April 23 was El día del idioma
, the day to celebrate the Spanish language (because Miguel de Cervantes was interred on that date in 1616). If you forgot to celebrate, here’s another chance.
If you studied Spanish, the first thing you learned is that nouns have gender. “The moon” is la luna
(feminine) and “the sun” is el sol
(masculine). Some words change their ending to accomodate gender: “the boy” is el niño
and “the girl” is la niña
. There’s not always a lot of logic behind this – why is “speed” feminine, la rápidez
, and “waste” mascuine, el derroche
? – so you simply have to memorize the gender.
But wait! There’s (always) more to learn.
Some nouns are epicene. That means they have the same article (el
) and the same word for both sexes. For example, “the goat” is la cabra
. If you want to specify the sex, you say la cabra macho
, “the male goat,” or la cabra hembra
, “the female goat.” A number of animals are epicene, such as “the squirrel,” la ardilla
, and “the vulture,” el buitre
. There’s no logic, so rote memorization is your only recourse.
Some nouns are gender common. That means the word stays the same, but the article changes to show if the person being referred to is male or female. Quite a few words fall into this category. “The artist” is la artista
or el artista
, “the soldier” is la soldado
or el soldado
, and “the martyr” is la mártir
or el mártir
. When you memorize the word, you have to memorize how to use it.
A smaller list of words are gender ambiguous. “The sea” can be masculine or feminine, la mar
or el mar
, as can “the sugar,” la azúcar
or el azúcar
. If you have any free brain cells left, memorize these details, too.
(Some words change their meaning completely depending on whether they are feminine or masculine. El cometa
is “the comet” and la cometa
is “the kite.” Memorize these if your brain hasn’t exploded yet.)
Finally, Spanish has no neutral nouns, but it has some neutral pronouns: esto, eso, aquello, ello, lo
. But now we’re getting into grammar, and I’m not going there today. Mercifully.
— Sue Burke