How come it´s el problema and not la problema?

3
votes

In Spanish, definite articles must agree in number and gender with the noun they modify. The Spanish letters "a" and "o" as the final letter of a word designate a feminine or masculine word; "a" is feminine and "o" is masculine. So how come it's "el problema" and not "la problema" since "el" should always modify a masculine noun and "la" a feminine noun.

56206 views
updated Jan 16, 2011
posted by FrankGill
el idioma is another one.

10 Answers

4
votes

Noun Gender

Welcome to the forum. The reference section here is really helpful, check the link above.

From that article:

For All Those Masculine Nouns that Don't End in -O...

If it ends in -e, an accented vowel (á, é, í, ó, ú), a consonant other than -d or -z, or -ma (greek origin) it's also masculine.

-ma el programa, el drama, el idioma, (el tema, el clima, el sistema ...)

Borrowing From Greek!

A lot of nouns that end in -ma, -pa, and -ta are masculine because they are Greek in origin.

There are also listings of individual exceptions that need to be memorized in that article, but "el programa" is part of a group and does not need to be memorized as an individual exception.

updated Jan 11, 2011
edited by Stadt
posted by Stadt
3
votes

You are correct, but every rule has exceptions. Example: el agua

That's a different kind of exception, since agua is feminine while problema is masculine. There are some words that don't follow the normal rule, such as mano and día, and problema happens to be one of a class of words derived from Greek that kept their Greek gender.

updated Jan 12, 2011
posted by lorenzo9
3
votes

The Spanish letters "a" and "o" as the final letter of a word designate a feminine or masculine word; "a" is feminine and "o" is masculine.

That is actually a common misconception.

The words simply have their gender regardless of ending. It just so happens that a lot of nouns ending in o are masculine and a lot of nouns ending in a are feminine...so it is a handy rule-of-thumb that is helpful if you must guess at the gender of an unknown word.

What I and (I assume) most people end up doing is assuming the gender for most -o and -a ending words to be masculine and feminine respectively and, then when we encounter one that doesn't match our expectations (like el problema), we'll look it up to clarify and then remember the exceptions.

I assumed it was la problema until a month or so ago. And, I've been studying Spanish for over 3 years.

updated Jan 11, 2011
edited by webdunce
posted by webdunce
2
votes

Checking a large dictionary:

More than 8% of the nouns ending in -a are not feminine.

More than 45% of the feminine nouns do not end in -a.

updated Jan 12, 2011
edited by lazarus1907
posted by lazarus1907
2
votes

gender exceptions

Masculine

In broad generality, all nouns not fitting into the above categories and exceptions - plus the following.

Nouns of Greek origin, ending in "-ma" / "-ta" / "-pa"

updated Jan 11, 2011
posted by 0074b507
2
votes

You are correct, but every rule has exceptions. Example: el agua

updated Jan 11, 2011
posted by 0097f7e0
1
vote

To follow up on my initial answer regarding gender of "-ma" nouns:

The rule I use is that "-ma" nouns are masculine in general:

idioma, poema, sistema, tema, problema, fantasma, clima, morfema, drama, enigma, emblema, diagrama, síntoma, lema, panorama, pijama, plasma, programa, aroma, crucigrama, dilema, estigma...........

There are, however exceptions to that rule that must be memorized, for example:

la goma, la pluma, la forma, la chusma

There are also stressed initial "a" feminine "-ma" nouns that need to be kept in mind:

el arma, las armas

And for my further confusion:

el alma, las almas (?los almas)

Which I had learned as a feminine noun, but which also lists masculine meanings under our dictionary entry from the Velazquez source (alma), but which I did not find listed in DRAE.

The reasons for this additional post:

(1) Paralee has as #1 in the exercises under nouns-gender the word alma, with the correct answer being masculine.

(2) I did a set of flashcards that incorrectly assigned 4 feminine "-ma" nouns to the wrong gender, at least to my understanding.

Any corrections to this, any additional "-ma" nouns that are feminine (to memorize as exceptions), and any other comments would be appreciated.

updated Jan 16, 2011
edited by Stadt
posted by Stadt
La cama, la plataforma
1
vote

If your rule were "articles (definite or indefinite) that end in 'o' are masculine while those that end in 'a' are feminine", you'd be in great shape. However, as WebDunce said, when applied to the entire class of nouns, it is, at best, an approximation (rule-of-thumb).

As Einstein famously said (I paraphrase) make it (the explanation) as simple as possible but no simpler. Unfortunately some teachers and textbooks, as well, seem willing to sacrifice accuracy/correctness for the sake of simplicity of rules.

updated Jan 11, 2011
posted by samdie
1
vote

I made sure to memorize the exceptions first and continue my adventure in Spanish from there.....

updated Jan 11, 2011
posted by Ann-Frances
Yo creo que no tienes que memorizar nada ,intenta que aprender sea divertido.Por ejemplo imagina que los problemas son siempre masculinos o que las mujeres no tienen problemas.Así te será más fácil recordar las excepciones.
Pero si las mujeres son los problemas, entonces será mucha confusión con esta manera de recordar: - )
0
votes

And then there are the real exceptions, for example:

arte: the singular is masculine, but the plural is feminine

cometa: it's masculine when it means comet, but feminine when it means kite

artista: it's masculine or feminine, depending on the gender of the person

updated Jan 12, 2011
posted by lorenzo9
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