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Bravo vs. Brava: What Is The Difference?

I don’t know about you, but, as an English speaker, I have used the word “bravo” many times and have also heard others use it. Brava, on the other hand, is not a word we, as native English speakers, hear that often. Looking at these words’ origin should help us make sense of the difference between the two.

Bravo is a masculine word and brava is a feminine word. We use bravo when we speak about men and brava when we refer to women. This gender classification is common in Romance languages, including Spanish, French, and Italian. “Bravo” comes from the Italian word, which the Spanish, the French, and the English adopted. 

In English, we don’t use grammatical gender as often, but languages like Italian, French, and Spanish do. In fact, there are even non-Romance languages, like Russian and Polish, that also use this kind of structure. Grammatical gender is quite interesting, so let’s find out more.

The Meaning of Bravo and Brava

The word “bravo” has roots in three languages. In Italian, it stems from the word bravo, meaning brave, good, or clever, which most likely developed from the Latin word barbarus, also barbarous.

Bravo in Latin means foreign or barbarian, similar to the Greek word barbaros (source).

Bravo in English

In English, we can actually use “bravo” in three ways. First, we use it as an interjection to praise achievements or express approval, as in the sentence: 

At the end, people shouted “Bravo! and clapped for several bows.

Secondly, we can use it to refer to a mercenary for hire or an assassin. A great example is when Robert Louis Stevenson used the word in his The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde in 1886: 

“Men have before hired bravos to transact their crimes, while their own person and reputation sat under shelter.”

Finally, English speakers also use “bravo” to refer to the letter “b” in the ICAO radiotelephony spelling alphabet, which starts:

Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta (A, B, C, D).

Bravo in Spanish

Bravo appears in Spanish more often than in English. It is an adjective that we use to describe people and things and also to cheer or applaud, just like we do in English.

As an adjective, we can use this word to describe people, as in the following examples:

Brave or courageous: Miguel es el más bravo de todos (Miguel is the bravest of all).

Angry, mad, or upset: Mi padre está bravo conmigo (My father is mad at me).

We can also describe things around us:

Agitated or rough: El agua estaba muy brava (The water was very choppy).

Wild or Fierce: El tigre bravo da miedo (The fierce tiger is scary).

Spanish also uses this word in two very specific situations. A la brava refers to the way you do something you really didn’t want to do:

Lavé los platos a la brava (I washed the dishes, but I didn’t want to).

Barra brava refers to a group of hooligans in soccer or other sports:

Las barras bravas en el juego arruinaron nuestro día (The hooligans at the game ruined our day).

Did you notice the use of the word brava in the last two examples instead of bravo? If you did, well-spotted! It is not a typo but a gender classification that Spanish uses. 

This means that brava carries the same meaning as bravo, and we only use it when we speak about different gender classes in Spanish. We are going to go deeper into this in the next section. 

How to Use Bravo and Brava

Image by Anne Karakash via Pixabay

These two words are used differently in English and in Spanish. In English, “bravo” has limited meanings, and English speakers rarely use “brava.” In Spanish, however, the word has a more extensive list of uses, and brava, as the feminine, is quite common.

Grammatical Gender

Grammatical gender means that a language classifies words into masculine, feminine, or neuter categories and forms an agreement system with other aspects of the language, such as adjectives, pronouns, or verbs (source).

Nouns — words that describe people, places, objects, concepts, and ideas — are usually classified according to these categories and tend to behave differently, depending on their gender.

The gender of a noun will also influence other words like adjectives and articles in the same sentence.

English Grammatical Gender

In English, we only assign gender to personal pronouns, reflexive pronouns, and possessive determiners. 

Here is a table to explain this terminology and indicate gender classifications. You can also read more about pronouns and possessive determiners in this article explaining the difference between the Spanish ti and tu.

Personal PronounReflexive PronounPossessive DeterminerGender Classification
IMyselfMy, mineNeutral
WeOurselvesOur, oursNeutral
YouYourselfYour, yoursNeutral
SheHerselfHer, hersFeminine
TheyThemselvesTheir, theirsNeutral

Spanish Grammatical Gender

Spanish, however, assigns gender to all nouns. This means that every noun in Spanish is either masculine or feminine, something that is tricky to learn when you are not a native speaker. It is how you can tell the native speakers apart from others. 

A native speaker will just know that a table is feminine and paper is masculine, whereas a second-language speaker may not.

Let’s review some of our previous examples of bravo in Spanish to understand how grammatical gender influences how we use the language.

In our first definition, we described Miguel. Look what happens when we describe Maria instead:

Miguel es el más bravo de todos(Miguel is the bravest of all)Maria es la más brava de todos(Maria is the bravest of all)

As you can see, for a masculine noun, in this case, a boy named Miguel, you will use the masculine article el to refer to him (he is the bravest), and the adjective describing the masculine noun is in its masculine form, ending in an “o” —  bravo.

For a feminine noun, a girl named Maria here, the article changes to its feminine form la, and the adjective also ends in an “a” — brava.

Let’s look at another one:

Él está bravo conmigo(He is mad at me)Ella está brava conmigo(She is mad at me)

He (Él) is a masculine noun, so the adjective has to be in its masculine form, ending in “o” — bravo. She (Ella), on the other hand, is a feminine noun, so the adjective will be in its feminine form, ending in “a” — brava.

