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Gender Agreement in Spanish

It is easy to get confused about what is supposed to agree with what when one is first starting to learn Spanish. Today my beginning Spanish student asked me why she would say “Me llamo …” to introduce herself instead of “Me llama…” since she is a female, not a male. I explained that the –o ending in this case is a verb conjugation for the “yo” form of the verb "llamar," not a masculine ending like the –o that is at the end of adjectives like "americano" or "blanco." When we say, “Me llamo…” we are literally saying “To me, I am called…” so we have to use the “yo” form “llamo,” and the reflexive “me,” meaning “to me.” All of these grammatical terms can be a bit much for a pure beginner, so when in doubt, just remember that we say “Me llamo…” regardless of whether the speaker is male or female.

We also discussed the fact that each possessive pronouns like “my,” “your” and “our” has to agree with the noun that it modifies. For example, if the noun is feminine like "la casa," then to say “our house,” we say "nuestra casa," whether the implied “we” is a group of females, a group of males, or a group of males and females. Regardless of the speaker’s gender, the word "nuestra" has to agree with the gender of the noun that it modifies, "casa," which is feminine.

Once you get used to conjugating verbs—changing the verb endings based on who is speaking—these issues about agreement between nouns, adjectives, and personal pronouns tend to get slightly less confusing. Eventually, you may begin to feel comfortable speaking Spanish, provided you listen to spoken Spanish often enough and practice speaking it yourself every day. That is how my Spanish conversation skills were pushed over the edge into fluency: constant immersion in the language. I listened to Spanish being spoken by my husband (a native speaker), on television, at family gatherings, and on the radio, day after day after day. After about three months of this, the television programs on the Spanish channel began to make sense to me, and I could decipher more and more of what was being said. I don't mean to suggest that I somehow absorbed the language without putting in some effort. I studied unfamiliar verb conjugations, looked up words I didn't know, and asked a lot of questions. My husband was very patient, and would explain to me in Spanish until he saw the light bulb go on in my brain.

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