be the radio waves or a radio station. Here are two examples:

El radio no enciende porque las baterías se agotaron.
The radio does not turn on because the batteries have run out.
¿Escuchaste la nueva canción de Luis Fonsi en la radio?
Did you listen to Luis Fonsi’s new song on the radio?

La orden / La orden

“El orden” refers to the order of events or things. “La orden”, instead of “El orden”, means “an order” in Spanish. Instead of being about the order of things, it will be about ordering someone to do something. Here are some examples:

Este es el orden: primero el himno nacional, luego un baile folclórico…
This is the order: first the national anthem, then a folkloric dance…
¿Escuchaste la orden del jefe? – Debemos terminar el reporte antes de las 5 pm.
Did you hear the boss’s order? – We must finish the report before 5 pm.

El lomo / La loma

“El lomo” is a masculine noun used to talk about a part of a human or animal’s back. “La loma”, with an “-a” ending on the noun, refers to a hill. Pay attention to these sentences:

El lomo de cerdo es delicioso.
Pork tenderloin is delicious.
La vista desde la loma es preciosa.
The view from the hill is beautiful.

El frente / La frente

“El frente” can be used to talk about the front of a house or car, for instance. It may also be used to talk about war as in “El frente ruso” (The Russian front). On the other hand, “La frente” is a part of our bodies, the forehead. Take a look at these two examples:

Necesitamos refuerzos en el frente de batalla.
We need reinforcements on the front lines.
Ellos tienen la frente pintada con la bandera de sus equipos.
They have their foreheads painted with the flag of their teams.

El bolso / La bolsa

“El bolso” as a masculine noun refers to a purse or handbag used to carry stuff, although the specific word for purse is “Cartera”. “La bolsa” is more for common plastic or paper bags; it will also be used as “La bolsa de valores” to refer to the “Stock market”.

Ya no tenemos espacio para más cosas en el bolso.
We no longer have room for more things in the bag.
¿Me puedes vender una bolsa plástica por favor?
Can you sell me a plastic bag please?

El cólera/ La cólera

“El cólera” is an extremely dangerous disease. It affects both children and adults and can kill within hours. “La cólera”, on the contrary, will not refer to a disease, but a very common word in Spanish we use when we feel extremely angry. It could be translated into rage or wrath.

El cólera es una enfermedad muy peligrosa.
Cholera is a very dangerous disease.
¿Qué te pasa? – Me siento con cólera. Mi jefe me regañó.
What’s wrong? – I feel very angry. My boss scolded me.

El barco / La barca

Last but not least, “El barco” refers to a quite large ship, whereas “La barca” refers to a boat like the ones used by fishermen. Another word for boat in Spanish is “El bote”.

El barco tiene capacidad para más de mil pasajeros.
The ship has a capacity for more than a thousand passengers.
Podemos usar esta barca para cruzar el río.
We can use this boat to cross the river.

There are many other words whose meaning will change in Spanish depending on their gender or the words that accompany them, which ultimately make them feminine or masculine in the language. Here are a few other examples:

  • El cuentoDebemos leer el cuento antes de la clase. (We must read the story before class.)
  • La cuentaMesero, ¿me puede traer la cuenta por favor? (Waiter, can you bring me the bill please?)
  • La coma No olvides agregar una coma en esta oración. (Don’t forget to add a comma to this sentence.)
  • El coma El paciente ha estado en coma por 2 meses. (The patient has been in a coma for 2 months.)
  • El punto La oración siempre termina con un punto. (The sentence always ends with a period.)
  • La puntaUsa esto para sacarle punta a tu lápiz. (Use this to sharpen your pencil.)
  • El focoCompré un par de baterías para el foco. (I bought a couple of batteries for the flashlight.)
  • La foca Puedes ver las focas desde el acantilado. (You can see the seals from the cliff.)
  • El cuadroEste es el cuadro que más me impresionó. (This is the painting that impressed me the most.)
  • La cuadraEl hospital está a dos cuadras de aquí. (The hospital is two blocks from here.)
  • El corteCreo que el corte de cabello te favorece. (I think the haircut suits you.)
  • La corteMarcos tiene cita en la corte en enero. (Marcos has a court appearance in January.)

Interactive quiz: Choosing the right word.

Thanks for joining us in this lesson. ¡Hasta la próxima!

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