You probably have noticed that Spanish nouns have grammatical gender and that when the noun is a person, the grammatical gender matches that person’s gender. 

Does that make it hard for Spanish to be gender inclusive, like when referring to a person of unknown or non-binary gender? It turns out that Spanish grammar can be quite flexible—and so can its speakers!

Grammatical gender in Spanish: an overview

In Spanish, objects can be masculine (el libro) or feminine (la cartera) and which gender a word gets is unrelated to its meaning. When referring to a person, grammatical gender is the same as the gender of the person. For example, una cocinera alta (a tall chef) refers to a chef who identifies as a woman while un cocinero alto (a tall chef) refers to a chef who identifies as a man. But with only masculine and feminine options, this can leave out a lot of people.

Historically, the default in Spanish has been to treat a person of unknown gender or a group of people of mixed genders as masculine, so a single chef would be el cocinero and a group of chefs would be los cocineros—even if the group includes people who aren't men!

However, languages are always changing, and Spanish and many other languages are adapting to fit their speakers, including when it comes to gender. Now there are gender-neutral pronouns in Spanish, like elle and elles—but other Spanish words show gender, too. Here's what's happening across Spanish grammar!

Spanish nouns get new forms

One way that many Spanish speakers make their language more gender inclusive is to mention women separately from men in the plural forms. For example, they might say the entire phrase las cocineras y los cocineros instead of los cocineros. This strategy has become popular, but it still specifies gender and does not include those who are non-binary. 

To refer to people in ways that are independent of their gender, another strategy is to use an alternative noun that doesn't specify gender, like cónyuge (instead of esposo/a for "husband" and "wife") or estudiante (instead of alumno/a for "student"). 

Speakers also do this is by changing the ending of the noun to -e, since -e isn't associated with men or women *or* masculine or feminine grammatical gender. For example, you might hear or see people use le hije instead of el hijo (the son) or la hija (the daughter). This new noun gets a new version of the word for "the," too: le!

You'll see the same strategy for referring to groups that include all genders or to refer to non-binary people—for example, the -es ending can make the words les alumnes (the students) or les amigues (the friends). Some spelling changes may occur, such as the -e to -ue in amigues, to keep the same pronunciation of "g."

Spanish gender-neutral pronouns

Elle and elles aren't the only gender-neutral pronouns in Spanish! You'll also find nosotres for "we" and vosotres in Spain for "you all." For example, the sentence Nosotres preferimos paella con gambas (We prefer paella with shrimp) includes all genders and identities.

For direct object pronouns, which are usually lo and la, Spanish speakers might use le and les (the indirect object pronouns) instead, since they don't change for gender—for example, Le llamamos a las ocho (We call them/him/her/you [formal] at 8 o'clock). In fact, many dialects of Spanish already use le and les in some situations where lo and la were traditionally the only options! 

Spanish adjectives are included, too!

There's one more kind of word that changes for gender in Spanish: adjectives! Most Spanish adjectives have different forms for masculine and feminine, for example, alto and alta are forms of the adjective "tall." 

Spanish speakers have a solution for them, too: When using gender-neutral nouns and pronouns, the corresponding adjectives get the ending -e (for singular) or -es (for plural). For example, you can say, Elle es alte for someone who is gender neutral or gender fluid. For a group of people of mixed gender or non-binary gender, you can say Elles son altes

But there are also many Spanish adjectives that *don't* change according to gender, like capaz (capable) and interesante (interesting). These are especially easy to use with a gender-neutral noun or pronoun, since they already don't change: Ella es capaz (She is capable), Él es capaz (He is capable), and Elle es capaz (They [one person] are capable).

Spanish is for everyone ❤️

As you interact with Spanish speakers from all over the world and from different backgrounds, you'll hear many kinds of Spanishes—including speakers who use these and other innovative ways to make Spanish more inclusive!