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yes, you are right. In general, this is a huge difference between english and most 'latin' languages like spanish, italian and french, in which the present tense can be used for both meanings. But in general, you can safely say "(Mira cómo) las gatas estan bebiendo agua" to the same extent, so for a crash course in Spanish I think it's better to stick with the difference and leave the subtleties for later...
The third person conjugation of verbs can be translated several ways while meaning only slightly different things. For example, "las gatas beben" can be translated as "the cats drink", "the cats do drink", or "the cats are drinking".
However, "the cats are drinking" version does not necessarily literally mean the cats are currently drinking at that moment. It's more of a vague present tense. Like if someone called you while you were eating dinner you'd say something like "Can I call you back? I'm eating". Clearly, you're not presently eating, because you're on the phone.
In order to say "the cats are drinking" as in literally currently taking sips of water, the translation would look like this: "Las gatas estan bebiendo".
Since cats can be male or female, you can use "gatas" to refer to a group of cats you know to be all female. I believe "gato" is the default if you're unsure or if it doesn't matter (and it's not likely you'd often be in situations where it would matter if you knew the cats' sexes).
I still don't understand. Are cats considered "feminine" in Spanish. I know in English informally we consider all dogs "masculine" and cats "feminine" though of course in reality this is untrue. Are pleural "cats" in Spanish to always be considered "gatas", not "gatos"? This is so confusing.
Think about it like people. In English, you could say, "The children are playing." We know you mean young people, but they could be male or female. However, if you say "The girls are playing," we know you mean that they're all female. As mitaine56 said, in English, we don't have words that mean "female cat" and "male cat". In Spanish, they do.
As for plural words, the only time you use the plural female form ("gatas" in this case) is when ALL of the subjects you're talking about are female. If there's a group of 100 cats and all are female, they are "gatas". However, if there are any males at all, use the plural male form. If that group of 100 cats has 99 females and 1 male, they are "gatos". Make sense?
frankstom, gato and gata have nothing to do with plural. There's only a word in English to say CAT. So you have to add other words if you want to say the gender of your female cat. But, in Spanish, there are 2 words, gato is a male and gata is a female. In the Spanish sentence above, they want us to know that they,re talking about females, that's why, they said gatas.
In the exemple, they choosed to say las gatas, but they could have been chosen los gatos. It doesn't mean that cats are feminine in Spain. Sometimes they use the masculine and sometimes the feminine . You have to know all the options. In English, there's only a word for cat and you have to specify if it's a male or female. In Spanish and in French, there are 2 words to name the cats.
In general, the word for cat is 'gato'. But if you want to be more specific with it, you can say 'gata' for a female cat. Saying gato or gatos will always be right, even if the cats are females, because it's like instead of saying 'the female cats' you just said 'the cats'. In short: One male/unknown gendered cat: Un gato. One female cat: Una gata. Multiple male/unknown gendered cats: Los gatos. Multiple female cats: Las gatas.
If you want, you can message me directly for help :)
For the most part, it will usually be 'Los gatos beben agua', meaning "The cats drink water/The cats are drinking water". If you have a water dish and want to say "The cats are drinking the water now" or something like that, you would say "Los gatos beben el agua ahora." Basically, if you would just say water in English, use agua in Spanish, but if you would say 'the water' in English, say 'el agua' in Spanish.