I really enjoy the discussions that arise from posts like last week’s about my Rookie Mistakes (written in all caps because it’s a BFD).
As you know, I like to think about all the important, totally unimportant things in life. Although Spanish is important—being the second-most spoken language in the US—the stuff I contemplate is really not. Except to me, thus making it, like, oh my God, super-mega important. Got it?
As you may well know, Spanish has something called grammatical gender, which actually doesn’t have to do with gender; it’s just a name we use. (Confusing? Yeah.) If you don’t know what this is, just think of the terms fiancé and fiancée. One means a man engaged to be married (fiancé), while the other means a woman engaged to be married (fiancée). So if I called a man my fiancée—oopsy, that would be wrong.
For the most part in English, we don’t deal with this, especially since we pronounce fiancé and fiancée exactly the same way (or at least I do). Hence, when we native English speakers learn a language that does employ grammatical gender, we usually have slip-ups. If you don’t, I officially hate you. Don’t call me again; I’ve blocked your number.
Right now, I’m what I’d call an advanced speaker of Spanish. (I’m even better at writing!) But I like to talk fast in English, so I try to speed up my Spanish as well. I hate being the person everyone listens to like, Come on! Cough it up! Right? Don’t you hate that? Naturally, though, this leads to missteps. I often autocorrect myself, because I’m very self-aware in this area, but sometimes I don’t catch it.
The most common way to tell if something in Spanish is masculine/feminine is to say how the word ends. If it ends in –o, it’s likely masculine; if it ends in –a, it’s likely feminine. Ya with me? However, this is not always the case. (See: la mano.) Easy peasy, lemon squeezy?
In my rush to speak, I sometimes call Mario a girl. No, I don’t say, “Eres una chica,” no. I just refer to him with a feminine adjective. I’m sure this sounds rather odd to him, as this whole grammatical gender thing is ingrained in his speech, and has been since he was a wee little tot with glasses. (Cutest kid ever.) So it has to be jarring when I do this. I like to compare it to when my students would refer to males as “she” or females as “he.” Yes, it happened, and it always seemed so weird to me. Don’t they get it? Well, of course they do; they just mix it up—just like yours truly.
Gender is a tricky thing in Spanish. Here are some examples:
- It’s el agua/águila/arte, but las aguas/águilas/artes.
- La mano vs. el mapa
- Words sometimes change meanings, depending on whether they’re preceded by el or la:
- El cura (the priest); la cura(the cure)
- El herido (the wounded man); la herida (the wounded woman/the wound)
- El frente (the front); la frente(the forehead)
- El capital (the capital [money]); la capital (the capital [of a country])
- El mañana (the future/tomorrow [but tomorrow is really an adverb]); la mañana(the morning)
- Sometimes words are both—la/el mar (both are still used) el/la calor (la calor is seen as archaic). Apparently, la mar is more poetic. That’s because females are more poetic, did you know that? (Okay, I lie.)
Okay, I’m going to stop here. I tend to start writing and just keep going and going, because there’s always more I want to say. But I shan’t. Please, tell me about your grammatical-gender-based mishaps in the comments!