Variations of Gender in Spanish Words That Change Their Meaning for Good

Gender in Spanish language plays a crucial role in shaping words. There’s a general rule you’ve probably learned about grammatical gender in Spanish, which is that most masculine words end in -o and feminine words in -a. However, in this article we will focus on another aspect of gender variations.

When words change their endings, such as replacing “-o” with “-a,” that means that the word changed its gender. Nevertheless, in some cases the gender variation results in a complete shift in meaning. 

In this blog post, we will explore some examples of these gender-based word transformations, including words like “barco” and “barca.” By understanding these variations, you can unlock a deeper understanding of Spanish vocabulary and improve your language skills.

Variations of Grammatical Gender in Spanish That Change the Meaning of the Word

Pay attention to the next example. While an apple tree in Spanish is “manzano,” the fruit of this tree, an apple, is “manzana.” What’s the difference in spelling? Just one letter changes: -o to -a. In terms of gender, manzano or apple tree is masculine and manzana or apple is feminine. 

The transition from “manzano” to “manzana,” however, is no ordinary change of genders like “gato” and “gata,” which are of the same species. On the one hand we have a tree, on the other hand, a fruit from that tree. This happens with most trees and their fruit, see the examples:

  • Almendro (almond tree) – almendra (almond)
  • Ciruelo (plum tree) – ciruela (plum)
  • Tilo (lime tree) – tila (lime blossom)
  • Naranjo (orange tree) – naranja (orange)

When the Gender in Spanish Language Indicates a Change of Features

In some cases, variations of gender in Spanish language indicate a change of features such as type, size, depth, length and more. Keep reading to see some examples. 

1. Barco vs. Barca:

The word “barco,” in its masculine form, refers to a large ship or vessel, often associated with maritime journeys or transportation. However, when the ending changes to “barca” in its feminine form, it signifies a small boat or a dinghy. This gender variation not only affects the grammatical structure but also alters the type and size of the watercraft being described.

2. Bolso vs. Bolsa:

While “bolso” refers to a handbag or purse, “bolsa” represents a larger bag, typically used for carrying groceries or other items. This shift in gender and ending highlights the size and purpose of the bag, distinguishing between a small accessory and a larger container.

3. Cesto vs. Cesta:

The word “cesto” denotes a large basket, like “cesto de la ropa” which is the laundry basket. On the other hand, “cesta” indicates a smaller basket or container. Again, the change in gender and ending emphasizes the differences in shape, structure, and functionality of these objects.

4. Huerto vs. Huerta:

“Huerto,” in its masculine form, refers to a kitchen garden, typically associated with cultivation. On the other hand, “huerta,” in its feminine form, represents an orchard. In other words, ‘huerto’ is technically a smaller version of ‘huerta’. This gender variation not only influences the grammatical agreement but also conveys different sizes and uses of these gardens.

5. Madero vs. Madera:

“Madero” signifies a log or a piece of wood, often used in construction or as a building material. Conversely, “madera” represents wood as a substance, referring to the material itself. The shift from masculine to feminine gender alters the interpretation from a singular piece to a more general concept.

6. Río vs. Ría:

While “río” typically refers to a river, “ría” designates a tidal inlet or an estuary. This gender variation helps distinguish between different water formations and their characteristics.

Find more blog posts about Spanish grammar here.


In conclusion, variations of gender in Spanish words go beyond grammatical agreement, adding depth and nuance to vocabulary. By understanding how gender changes, such as replacing “-o” with “-a,” we can appreciate the subtle shifts in meaning and context. Expand your language skills by embracing the richness of gender in Spanish, and dive deeper into the captivating world of the Spanish language.

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Want to learn more about this topic?

Check out this comprehensive resource I created to help students master Spanish genders masculino y femenino. It will help you answer all your burning questions about genders in Spanish and how to stop mixing them up! Download the preview for free.

Learn Spanish genders with this comprehensive guide!

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I’m so happy you’re here! My name is Melany and I help language learners speak Argentine Spanish. I primarily teach Argentine slang and idioms, how to sound more natural and to speak Spanish with confidence.

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