Nouns are names (nombres) of people (personas), places (lugares), things (cosas) and ideas/concepts (ideas/conceptos). These are called SUSTANTIVOS in Spanish.
Mario, Héctor and Ramón are a few masculine names that help us identify masculine nouns when we see them. Nouns ending in –o, -or and ón are usually masculine in Spanish. For example: escritorio (desk), televisor (television set), salon (classroom). (Another masculine ending is –aje.) Nouns referring to male beings are usually masculine also. For example: hombre (man), padre (father), papá (dad). Nouns that are formed by joining a verb and noun are masculine. For example: sacapuntas (pencil sharpener), rompecabezas (puzzle-head buster).
María, Soledad and Concepción are a few feminine names that help us identify feminine nouns when we see them. Nouns ending in –a, -dad and ión are usually feminine in Spanish. For example: pizarra (chalk board), Universidad (university), lección (lesson). (Other feminine endings include –tad, -tud, and –umbre.) Nouns referring to female beings are usually feminine also. For example: mujer (woman), madre (mother), mamá (mom).
You can’t just look at the last letter of the word! Many nouns that end in –ma, -pa and
–ta are MASCULINE. For example: clima, mapa, cometa. Also, nouns ending in –ón are usually masculine while those ending in –ión are usually feminine.
Exceptions: día (day), sofá (sofa), avión (plane), and camión (truck) are all masculine nouns while mano (hand) and razón (reason) are feminine nouns.
For some nouns, you will not be able to look at the word and determine its género (gender). You must memorize these or look them up in a dictionary. For example: clase (f), lápiz (m), pared (f), papel (m), estante (m), reloj (m), examen (m).
To make a noun plural, add –s if the noun ends in an unstressed vowel. For example: madre madres, día días. Add –es if the noun ends in a consonant or a stressed vowel. For example: papel papeles, tabú tabúes. If a noun ends in “z,” change the “z” to “c” before adding –es. For example: lápiz lápices. If a singular noun ends in an “s” and the final syllable is not stressed, do not change the word. For example: lunes lunes, crisis crisis. At times the plural noun will gain or lose an accent mark. For example: examen exámenes, lección lecciones.
You will often see a definite article (artículo definido) in front of a Spanish noun. The article is usually translated as “the” in English. There are four definite articles in Spanish: el, la, los, las. Use el before masculine singular nouns and la before feminine singular nouns. For example: el papel, el libro, la pared, la mochila. Use los before masculine plural nouns and las before feminine plural nouns. For example: los papeles, los libros, las paredes, las mochilas.
Exceptions: If a feminine singular noun begins with a stressed “a,” the definite article el is used. For example: el agua (the water), el alma (the soul), el águila (the eagle).
There are times when the definite article is used in Spanish but wouldn’t be in English. Some examples of this would be when the article is used in time expressions, before the names of some countries, before an abstract noun, before the name of a meal, before titles when speaking about the person (not to the person), before the Spanish words for “school,” “work,” and “church,”and before body parts and clothing items (instead of a possessive adjective). El Perú es lindísimo. El amor puede ser doloroso. Tomamos el desayuno a las ocho. La señora Briceño enseña la clase. (¡Hola, señora Briceño! – no article is used when addressing the person.) Los niños van a la escuela de lunes a viernes. Me duele la cabeza. Me pongo la camisa.
You will often see an indefinite article (artículo indefinido) in front of a Spanish noun. The article is usually translated as “a,” “an,” or “some” in English. There are four indefinite articles in Spanish: un, una, unos, unas. Use un before masculine singular nouns and una before feminine singular nouns. For example: un papel, un libro, una pared, una mochila. Use unos before masculine plural nouns and unas before feminine plural nouns. For example: unos papeles, unos libros, unas paredes, unas mochilas.
There are times when an indefinite article would be used in English, but is not used in Spanish. Unless the noun is modified, nouns indicating profession and other background information are not preceded by an indefinite article when used with the verb ser. For example: Ella es profesora. Él es cubano. (Here the articles are used: Ella es una profesora excelente. Él es un cubano humilde.) Likewise, the indefinite article is often omitted after the verb necesitar. Necesito doctor. Busco jardinero.