A Quick Guide to Spanish Articles | My Daily Spanish
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A Quick Guide to Spanish Articles

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Articles in Spanish

You know those little words that we put in front of nouns, like el, las, unos, etc.? They’re called ‘articles.’ So strap yourselves in, because you’re about to read an article about Spanish articles... #articleception

We’ll look at definite articles (‘the’), indefinite articles (‘a’), and the useful word lo.

Definite articles in Spanish

First of all, let’s identify the definite articles, which translate as the word ‘the.’ A definite article is an article that identifies a specific thing. It’s like when you’re chatting with your friends about the band you all love. It’s not just a band, it’s the band.

There are only four definite articles; you just choose the one that agrees with your noun in terms of gender and number.

masculine singularel
feminine singularla
masculine plurallos
feminine plurallas

A quick note on gender: sometimes you’ll see el used with a feminine noun. This happens when the noun starts with a stressed a- or -ha. It makes things easier to pronounce! The noun itself is still feminine.

Tricky to say: la agua fría (wrong)

Easier to say: el agua fría (the cold water)

Here are some examples of how the definite article works:

el amorlove
Dicen que el amor es ciego.They say that love is blind.
la vidalife
¡La vida hay que vivirla!Life is for living!
los recuerdosmemories
El tiempo pasa, los recuerdos quedan.Time passes, but memories remain
las frasesphrases/sayings
Las frases cursis me dan náuseas.Cheesy sayings make me feel sick.

Rules: In general, if you want to say ‘the,’ then use the definite article. Sometimes in Spanish, we use the definite article where we wouldn’t in English. It might feel unnatural at first, but the more you read, the better idea you’ll get.

When we use the Spanish definite article

(but don’t forget that this is Spanish, so there are some exceptions out there!):
  • In reference to a specific noun

Estoy enamorado de la madre de Stacy.

I’m in love with Stacy’s mom.

  • Concrete nouns used in a general sense.

Me encanta el café.

I love coffee.

  • Abstract nouns (talking about a concept in general)

La igualdad es importante.

Equality is important.

  • Talking about people with titles.

El Príncipe Guillermo.

Prince William.

Estoy buscando al* profesor Smith.

I’m looking for Professor Smith.

* Top tip: the word el is special because when it comes after the prepositions a or de, the words combine!

a + el -> al

de + el -> del

  • Talking about substances

el oro

gold

  • Countable nouns when we’re referring to all of them

Yo opino que los puertorriqueños son amables.

I think Puerto Ricans are friendly.

  • Some names of places, mountains, bodies of water, etc.
Voy a La India.I’m going to India.
Visité el Mont Blanc.I visited Mont Blanc.
Me gustaría nadar por el Mediterráneo.I’d like to swim in the Mediterranean Ocean.
Aparqué mi coche en la calle de Carabanchel.I parked my car in Carabanchel Street.
  • Body parts

Me duele la cabeza.

My head hurts.

  • Clothing

Quítate la chaqueta. 

Take off your jacket.

  • Days of the week

Nos vemos el lunes.

I’ll see you on Monday.

Son las ocho.

It’s eight o’clock.

  • Sports teams

Soy fanática del Real Madrid. Mi hermano es fanático del Barcelona. 

I’m a fan of Real Madrid. My brother’s a fan of Barcelona.

  • After the verbs tocar and jugar when they mean ‘to play’ (sports, games, instruments, etc.)

Los martes, juego al ajedrez. 

On Tuesdays, I play chess.

Toco la guitarra.

I play guitar.

  • Languages when they’re the subject of the sentence.

El español no es fácil pero me encanta.

Spanish isn’t easy but I love it.

When to omit (miss out) the definite article

  • Languages when they’re the object of the sentence

Hablo español y danés.

I speak Spanish and Danish.

  • With numbers when used as part of a name

Carlos quinto 

Charles the Fifth

  • In certain set phrases, idioms, and proverbs
A corto/largo plazoIn the short/long run
A gusto deTo the liking of
A palabras necias, oídos sordos.Harsh words fall on deaf ears.
  • Two or more generic nouns in a list

Pianistas y cantantes tienen mucho en común.

Pianists and singers have a lot in common.

  • After the verb haber

Hay ratones en mi piso. 

There are mice in my apartment.

Indefinite articles in Spanish

The indefinite article is what we use to refer to ‘a,’ ‘an,’ or ‘some.’

masculine singularun
feminine singularuna
masculine pluralunos
feminine pluralunas

Here are some examples of indefinite articles in use.

un hermanoa brother
Tengo un hermano.I have a brother.
una hermanaa sister
Tengo una hermana.I have a sister.
unos cocodrilossome crocodiles
Hay unos cocodrilos en el lago.There are (some) crocodiles in the lake.
unas manzanassome apples
Comí unas manzanas esta mañana.I ate some apples this morning.

