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"El agua" or "la agua"

El agua o la aguaWhich is it right to say: "el agua" or "la agua"?

This is a common mistake made among not only students of Spanish but also native Spanish speakers.

In Spanish, the word "agua" which means 'water' is a special feminine noun. Why special? Because feminine singular nouns beginning with a stressed "a-" or "ha-" take the definite article “el” not “la” as you might expect. The reason has to do with pronunciation; "la agua" would sound like "lagua" and it might be confusing.

Let's look at some examples:

1. El agua / las aguas (water)

2. El aula / las aulas (classroom)

3. El alma / las almas (soul)

4. El ave / las aves (bird)

5. El águila / las águilas (eagle)

6. El hacha / las hachas (axe)

All the nouns above are feminine. Notice, they take the definite article "las" in the plural form.

Above is the basic rule, and you need to understand it. Now, intermediate and advanced students might want to go into detail about this topic, please read on.

The regular rules apply to the adjectives that follow these nouns. and they agree in gender with the noun. For example:

7. El agua fría (the cold water)

8. El aula oscura (the dark classroom)

NOTE: The adjectives "fría" and "oscura" are feminine and agree in gender with the nouns they describe "agua" and "aula" respectively.

The substitution of "la" for "el" does not happen before adjectives. Therefore, if an adjective or other word is placed between the definite article and the noun, the regular rules apply and "la" is used:

9. La gran águila (the great eagle)

10. La afilada hacha (the sharp axe)

There are a few exceptions to the rule that feminine nouns beginning with a stressed "a-" or "ha-" take the definite article “el” not “la”.

a) "la" is used, and not "el", before the noun of the letters:

11. La a y la hache son letras del abecedario español (the A and H are letters of the Spanish alphabet)

b) In an educated use of the language, the article is not used before names but it is in colloquial Spanish:

12. La Ana era muy guapa de niña (Anna was very pretty as a child)

c) Before nouns beginning with a stressed "a-" or "ha-" that have the same form for the feminine and masculine, when it refers to feminine:

13. La árabe (the Arabic woman) / El árabe (the Arabic man)

d) Before cities and countries that begin with a stressed "a-" or "ha-", "la" is commonly used:

14. La Ámsterdam lluviosa (the rainy Amsterdam)

However, before nouns of continents, usage is variable:

15. El África, el Asia, la América Latina (Africa, Asia, Latin America)

If you have any specific questions about this article or Spanish grammar in general, feel free to contact us. We would be happy to answer your questions in our blog.

Have a great day!


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Marino Guerrero is a tutor of Spanish as a foreign language, dedicated to providing one-to-one Spanish lessons all over London and world wide through Skype.


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