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Why does the word for gun "arma" change gender when it is plural? el arma, las armas

July 21, 2015



It is like "agua", it's a feminine word but when in the singular, you use "el" to link the sounds in a better way: "el arma". If it was "la arma", notice how it would sound confusing the two "a"s together. When in the plural, you use "las" because the "s" gives the rhythm back to the sentence.

July 21, 2015



July 21, 2015


Similarly, in English we say "an apple" rather than "a apple."

July 21, 2015


If "arma" were masculine there would be no problem, then


el problema, el trauma, el poema, el programa, el plasma, el aroma, el idioma, el sistema, ...

From where have we got them. If you say Greek you are right

το πρόβλημα, το τραύμα, το ποίημα, το πρόγραμμα, το πλάσμα, το άρωμα, το ιδίωμα, το σύστημα, ...

are the original nouns just write them with the Spanish alphabet.

The "alma" and "ánima are not Greek nouns. "Arma" exists and means 1. wagon, usually for war in old times 2. tank, the one used in war. Babiniótis gives the etymology I.E. ar- = connect, fit and says that other I.E. languages also have used this -ar, for instance the English arm, army I.E. -ar That "arma" is not from Greek can also be seen from "Άρμα Θέσπηδος/ Carri de Tespi" (Ital) not Arma de Tespi, (Wagon of Thespis) Hence I think that the MA-rule more exactly is as follows

  1. THE MA-RULE: If a noun ENDS in -ma AND is EQUAL to a GREEK -ma noun THEN AND ONLY THEN it is a SPANISH MASCULINE

Conclusion: Arma, alma, ánima must have the feminine gender just as a-ending nouns usually have. Futhermore they start with a stressed a and therefore follow

  1. STRESSED START-A RULE: A noun starting with a stressed "a"cannot have an "a" immediately before it.

Hence for those nouns la goes to el, una -goes to un (see cacomanique in the start: el agua, las aguas; el alma, un alma, las almas...).

July 23, 2015


When I started Spanish on Duolingo I was all surprised to see "el agua" but they explained it was because of the vowel. Cool. Until I got to another lesson and saw "la abuela". Does anyone know why?

July 21, 2015


This distinction between "agua" and "abuela" is in which syllable is stressed in the word. Note that in both of these words, the stress falls on the second-to-last syllable; that is, they are pronounced "Agua" and "abUEla" (as opposed to, say, "agUA").

It is only when the first syllable of a feminine noun is 'a' or 'ha', AND that syllable is stressed, then we use "el" instead of "la" as the definite article. So "el agua " use "el", while "la abuela" uses "la". The plural of both would be "las aguas" or "las abuelas", and any adjective describing "agua" will take a feminine ending, e.g., "el agua profunda" meaning "the deep water"

The top reply above gives a very comprehensive set of examples of when (and why) this happens; I suggest reading there!

July 22, 2015


I don't have a really explanation for this, Spanish is my native language so It's just weird to say ''Los armas'' for that reason we say ''Las armas'' It's like in german sometimes you need to learn the article with the word. Maybe there are a real explanation but I recomend in this case just memorize that.

July 21, 2015


It doesn't change its gender. Let me explain this.

So far you have been told that:

Masculine article = "el".

Feminine article = "la".

Well... that's a lie!! But don't worry, that rule will work 99% of the time and everybody will understand if you say "la arma". In any case, I will give you the explanation. The reality is that:

Masculine definite article = "el".

Feminine definite article = "la" or "el".

So... When do you have to use "el" and "la" with femine nouns? The answer is easy: you use always "la" except with nouns that start with "a" or "ha" in a stressed syllable. So, you will have to say:

El agua / Las aguas (waters)

El hacha / Las hachas (axes)

El arma / Las armas (guns)

El alma / Las almas (souls)

El águila / Las águilas (eagles)

El área / Las áreas (areas)

El aula / Las aulas (classrooms)

This will also affect the undefinite articles, so you will hve to say:

Un arma / Unas armas.

Un águila / Unas águilas.

It is important that you remember that this DOESN'T CHANGE the gender of the word. So, if you add other adjectives, they will still be feminine, for example:

"Un arma peligrosa" (A dangerous weapon).

"Un águila blanca" (The white eagle).

"El aula antigua" (The old classroom).

"El agua sucia" (The dirty water).

It is also important that you remember that other articles keep their traditional feminine form:

"Mucha agua" (A lot of water)

"Esta aula" (This classroom)

"Nuestra águila" (Our eagle)

"Otra agua" (Another water)

And, at last, remember that we use "la" when the next word starts with "a" or "ha" but it's not the stressed syllabe!

"La amiga" (the friend).

"Una acción" (an action).

I hope this is a little bit clearer now. You don't have to worry too much about this issue. Some Spanish native speakers also get confused and often make mistakes with this kind of words. And, after some listening practice, I'm sure you will start doing it instinctively.


"El" and "la" are the definite articles in Spanish, as you know. Spanish is a language that evolved from Latin, as you probably also know. In Latin, there wasn't any definite articles, so, if you wanted to say "the girl plays with the dog" you would say something like "girl plays with dog". When you start thinking about it, this kind of words doesn't seem very indispensable, haha.

"El" and "la" evolved from the Latin demostrative articles "ille" and "illa" (the double l in latin is pronounced as a stronger l), which both translate into English as "this".

For some reason, the part of the word that remained for the masculine article was the first part:

ille -> il·le -> il -> el.

Meanwhile, the part of the word that temained for the femine article was the second part:

illa -> il·la -> la.

But, when the next word started with a stressed a, like in "Aqua" (water) boths as tended to merge into the same sound:

illa aqua -> illaaqua (Which sounded like: "il aqua").

This form survived and persisted until our days. And that's why we say it like this. : )

BUT: There is a word that DOES CHANGE its gender when it becomes plural: "arte" (art).

This case is really strange and unique and very few people is actually aware of it.

In singular, "arte" is masculine, so you will have to say:

"Un arte milenario" (a millennial art).

"El arte incomprendido" (the misunderstood art).

But in plural, "arte" is femine:

"Las artes escénicas" (the performing arts)

"Las bellas artes" (the fine art)

"Con malas artes" (by using tricks)

July 21, 2015


Nice explanation! There's just a little thing I would add:

If the article does not directly precede the word it does NOT change:

El agua sucia


la sucia agua.

July 22, 2015


Many thanks for the explanation! Enjoy some lingots. :)

July 21, 2015


You deserve more lingots. Thanks for taking the time to share this information.

July 21, 2015


wow, impressive. you get a lingot.

July 21, 2015


Even native speakers get this messed up sometimes... lol

Note this:

El aceite / Los aceites
El aceite caro
Unos aceites
Un aceite estupendo

Aceite is masculine, never say "El aceite cara"!!!!

PS: "Las bellas artes" (the fine arts)

July 23, 2015
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