If you are learning Spanish, you might already know that water is feminine and, therefore, it should go with feminine articles. But that’s not always the truth. Today, we are going to learn about feminine nouns with masculine articles.
Why do we say “el agua” instead of “la agua”? Short answer: because of cacophony. In Spanish, we stress every word, there is always one syllable of the word that will be stronger in pronunciation, even if it does not have a written accent. In the case of agua, it’s the first syllable: agua. The same happens with hacha, área, águila, hada… All these words have for the first syllable a tonic/stressed “a” sound.
The problem is that, when we add a definite article in front of it, we lose the stress in one of the two words, they merge into one. “La agua” would become “lagua”. In general, a synalepha or elision (linking of two syllables when they are vowel sounds) is possible in Spanish: “que el amigo y amiga se abracen.” However, the Real Academia Española decided to create a rule for the case of feminine words that start with a tonic “a” sound to avoid this repetition of sounds with the monosyllable “la” so we do not lose the article.
We ONLY choose a masculine article when it is the definite article “el” (in singular) and it goes directly before the noun. Meaning that, if there is a word between the article and the noun, we use the definite article “la”. For example:
- El agua está congelada. (The water is freezing).
- La congelada agua me refrescó mucho. (The freezing water was very refreshing).
When the noun is plural, we always use the feminine definite article “las” because the “s” breaks the cacophony:
- Las aguas chocaban fuerte contra las rocas. (The waters hit the rocks violently).
Because the repetition of sounds only affects the link between the monosyllable “la” and the tonic syllable “a” of the noun, any other articles are exempt from the rule.
Saying “esta agua” creates a synalepha, but it does not matter as much, because “esta” has the tonic syllable “es”. So demonstrative articles like esta, esa, aquella, or possessives, numerals, and indefinites all go in feminine:
- Esta hacha. (This axe).
- Cierta águila. (A particular eagle).
- Mucha agua. (A lot of water).
There are two cases where both masculine and feminine articles are correct: the indefinite article “un/una” and the abbreviated forms of “algún/alguna” and “ningún/ninguna”. We tend to use “un”, “algún” and “ningún” right before these nouns, but “una”, “alguna” and “ninguna” are correct, although less common:
- Un hacha/una hacha.
- Algún hada/alguna hada.
- Ningún alma/ninguna alma.
Because these nouns are feminine, the article are ALWAYS going to be in their feminine form. Even if the definite article is “el”, the adjective is going to be feminine. It does not change if it goes before or after the noun:
- La congelada agua. (The freezing water).
- El agua congelada. (The freezing water).
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