Spanish Nouns with Different Meanings in Different Genders

One of the first things you learn about Spanish is that nouns have gender, like how la mesa (the table) is feminine, and el plato (the plate) is masculine. The idea that non-living things like objects, places, and feelings, can have a gender usually seems a little weird to native English speakers. Well, it gets weirder still…

The amusing gender of spanish nouns

The amusing gender of Spanish nouns

Some special words can be either masculine or feminine, and have a totally different meaning for each gender. I’m not just talking about the difference between a male cat (el gato) and a female cat (la gata), oh no - I mean completely different meanings.

I have made a list of these special words below:

22 words with totally different meanings in masculine and feminine

Word        With gender   Meaning and example
Capital male El capital Capital as in wealth or assets.
El capital de esa empresa es muy elevado.
The capital in that company is very high.
female La capital Capital of a country, province, state, or region.
La capital de Perú es Lima
The capital of Peru is Lima.
Cólera male El cólera Cholera, the disease.
El cólera es una enfermedad infecciosa.
Cholera is an infectious disease.
female La cólera Rage, anger. (Usually you have to determine this from the context, as it is unusual to see it with a determinant to indicate that it’s feminine.)
La cara de Inés estaba llena de cólera.
Ines’ face was full of anger.
Coma male El coma Coma.
El coma de Antonio duró dos meses.
Antonio’s coma lasted two months.
female La coma Comma.
La coma es un signo ortográfico.
The comma is a diacritic mark.
Cometa male El cometa Comet.
El cometa Halley fue descubierto por Edmund Halley.
Halley’s comet was discovered by Edmund Halley.
female La cometa Kite.
Vamos a volar una cometa.
Let’s go fly a kite.
Corte male El corte Cut (haircut, an injury, the cut of clothes in tailoring, a power cut, a cutback)
Tu corte de pelo es muy moderno.
Your haircut is very modern.
female La corte The king’s court; and the residence of a king.
El rey llegó con toda su maravillosa corte.
The king arrived with all his wonderful court.
Cura male El cura An informal word for a priest.
El cura empezará la misa en cinco minutos.
The priest will start the mass in five minutes.
female La cura Cure (e.g. for an illness), or medical care.
La cura para el cáncer aún no ha sido descubierta.
The cure for cancer has not been discovered yet.
Doblez male El doblez Fold, crease, wrinkle in things.
La falda tiene un agujero justo en el doblez de abajo.
The skirt has a hole right in the fold below.
female La doblez Duplicity, two-facedness.
Ana siempre había sido una persona sincera, sin ninguna doblez.
Ana had always been an honest person, with no duplicity.
Disco male El disco Record (music), or computer disc.
Coldplay siempre vende muchos discos.
Coldplay always sell a lot of albums.
female La disco Short form of la discoteca - nightclub.
No me gustaban las discos cuando era adolescente.
I did not like nightclubs when I was a teenager.
Editorial male El editorial Leading article in a newspaper.
El editorial de hoy es sobre terrorismo.
Today’s leading article is about terrorism.
female La editorial Publisher, publishing house.
Esa editorial publica libros para aprender español.
That publishing house publishes books for learning Spanish.
Frente male El frente Front (in weather or war terminology).
En la televisión dicen que un frente frío llegará al sur este fin de semana.
They say on TV that a cold front will arrive in the south this weekend.
female La frente Forehead.
Lucas tiene mucha frente.
Lucas has too much forehead.
Guía male El guía A guide person.
Juan es el guía turística del pueblo.
Juan is the tourist guide of the town.
female La guía A female guide person, but also a guide book.
Leí en la guía que hay un castillo muy bonito en esta ciudad.
I read in the guide that there is a very beautiful castle in this city.
Lentes male Los lentes Glasses in some Latin-American countries. Always in plural.
Andrea llevaba unos lentes enormes.
Andrea was wearing an enormous pair of glasses.
female La lente A lens, for an eye or for a camera. It can be used in singular or plural.
Las lentes son más cómodas que los lentes.
The lenses are more comfortable than the glasses.
Margen male El margen Margin (on a page).
Es importante conservar los cuatro márgenes al escribir.
It is important to keep the four margins while writing.
female La margen Bank at the edge of a river. Though sometimes the masculine form is used with this same meaning.
Íbamos caminando por la margen derecha del río.
We were walking along the right bank of the river.
Orden male El orden Order, as in arrangement according to a pattern or method.
El orden y la disciplina son importantes.
Order and discipline are important.
female La orden A command.
El soldado recibió la orden.
The soldier received the command.
Papa male El papa Pope.
El papa actual es el Papa Francisco.
The current Pope is Pope Frances.
female La papa Potato, so be careful with what you say if you like “las papas fritas” (fried potatoes, French fries, or chips, depending on what country you are from), just in case you accidentally fry the Pope! Always feminine!
Me gustan las papas fritas. (Could be patatas fritas too.)
I like chips.
Parte male El parte Report or bulletin.
Antes de una excursión deberías mirar el parte meteorológico para ese día.
Before an excursion, you should look at the weather report for that day.
female La parte Part, fraction.
La primera parte de la película fue divertida, pero la segunda parte no.
The first part of the movie was fun, but the second part was not.
Pendiente male El pendiente Earring in Spain.
Esos pendientes rojos son muy bonitos.
Those red earrings are very beautiful.
female La pendiente Slope, gradient.
La calle tiene demasiada pendiente para hacerla en bicicleta.
The street has too much slope to ride it by bicycle.
Pez male El pez Fish, but be careful because it refers to a live fish. If it’s dead it’s called pescado.
El pez nadaba felizmente en el océano.
The fish was happily swimming in the ocean.
female La pez Pitch, tar.
La pez es de color oscuro.
Pitch has a dark colour.
Policía male El policía Male police officer.
El policía pasó corriendo por esa calle.
The male police officer came past running down that street.
female La policía It can be a female police officer, but it also means the police in a general sense, including everyone who works as a police officer.
La policía es una de las fuerzas de seguridad del estado.
The police are one of the state security forces.
Radio male El radio It has three different meanings: the radius of a circle; the radius bone; and also radium the chemical element.
El símbolo del elemento radio es Ra.
The symbol of radium is Ra.
female La radio Radio, as in the device to listen to radio channels; also the device for radio communication (radio control in Spanish).
Me gusta escuchar música en la radio.
I like to listen to music on the radio.
Rata rata (adj.) Miserly, stingy. This example is a bit different because it’s using rata as an adjective, not a noun. Rata can be used to describe both male and female people.
Mi hermano es un poco rata.
My brother is a bit stingy.
female La rata Only in feminine, rat. If it’s a male rat, we can add an adjective after to indicate the gender (“la rata macho”), but we would never say “el rata” or “el rato” for a male rat.
No me gustan las ratas.
I do not like rats.
Terminal male El terminal Cellphone, mobile.
En esa tienda puedes encontrar terminales baratos.
In that store you can find cheap mobiles.
female La terminal Terminal, terminus, station.
La terminal 4 del aeropuerto de Madrid es la más nueva.
Terminal 4 in Madrid airport is the newest.

What to do with all these words?!

When learning a language, first you need the basic general rules. The exceptions are often taught a bit later when you have reached a more advanced level. This makes sense as you do not want to feel overwhelmed with a lot of information and lists when you are just starting to make sentences in a foreign language.

Nevertheless, at some point in your learning process, some lists of words must be memorized, and this is one of them. I hope this list helps you to avoid misunderstandings and figure out why some sentences you have heard or read do not at first seem to make sense.