Spanish 101: Is COVID masculine or feminine?

Gender mixups can mean the difference between the Pope or a potato.

The coronavirus has been the world’s biggest news story for a year, and the pandemic has reshaped health, travel, economies, and more.

Watching Spanish-language coverage of COVID-19 has left us with one pressing, critical question: Is the noun “COVID-19” masculine or feminine? Is it “la Covid” or “el Covid?” Or is is both?

Spanish nouns have a lexical gender (masculine or feminine). Beginner Spanish-speakers often struggle with this concept, and mistakes can change meanings entirely.

Are you talking about the Pope (el papa) or a potato (la papa)? Cholera (el cólera) or anger (la cólera)?

Thankfully, anyone would understand “el Covid” or “la Covid.” But which is right, and why? According to Real Academia Española, an institution dedicated to preserving Spanish:

This acronym (formed from COronaVIrus Disease and 2019) is normally used in masculine (el COVID-19) due to the gender of ‘coronavirus’ and the influence of other viral diseases (el Zika, el Ebola), which take the name of the virus that causes them. However, the feminine use (la COVID-19) — which the WHO uses — is justified because the feminine enfermedad (disease) is the nucleus of the acronym.

In other words: El Covid-19 is acceptable because “coronavirus” is masculine, as are other viral diseases. But la Covid-19 is also okay, because the “d” stands for disease, which is a feminine word.

Mystery solved. In a battle of the sexes, we’re both at fault.


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