Tuesday, February 28, 2012

All About Nouns

What is a noun?
The noun is a part of grammar that defines a person, place, thing, or abstract idea.  In English, we have all kinds of nouns (dog, spider, loneliness, Benito Juárez, Oklahoma City, etc.). 
The Spanish language divides its nouns into gender, either masculine or feminine.  Whereas English nouns are gender-neutral, Spanish nouns either are male or female, having nothing to do of course with whether or not the noun itself has masculine or feminine qualities. 
But how do we know the gender of a noun?  Of course the answer to this is memorization and constant practice, but a better situation would have been to grow up in a Spanish-speaking environment.  Since that wasn’t the case and you’re right now learning Spanish from a book, let’s follow a couple of rules to help you determine the gender of nouns! 

Nouns ending in –o, -a
Most nouns that end in –o are masculine: el libro (the book), el gato (the cat), el zorro (the fox).  Also, if the noun is a person who is male, an –o is usually the terminus.  Other examples: 
el banco
el padrastro
el amigo
friend (male)
el saco
rain coat
el cuchillo

Nouns that end in –a, including people who are of the female sex, are feminine:  la cuchara (the spoon), la amiga (friend, female), la madrastra (step-mother), la computadora (the computer).  Other examples: 
la pluma
la cereza
la manzana
el saco
rain coat
el cuchillo

Note that in Spanish we express nouns as part of a phrase that includes the article, which you’ll learn about in the next section.  It is important when learning new vocabulary that you also learn the article that goes along with the noun.  Note that in English, it is sufficient to say “book” without saying “the book” or “a book, but in Spanish it customary when referring to a noun in a general sense to pair it up with its singular definite article “el” or “la”.

Irregular Noun Endings
Some nouns ending in –o are feminine: 
la mano
la radio
la foto
photo (short for fotografía)
la moto
motorcycle (short for motocicleta)

There are also several nouns that are masculine that end in –a:
el águila
el día
el mapa
el tranvía
the highway, expressway
el idioma
el planeta
el clima
el problema
el programa
el sistema
el poema

Unfortunately, there are a great many Spanish nouns (the vast majority, perhaps), whose genders cannot readily be predicted and must be studied. 
Nouns that end in an –e are very frequent yet the only way to know for sure what the gender is of one of these specific words is by learning and studying the noun.  This is done usually at a much earlier age, much the same way we started to acquire knowledge of English when we were in kindergarten.  The nouns el cine (movie theater) and el jarabe (syrup) end in –e and are masculine; however, la llave (key) is feminine, as is la gente (people) and la clase (class). 
Nouns ending in –z can either be masculine or feminine.  The nouns el lápiz (pencil), el arroz (rice), el maíz (corn), and el disfráz (costume) are masculine nouns, yet la luz (light) and la paz (peace) are feminine. 
Most nouns that end in –n, like el andén (path, walkway) and el buzón (mailbox), el examen (exam), el desván (attic), el claxón (car horn), and el jabón (soap) are masculine, and are usually accented in order to distinguish them from a third person plural verb conjugation. 
Nouns Ending –dad, -tad, -tud, and –umbre
Nouns ending in –dad, -tad, -tud, or –umbre are usually feminine.  Here is a list of some common examples of this ending:
la verdad
la ciudad
la felicidad
la libertad
la multitud
la cumbre
peak (mountain), summit
la certidumbre
la Universidad
la amistad
friendship, amnesty
la propiedad
la unidad
unity, unit
la condad
la caridad
la oportunidad
la pluralidad

Ambiguous Nouns Describing People and Careers
A lot of nouns that depict people in their professions or in another position can be feminized by adding an –a to the end of the masculine noun: 
Masculine Form
Feminine Form
el patrón (the boss, male)
la patrona (the boss, female)
el doctor (doctor, male)
la doctora (doctor, female)
el profesor (professor, male)
la profesora (professor, female)
el anfitrión (host)
la anfitriona (hostess)
el campeón (champion, male)
la campeona (champion, female)
el bailarín (dancer, male)
la bailarina (dancer, female)

Some nouns do not add an –a to the ending of the masculine form.  Instead the noun stays the same but the feminine article is used when referring to a female.  This is especially true when describing athletes of a specific sport:
·         el/la presidente (the president)
·         el/la estudiante (student)
·         el/la líder (the leader)
·         el/la dentista (dentist)
·         el/la dependiente (store clerk)
·         el/la artista (artist)
·         el/la atleta (athlete)
·         el/la basquetbolista (basketball player)
·         el/la beisbolista (baseball player)
·         el/la turista (tourist)
·         el/la agente (agent)
·         el/la cantante (singer)
·         el/la futbolista (football/soccer player)
With much practice and listening to Spanish language conversations, you’ll get the hang of these endings in no time!  

Compound Nouns
All compound nouns (that is, nouns that are juxtaposed or attached to a verb to form a word that describes the function of the noun) are masculine:
el sacacorchos
el sacapuntos
pencil sharpener
el parachoques
bumper (auto.)
el limpiaparabrisas
windshield washer (auto.)
el parabrisas
windshield (auto.)
el paraguas
el limpiacristales
window cleaner
el lavaplatos
el salvavidas
life preserver
el paracaigas

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Using the Phrase "Tener que"

One of the most useful phrases you’ll ever know in Spanish is the grammatical clause tener que, which when coupled with a verb in the infinitive means “to have to” + verb.  

Tengo que estudiar.  I have to study.
¿Tienes que escribir un ensayo?  Do you have to write an essay?
Ella tiene que cantar.  She has to sing. 
Tenemos que ir.  We have to go. 
Tienen que leer un libro.  They have to read a book. 

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