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Who would have thought that gender confusion would spread to linguistics? But the truth is, a common mistake among non native speakers is getting the gender of a word wrong. Since in English our words don't have a noticeable gender (aside from words that represent things that actually are one gender or the other), and our articles don't represent gender differences at all, it is hard for us to make the change to a language with gender distinctions. However, it is an important distinction in Spanish and mistaking it can be a serious error. A large number of nouns end in either 'a' or 'o' the ones ending in 'a' are generally feminine and the ones ending in 'o' are generally masculine. So, their article will typically agree with them. For example, 'la bicicleta' the bicycle, and el libro 'the book'. 'La' is the feminine article, thus accompanying 'bicicleta' and 'el' is the masculine article thus accompanying 'libro'. This is true for the majority of words, however there are exceptions to this rule. For example 'el mapa' the map, and la mano 'the hand'. Most of these exceptions are Latin derivatives that came from a neuter word and then assumed either a masculine or feminine mantel based on associations with the word or the gender of a synonym. For the most part mixing up the gender of a word will only make you sound like a non native speaker. The most common mistake is putting the wrong article with a word. For example saying 'el bicicleta'. You sound a bit confused, but you haven't said anything untoward. However, another fairly common error is mixing up the vowel on the end of a word, which can lead to trouble as this will frequently change the meaning of a word. For example: the word 'pollo' means chicken. 'El pollo', the chicken. However, 'polla' rather than meaning female chicken (which it does literally mean, but has fallen out of usage) means penis. Hence, confusing the gender of this word can make for awkward conversation. A favorite example of mine was provided by a friend of mine while we were studying abroad. Apparently, she was at a restaurant and wanted to order chicken with pineapple. However, she confused the gender. Rather than ordering 'pollo con piña' she asked for ‘polla con piña'. Needless to say this conjured up a rather amusing image for her host family and her waiter and got a good laugh out of everyone.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|