You will notice that the Spanish word for “he” (él) and the masculine translation for “the” (el) look the same.

To understand the difference between these homonyms — words that look the same but have different meanings —  you can see this article explaining the difference between mi and mi with an accent in Spanish.

So far, we’ve looked at nouns that are obviously feminine and masculine because we were describing people. However, it isn’t always so easy because everything in Spanish is either masculine or feminine.

This rule means that paper, table, hat, scarf, shoe, steak, broccoli, happiness, Italy, running, swearing, any word of any sort will be either the one or the other, male or female. 

Here are some examples. Look at the articles and adjectives to identify the masculine and feminine words:

  1. Es usted un hombre bravo, ¿lo sabe?
  1. ¿Me puedes hacer justicia a la brava?
  1. La multitud se pone brava.
  1. Figura de un toro bravo en movimiento.
  1. El mar está bravo, ¿habrá una tempestad?
  1. El ratón bravo persiguió al gato.

If you managed to identify which nouns are masculine and which ones are feminine, bravo! Let’s look at the translation of these examples and explore the grammatical gender.

ExampleArticle and AdjectiveRelevant NounEnglish TranslationMasculine or Feminine?
Es usted un hombre bravo, ¿lo sabe?(You’re a wild man, you know that?)un, bravohombre manmasculine
¿Me puedes hacer justicia la brava?(Can you give me some rough justice?)la bravajusticia justicefeminine
La multitud se pone brava. (The crowd turns suddenly vicious.)La, bravamultitud crowdfeminine
Figura de un toro bravo en movimiento.(Figure of a fierce bull in motion.)un, bravo toro bullmasculine
El mar está bravo, ¿habrá una tempestad?(The sea is rough, is there a storm coming?)El, bravomar seamasculine
El ratón bravo persiguió al gato. (The brave mouse chased the cat.)El, bravo ratón ratmasculine

As you can see, “crowd” and “justice” are feminine words, where “sea” and “rat” are masculine because the adjective that ends in “o” or “a” and the articles for these nouns.

Adjective Placement

The last thing that we need to look at when exploring how to use the adjectives bravo and brava correctly in Spanish is the positioning of the words in sentences.

Adjectives in English

Adjectives are the words used to describe nouns. In English, we place adjectives in front of the nouns that we want to describe. For example:

  1. The ugly rat plays with the small butterfly.
  1. The ugly dog chases the small cat.
  1. Brave souls fight for us.
  1. The fierce tiger hunts well.

This is fairly simple, and, as you can see, the adjectives do not change according to any kind of noun classification.

Adjectives in Spanish

Spanish adjectives behave differently. Most adjectives are actually placed after the nouns that they describe. 

Let’s take the sentences from above and translate them to see how their positions change:

  1. La rata fea juega con la mariposa pequeña.
  1. El perro feo persigue al gato pequeño.
  1. Almas bravas luchan por nosotros
  1. El tigre bravo caza bien.

You can clearly see in these examples that the adjectives come after the nouns that they describe. Can you also see the masculine and feminine forms of the adjectives in blue? 

Usually, masculine words end in “o” and feminine words in “a,” although there are exceptions.

Tips to Remember 

Knowing when to use bravo or brava means that you need to know when words are masculine and when they are feminine. The rule-of-thumb is that nouns that end in “o” are masculine and nouns that end in “a” are feminine with some exceptions.

The acronym LONERS can help you identify the gender of words based on how they end. Words that end on an “l,” “o,” “n,” “e,” “r,” or “s,” are almost always going to be a masculine word; for example, papel, which means paper, is then masculine (source).

Then there are a few other tips to keep in mind when you need to identify the gender of a Spanish noun.

A group of mixed genders is always referred to as masculine. A group of boys (hijos) and girls (hijas) together are children (hijos)

Masculine nouns that end in consonants usually have a corresponding feminine form that ends in “a,” like el profesor and la profesora (the teacher)

Some professions have the same form for both genders. You can tell the difference by looking at the article (un, una, el, la), for example, el poeta and la poeta (the poet) or un modelo and una modelo (a model).

Nouns ending in –sión, –ción, –dad, –tud and –umbre are feminine, like la habitación (the room) and la felicidad (the happiness).

Nouns ending in –ma are masculine, for example, el problema (the problem) and el enigma (the mystery).

When in doubt, it’s best to double-check and remember that just because a word is associated with masculinity does not mean it is a masculine word and vice versa. Compare these two examples:

  • Una corbata (feminine) – a necktie
  • Un maquillaje (masculine) – make-up

Final Thoughts

“Bravo,” a word that comes from Italian, is a word we use in English and in Spanish.

Its feminine form, brava, is more common in Spanish because of its grammatical gender system where nouns are classified as masculine or feminine and adjectives, articles, and other words need to agree with the classifications. 

English only has two definitions for “bravo,” but in Spanish, there are more ways to use these words.

One thing both languages agree on is the use of “bravo” as an interjection to applaud or praise something. For example, learning more about the language you speak or learning a new language is something to be proud of, so bravo to you for reading this article, bravo!