As well as for members of the family and names of jobs, all nouns in Spanish are classed as either masculine or feminine.
Masculine nouns normally end in –o and feminine nouns normally end in –a:
el niño (the boy)
la niña (the girl)
“el” and “la” both mean “the”. This is known as the definite article.
To make masculine nouns plural you change “el” to “los” and to make feminine nouns plural you change “la” to “las”. If the word ends in a vowel you also add an “-s”:
los niños (the boys)
las niñas (the girls)
If it ends in a consonant you add “-es”:
el tenedor (the fork)
los tenedores (the forks)
It becomes more problematic when you come across a word that ends in a consonant or an “e” as it could be either masculine or feminine. When you look a word up in the dictionary it will tell you the gender with “m.” meaning masculine and “f.” feminine.
ordenador m. (computer) > So if you want to say “the computer” and you know it is masculine, you would say “el ordenador”. If you want to say “the computers” you would say “los ordenadores”.
ciudad f. (city) > the city = “la ciudad”. The cities = las ciudades.
The indefinite article is used to say “a …” or for plural nouns, “some …”. In Spanish you use “un” for masculine nouns and “una” for feminine nouns:
un libro (a book) [masculine]
una casa (a house) [feminine]
To make the indefinite article plural, “un” becomes “unos” and “una” becomes “unas”:
unos libros (some books)
unas casas (some houses)
In the next blog post you can read about certain patterns of endings that are always either masculine or feminine.