Short answer – Although ‘problema’ (or ‘problem’ in English) ends with an ‘a’, it’s actually a masculine noun, so it should always be preceded by the masculine article ‘el’: ‘el problema’.
But wait, aren’t ALL words ending with the letter ‘a’ feminine?
Unfortunately, the answer is no.
You’ve probably been taught (I definitely was!) that words that end in ‘a’ are feminine and words that end in ‘o’ are masculine …
… and this might seem like a useful rule (and it sometimes is!), but there are A LOT of exceptions!
In the case of ‘problema’, this actually has to do with its Greek origin.
Stick around and find out everything you need to know about the proper use of ‘problema’ in Spanish!
‘Problema’ must always be preceded by masculine articles, so we ALWAYS say –
1. El problema
El problema radica en la desigualdad social. = The problem lies in social inequality.
2. Del problema
¿Ya te contaron del problema que hay en la colonia? = Have they already told you about the problem in the neighborhood?
3. Un problema
Hay que solucionar un problema a la vez. = You have to solve one problem at a time.
Similarly, ‘problema’ is ALWAYS used with masculine adjectives –
Se trata solamente de un problema pasajero. = It’s only a temporary problem.
‘El problema’ or ‘la problema’
‘Problema’ is the Spanish word for ‘problem’ and it’s a masculine noun. In Spanish every noun has a gender, and the articles / adjectives accompanying them must always agree in gender with the noun.
Nevertheless, if you’ve ever said or written ‘la problema’ instead of ‘el problema’, don’t dwell too much on it!
It’s actually a common mistake, especially if you’re just getting familiarized with Spanish vocab. Practices makes perfect, and that means making a few mistakes along the way …
la problema el problema?
What’s the problem?
Now, why exactly is ‘problema’ masculine?
Well, let’s take a quick peek at its origin!
The word ‘problema’ (as well as its English counterpart, ‘problem’) derives from the Greek ‘problēma’, which – as with many other Greek words, such as ‘poema’ (‘poem’) and ‘tema’ (‘theme’) – ends with the suffix ‘ma’.
‘Ma’ basically translates as ‘to put forth’ or ‘to throw’, meaning that (according to the ancient Greeks at least!) a problem is something that you throw in front of yourself … in order to hopefully solve it, I’d imagine!
The Greek ‘problēma’ was actually a NEUTER noun, but neuter nouns in both Greek and Latin generally became masculine in Spanish.
El problema con el español es que es un idioma complejo derivado de otras lenguas como el latín, el griego y el árabe.
The problem with Spanish is that it’s a complex language derived from other languages such as Latin, Greek, and Arabic.
Of course, the same rules apply to the plural form too (i.e., ‘problemas’) –
¿Ya resolviste los problemas de álgebra que nos dejaron de tarea?
Have you already solved the algebra problems they gave us for homework?
Indefinite articles: ‘un problema’ or ‘una problema’?
Since ‘problema’ is a masculine noun in Spanish, it must always be used with the masculine indefinite articles ‘un’ (for singular) and ‘unos’ (for plural) –
Ese es un problema que puede resolverse fácilmente.
That’s a problem that can be easily solved.
Judith – ¿Estás bien? Te ves desanimado.
Enrique – Tengo unos problemas en el trabajo, pero nada grave.
Judith – Are you okay? You look down.
Enrique – I have some problems at work, but nothing serious.
*Erika’s top tip – keep in mind that the translation of ‘one problem’ is NOT ‘uno problema’. Check out our article on ‘uno (un) momento’ if you’d like to find out more!
What about the adjectives?
Well, just as with articles, nouns and adjectives ALWAYS agree in gender AND number with the noun they’re modifying –
Todo problema debería abordarse con una mente abierta.
All problems should be approached with an open mind.
La comunidad está haciendo frente a un problema ecológico sin precedentes.
The community is facing an unprecedented ecological problem.
Vamos a empezar por pensar en posibles soluciones para los problemas más simples y luego pasamos a los complejos.
Let’s start by thinking of possible solutions to the simpler problems and then move on to the complex ones.
The same goes with demonstrative adjectives –
Ese problema se ve más grande de lo que es en realidad.
That problem looks bigger than it really is.
Este problema me ha dado vueltas en la cabeza toda la semana.
This problem has been on my mind all week.
¿Tienes alguna idea de cómo solucionar estos problemas de cálculo integral?
Do you have any idea how to solve these integral calculus problems?
Hopefully you’ll now remember not to say ‘la problema’ in future conversations / Spanish classes.
At first it might be difficult to get the hang of these weird Spanish nouns that behave differently from the others, but the more you practice, the more confident you’ll feel using them!
Ready to master more Spanish grammar? Well, let’s explore one of the trickiest nouns (in terms of which article to use, that is!) in the Spanish language: ‘agua’.