Speak Spanish: How do you use “el” with feminine nouns in Spanish?

Immerse Insights

  • Sometimes feminine words are used with a masculine article in Spanish
  • Characteristics like word stress can help you predict when to use “el” instead of “la”
  • There’s a simple rule you can learn so you always know which article to use

Our expert Immerse Spanish instructor Maria José shows you when to use the masculine article with feminine nouns.

When you start to study Spanish, you quickly learn to use “la” before feminine nouns like la manzana (the apple) and “el” before masculine nouns like el vaso (the glass). After a while, though, you may notice some Spanish speakers saying things like el agua (the water) or el ave (the bird).

So why are they using a masculine article with a feminine noun?

Maria José has the answer for you!

Fun Fact about some feminine nouns in Spanish and their articles

When people say things like el agua (water) and el ave (bird), they’re simply following a Spanish stress pattern rule. These words are stressed on the first syllable, like “AH-guah,” not “ah-GUAH.”

So la agua would be hard to say (and hard to hear) because the “a” at the end of la would merge with the stressed “a” at the beginning of agua. It would just sound like one word, lagua.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to solve this problem - you just use el instead of la!

Pro Tip

So, how are you, the Spanish learner, supposed to know when to do this?

First, make sure that your noun is feminine and singular and that it starts with the sound “a”.

Then, make sure there are no words between your article and your noun! If there’s another word in between, like pura (pure), you can just use la because the letters “a” aren’t next to each other in la pura agua and it’s easy to hear the article and the noun.

Most of the time adjectives come after the noun in Spanish though, so you’ll usually say the noun right after the article.

For a feminine singular noun that starts with “a,” you can listen to figure out if the emphasis is on that first syllable. Look for words that have a written accent on that first syllable, like el águila (the eagle), or look for two syllable words that end with a vowel and don’t have a written accent, like el ave. Or, you can just memorize which words use el!

It’s as simple as that!

Don’t stop here!

Want to learn more Spanish in a live class with an expert instructor like Maria José?

A banner inviting you to click and sign up for a free Immerse membership to learn Spanish online. It includes a free instructor-led live Spanish speaking class so that you can experience VR Spanish learning and start speaking Spanish fluently faster. You can access Immerse with the VR app if you have a Meta Quest 2 headset, or through your web browser on a Mac or PC.