Gender-Neutral Spanish: A Guide Beyond Pronouns
In the past five years, countries like Argentina and Spain have witnessed a fascinating linguistic evolution—one that challenges the deeply ingrained gender binary in the Spanish language. Spanish, a language where adjectives and articles have different endings for male and female identities (a girl is “alta” and a boy is “alto“) (tall) has been at the centre of a transformative debate.
This debate about the adoption of a gender-neutral Spanish seeks to reshape the language into a more inclusive and non-binary form, adapting to the evolving views on gender identity and expression.
In today’s blog, we will embark on a journey through the ever-evolving landscape of ‘inclusive’ Spanish. In doing so, we aim to provide English speakers with a comprehensive guide on how to navigate the intricacies gender-neutral Spanish grammar to help you communicate inclusively and respectfully in the current linguistic space.
Why Use Gender-Neutral Spanish
There are two main reasons why thousands of people are starting to use an ‘inclusive’ or gender-neutral variety of Spanish grammar:
Fighting symbolic sexism: In Spanish, masculine words are traditionally used to talk about men and women. This goes beyond using the word “Hombre” (Man) as a synonym for humanity. For example, if you’re talking to an audience of one hundred men, you would say: Bienvenidos. If you’re talking to a hundred women, you would say “Bienvenidas” (welcome). However, if there was only one man and ninety-nine women in the room, grammar rules dictate that you should use masculine terms. For many people, this symbolic erasure of women and other identities has historical and political roots, and looking for ways to use gender-neutral terms in Spanish is a very necessary way to expose the unequal power dynamics between men and other genders. Saying “Bienvenidos y bienvenidas” (or bienvenides, more on this later) may seem redundant for some. But for women, it could make a huge difference.
Recognizing non-binary identities: As societies evolve and different forms of gender identification emerge, many activists and linguists believe that language should adapt to name every person in a way that makes them feel seen, accepted, and included. For this reason, those who identify as neither male nor female tend to prefer pronouns and grammatical words that are not masculine or feminine, but gender-neutral Spanish words. By using these words, we acknowledge that gender identity is a spectrum and that we are willing to call out the binary nature of our beautiful but imperfect language.
Now that we’ve explained why gender-neutral Spanish is important, let’s delve deeper into how you can use it effectively in your communication.
Gender-Neutral Pronouns in Spanish
Subject Pronouns: Elle / Elles
Elle (singular): “Elle” is a gender-neutral Spanish term that can be used when referring to an individual whose gender identity is non-binary or (in some circles) when the person’s gender is unknown or irrelevant. It serves as a more inclusive alternative to the traditional “él” (he) or “ella” (she).
Elle estudia medicina.
(They study medicine)
Elles (plural): To talk about multiple individuals who are non-binary, or just a group of people in which there are both women and men (or other identities), you can use “elles.”
¿Elles vienen a la reunión?
(Are they coming to the meeting?)
Object Pronouns: Le / Les
In English, object pronouns (words used to refer to the object or receiver of an action) are independent words that we use immediately after verbs.
For example, we can say:
I love him
I called her
I’m going to look for them.
In Spanish, object forms often (but not always) come before the verb:
Los voy a buscar / Voy a buscarlos
If the person or people you’re talking about is non-binary, or you just want to use gender-neutral Spanish terms to refer to a group of people whose identities are diverse or unknown, you can use the ‘e’ forms of the traditional Spanish object pronouns: le (singular) and les (plural).
Les voy a buscar / Voy a buscarles
Gender-Neutral Adjectives in Spanish
In Spanish, there is a significant group of adjectives that are traditionally gender-neutral. These words —known as “epicenos”—are used to refer to both male and female people.
While most of them end in letter E, there are a few exceptions.
Here are common gender-neutral adjectives in Spanish:
But, what happens with the rest of the adjectives? What do we do with words like “rojo/a” (red), “atractivo/a” (attractive), and every other adjective that has male and female forms, but has not yet developed a widely recognized gender-neutral alternative?
Easy. We just change the masculine O or feminine A terminations into a gender-neutral E:
Wow, qué alte que es elle.
(Wow, they’re so tall.)
Elles son les primeres en llegar.
(They’re the first to come.)
Gender-Neutral Spanish Articles: Le / Les
English articles are extremely easy. We just have “the” for male, female, singular or plural nouns, Spanish, on the other hand, has four forms that depend on gender and number:
El (masculine, singular)
El hombre (The man)
Los (masculine, plural)
Los hombres (The men)
La (feminine, singular)
La chica (the girl)
Las (feminine, plural)
Las chicas (the girls)
To refer to someone who identifies as neither male nor female or to a group of people of different genders, try using the gender-neutral versions instead — Le/les:
Le estudiante (The student)
Les estudiantes (The students)
Gender-Neutral Spanish Nouns
Just as with other linguistic elements, Spanish-speaking communities are introducing gender-neutral nouns to promote inclusivity.
Here are a few examples:
Amigue (friend) (instead of amigo/a)
Hije (child) (instead of hijo/a)
Arquitecte (architect) (instead of arquitecto/a)
Special Gender-Neutral Spanish Nouns
Xadre — Alternative for Madre (mother) / Padre (father)
Xadre” is a groundbreaking term used to refer to a parent who does not identify as a mother or a father.
What sets “xadre” apart is its linguistic innovation. It incorporates an “x” at the beginning of the word to erase the gendered consonants: M and P.
Similarly, you can use the gender-neutral Spanish term “xaternidad” to talk about parenthood as opposed to motherhood/fatherhood.
Cónyuge — Alternative for esposo (husband) / esposa (wife)
“Cónyuge” is a somewhat old-fashioned word in the Spanish language that is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. It serves as a gender-neutral way to refer to a spouse, encompassing both husbands and wives without specifying gender.
Keep Your Mind Open: Learn Spanish with a Cultural Perspective
In our exploration of gender-neutral Spanish terms, we have journeyed through a linguistic evolution that challenges the deeply ingrained gender binary in the Spanish language.
But the journey doesn’t end here. Spanish is a language in transition, continually adapting to the evolving views on gender identity and expression.
If you’re inspired to explore gender-neutral Spanish further or enhance your language skills, consider studying with Language Trainers. We understand that language is not just about grammar and vocabulary; it’s also a cultural dimension that shapes our worldviews and fosters understanding among diverse communities.
For more than 20 years, Language Trainers has accompanied thousands of learners in this journey, helping them learn Spanish through a tailored approach, in a way that encompasses both linguistic proficiency and cultural sensitivity.
So, what are you waiting for? Join us in embracing the power of language to create a more inclusive and equitable world. Contact us now and get a free trial Spanish lesson with no strings attached!
¡Vamos a aprender juntes! Let’s learn together!