How do I know how to use feminine vs. masculine in a sentence?

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I am just starting Rosetta Stone. Some things are confusing to me. For instance, it will ask Cuantos, Cuantas or Cuanta pelotas rojas? I'm assuming male is cuantos from what I've learned so far. But how does that apply to objects? How can a red ball be male or female? Why is a white telephone ~ un telefono blanca ~ un? But a red ball is una pelota roja? Why un for one and una for the other object? Why did a yellow bicycle become amarilla vs. amarillo'

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updated ABR 7, 2008
posted by Kathryn

5 Answers

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Wow, I guess it will all come with time and practice. Thanks so much.

updated ABR 7, 2008
posted by Kathryn
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I don't know how the gender of objects in Spanish was originally determined. It generally doesn't have anything to do with sex. A male person can be un hombre (masculine) or una persona (feminine). It has nothing to do with the actual biology of the individual, and a man isn't offended by being called una persona.

The last letter of the noun (object) is usually a good indicator, but by no means absolute: la mano (the hand) is feminine; el drama is masculine. Many words that end in ma are masculine. There are only a few words that end in o that are feminine.

You do need to get the gender right, or you could say something you didn't mean: la papa is a potato; el papa is the Pope. We really don't want to have mashed popes for dinner smile .

In Spanish you have a 50% chance of guessing the right gender. Some languages have neuter as well--so you get a 33% chance.

updated ABR 7, 2008
posted by CalvoViejo
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Kathryn
I know it sounds strange but we have masculine and feminine in English and they have to be used correctly or it doesn't make sense. I know it doesn't apply to nouns, but take this as an example.
Question: Hello Mary, how is your husband.
Answer: SHE'S doing fine.
See what I Mean.

updated ABR 7, 2008
posted by Eddy
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Thank- you.

updated ABR 7, 2008
posted by Kathryn
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Most Feminine objects end in A, so therefore, you have to follow in agreemennt with everything. a white telephone should be un telefono blanco.Un vs. Una is also masculine and feminine.un=m una=feminine so the color amarillo=M amarilla=F I hope this help

updated ABR 6, 2008
posted by Renea