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When are spanish nouns feminine or masculine?

Good question. And the answer is…there is no easy answer. Even though words ending in a are generally feminine, this is not always the case. Likewise, words ending in o are not always masculine. Five notable exceptions are:

la mano — the hand
el día — the day
el problema — the problem
el poema — the poem
el mapa — the map

Of course, nouns of animals (including humans) can be either masculine or feminine:

el niño — the little boy
la niña — the little girl
el perro — the male dog
la perra — the female dog

Nouns ending in e are unpredictable, as are words for material things:

el lápiz — the pencil
el filme — the [movie] film

All words ending in -dad and -ción are feminine:

la ciudad — the city
la universidad — the university
la dirección — the direction
la conversación — the conversation

There are some other rules as well, but the lesson here is: When learning your Spanish vocabulary, memorize the definite article along with the noun. That is, learn the words with their corresponding el or la.

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