Short answer – even though ‘agua’ (or ‘water’ in English) is a FEMININE noun (with which we normally use the article ‘la’), the CORRECT way of saying and writing it is actually ‘el agua’.
I know, I know, this may seem nonsensical, but don’t go bite someone’s head off just yet!
There’s actually a logical reason behind it: phonetics.
Stick around and find out EXACTLY which Spanish articles to use with ‘agua’, PLUS how this same logic is applied to other words starting with what we call a tonic ‘a’.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty!
‘Agua’ is DIRECTLY preceded by MASCULINE articles:
- ‘El agua’ (El agua de la alberca está clorada = The pool water has chlorine in it)
- ‘Un agua’ (¿Quieres un agua de fresa? = Do you want a glass of strawberry water?)
But if another word creeps in between ‘agua’ and the article, FEMININE articles are used instead –
Quiero la misma agua de sabor que ella, por favor.
I want the same flavored water as her, please.
Oh, and ‘agua’ is always used with FEMININE adjectives (irrespective of the article used) –
¿Por qué el agua está roja?
Why is the water red?
‘El agua’ or ‘la agua’
‘Agua’ is the Spanish word for ‘water’ and it’s a FEMININE noun.
In Spanish every noun has a gender, and articles and adjectives always agree with a noun’s gender (and number). Easy, right?
But there are a few exceptions, including one of the most basic nouns there is: ‘agua’.
This is because ‘agua’ starts with what us language nerds call a tonic ‘a’, which basically means that when saying the word out loud, the first ‘a’ is emphasized or stressed.
So, whacking a ‘la’ before ‘agua’ would create a somewhat prolonged (and pretty taxing on the ol’ tongue!) ‘a’ sound –
/ lah ah-gwah /
The phonetic solution for this is to exchange ‘la’ for the masculine ‘el’.
/ ehl ah-gwah /
Plural nouns (i.e., ‘aguas’)
And what about plural nouns?
Well, since there’s a consonant (‘s’) between ‘la’ and ‘a’ (‘laS Aguas’), we use the feminine article as per usual –
Las aguas turbias se veían temerosas.
The murky waters looked scary.
Other examples (‘hacha’, ‘alma’, etc.)
‘Agua’ isn’t the only feminine noun that gets paired with masculine articles.
The rule also applies to other words starting with a tonic ‘a’, such as ‘área’ (‘area’), ‘alma’ (‘soul’) and ‘águila’ (‘eagle’).
El agua del río estaba deliciosa y fresca.
The river water was delicious and fresh.
El águila dejó su nido para buscar una presa.
The eagle left its nest to search for prey.
The same is true of the word ‘hacha’ (or ‘axe’) because of the silent ‘h’ –
¿Me pasas el hacha de mango rojo?
Can you pass me the axe with the red handle?
And what about the adjectives?
These are ALWAYS feminine, irrespective of which article is used.
Remember: adjectives always agree in gender and number with the noun they’re modifying, regardless of phonetics –
todo toda el agua?
Did you drink all the water?
El doctor me recomendó beber* mucha agua.
The doctor told me to drink a lot of water.
¡El agua de melón estaba deliciosa!
The melon water was delicious!
*Erika’s note – in this context, ‘tomar’ and ‘beber’ are synonyms. If you’d like to know what the differences are between the two, I strongly suggest you check out our article on the subject!
Just remember that if an adjective comes BEFORE a noun, the ‘la’ no longer directly precedes the tonic ‘a’ and so the feminine article is used –
La cristalina agua del manantial llegaba hasta el pueblo a faldas de la montaña.
El agua cristalina del manantial llegaba hasta el pueblo a faldas de la montaña.
The crystal clear water of the spring reached the village at the foot of the mountain.
Indefinite article: ‘un agua’ vs ‘una agua’
The Royal Academy of the Spanish Language actually considers BOTH forms (‘un agua’ and ‘una agua’) to be correct, but the latter is rare!
Most people just use the masculine article (and in doing so give their tongues some much needed respite!).
¿Quieres un vaso de horchata? Es un agua tradicional mexicana preparada a base de arroz y canela.
Do you want a glass of horchata? It’s a traditional Mexican water made with rice and cinnamon.
¡Nunca había visto un agua tan azul como la de los cenotes mayas!
I’ve never seen water as blue as that of the Mayan cenotes!
Soñé con un agua dorada*.
I dreamt of golden water.
Erika’s note – as you can see in the final example, adjectives always agree in gender with the noun they modify, regardless of the article used.
Hopefully you now understand EXACTLY why we never say ‘la agua’!
This can be a difficult rule to remember, so don’t beat yourself up if you slip up at times! Just be patient and keep practicing!
Oh, and if you wanna keep improving your Spanish skills, then I suggest you head on over to our article on the differences between two tricky pronouns: ‘eso’ vs ‘aquello’.