Feminine nouns starting with a stressed "a" sometimes use masculine articles and quantifiers

In Spanish, the definite article "el" is generally used for masculine nouns and the definite article "la" for feminine nouns. For example:

"El coche" (The car)

"La casa" (The house)

However there are some feminine nouns in Spanish that use the masculine singular article "el". Feminine nouns that start with a stressed "a" (or "ha-") use the masculine singular definite article. With other articles and quantifiers other rules apply.  Here are two examples; both nouns are feminine and start with the letter a but only the one where the stress is on the first syllable takes the masculine singular article el:

El arpa.The harp.

The noun arpa is stressed on the first a.

La amapola.The poppy.

The noun amapola is stressed on the third syllable. The rule doesn't apply.

With the Artículo definido

For pronunciation reasons, feminine nouns that start with a stressed "a" (or "ha-") take the masculine singular definite article el (not la):

El agua.The water.

El ala.The wing.

The feminine singular definite article would be difficult to pronounce:

  • La agua
  • La ala

Using the feminine singular article is incorrect.

However, when using the plural definite article these words DO take las (not los).

Las aguas.The waters.

Las alas.The wings.

This is because there is no pronunciation difficulty when using the feminine plural article.

With the Artículo indefinido

With the indefinite articles un/una (= a singular), although un is more commonly used, una is also acceptable and not considered incorrect.

Un agua.A water. (Referring to a bottle of water for example)

Un ala.A wing.

Una agua.A water.

Una ala.A wing.

Both plural articles unos/unas are also acceptable.

Unos aguas. Unas aguas.Some waters.

Unos alas. Unas alas.Some wings.

Be careful because if there is an adjective between the article and the noun, then everything reverts to the feminine form!

El claro agua.

La clara agua.The clear water.

Un bueno hacha.

Una buena hacha.A good axe.

With parts of speech like the Adjetivo demostrativo, the Adjetivo posesivo or the Adjetivo indefinido, their feminine singular and plural form is used. For example:

Esta agua. Estas aguas.This water. These waters.

Este agua/ Estos aguas. 

Mucha agua. Muchas aguas.A lot of water. Lots of waters.

Mucho agua/Muchos aguas.

Nuestra agua. Nuestras aguas.Our water. Our waters.

Nuestro agua/Nuestros aguas.

Exceptions: 

The names of the letters -h- (hache) and -a- (a) are exceptions to this rule. They are feminine nouns but they DO take la, (not el).

La hache.
El hache.
The [letter] h.

La a.
El a.
The [letter] a.

La hache y la a son dos letras del alfabeto español.
[The] aitch and [the] a are two letters in the Spanish alphabet.

Here is a list containing some common words that follow this rule:

Feminine words that take article "el" not "la".

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Examples and resources

El ala.The wing.
Unos alas. Unas alas.Some wings.
Una agua.A water.
Nuestra agua. Nuestras aguas.Our water. Our waters.
El agua.The water.
Unos aguas. Unas aguas.Some waters.
Un ala.A wing.
Mucha agua. Muchas aguas.A lot of water. Lots of waters.
Una buena hacha.A good axe.
Las alas.The wings.
Esta agua. Estas aguas.This water. These waters.
La clara agua.The clear water.
La amapola.The poppy.
Las aguas.The waters.
Un agua.A water. (Referring to a bottle of water for example)
Una ala.A wing.
El arpa.The harp.
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