First of all, note that the pronunciation rule from earlier still applies here:

We use the masculine article with feminine nouns that begin with a stressed a- or -ha. The noun’s still feminine!

Tricky to say: una águila hermosa (wrong)

Easier to say: un águila hermosa (a beautiful eagle)

Rules: As an extremely general rule, if you want to say ‘a,’ ‘an,’ or ‘some,’ you’ll be needing the indefinite article. But there are some situations where Spanish uses it where English doesn’t, and vice versa.

When to use the Spanish indefinite articles

  • Before qualified nouns

Sometimes, you can omit the article if no detail about the direct object is given.

Tengo marido.

I have a husband.

But when you qualify the noun by giving more details about him, you have to include the indefinite article.

Tengo un marido que trabaja en Londres.

I have a husband who works in London.

  • When you want to name something using a word that could be mistaken for an adjective!

Eres un cobarde. (vs. Eres cobarde.)

You’re a coward. (vs. You’re cowardly.)

When to omit the definite article in Spanish

  • When you want to describe something using an adjective that could be mistaken for a noun!

Eres cobarde. (vs. Eres un cobarde.)

You’re cowardly. (vs. You’re a coward.)

  • Before singular nouns when talking about professions, nationalities, religions, and other parts of your identity using the verb ser (to be).

María es ingeniera.

María is an engineer.

Mi novio es islandés.

My boyfriend is Icelandic.

  • Negative phrases

No tengo dinero.

I don’t have money.

No hay biblioteca por aquí.

There isn’t a library around here.

  • Before certain large numbers, such as cien and mil.

He dicho mil veces que debería superar a ese chico.

I’ve said a thousand times that she should get over that boy.

  • With certain adjectives, such as otro, cierto, tal, medio.

El colegio está en cierto barrio del sur.

The school is in a certain district in the south.

Quiero otro café.

I want another (an + other) coffee.

  • Exclamations in the form ‘¡qué + noun!’

¡Qué ruido!

What a racket!

  • In certain phrases with prepositions such as como, con, por, and sin.
Voy a escalar la montaña como desafío personal.I’m going to climb the mountain as a personal challenge.
Es un piso con balcón.It’s an apartment with a balcony.
—¿Estás seguro?

—Sin duda.
Are you sure?

Without a doubt.
  • With these verbs: tener (to have), buscar (to search for), comprar (to buy), sacar (to take), llevar (to wear), etc.

The contexts where you’d omit the article are where you’re talking about an object that there’s only expected to be one of (like you’d only usually carry one umbrella, you’d only have one mother, you’d only search for one wife, etc.). If you wanted to talk about more, then you’d need to specify how many!

¿Tienes paraguas en tu mochila?Do you have an umbrella in your rucksack?
Ya tengo novio.I already have a boyfriend.
Ricardo busca novia.Ricardo is searching for a girlfriend.
Lincoln sacó pistola.Lincoln pulled out a gun.
Siempre llevo anillo.I always wear a ring.
  • Unos and unas are the plural forms of indefinite articles. They’re used in a few different ways:

             To mean ‘approximately’ before a number

Llevo unos trece años aquí en Nueva York.

I’ve been here in New York for approximately thirteen years.

  • To mean ‘some’ or ‘a few’ of something

Tengo unos problemas.

I have a few problems.

Yo tengo unas soluciones.

I have some solutions.

  • To mean ‘a set of’ or ‘a pair of’

Compré unas gafas.

I bought a pair of glasses.

Lo

Definite and indefinite are the main types of articles, but we also have lo. It is a kind of article, but it’s not used with nouns, so it’s not gender-specific. Sometimes we call it a neuter (or neutral) article. It can be used in a few ways.

  • With an adjective or past participle, to form an abstract noun

Lo importante es que estés bien.

The important thing is that you’re all right.

No estoy acuerdo con lo dicho.

I don’t agree with what was said.

  • With adverbs (or adverbial phrases)

Eres suficientemente inteligente para comprenderme.

You’re intelligent enough to understand me.

Voy a correr lo más rápidamente posible. 

I’m going to run as fast as possible.

  • With an adjective, to mean ‘how’

¿Has visto lo limpia que está la casa?

Have you seen how clean the house is?

  • With an adverb, to mean ‘how’

¿Notase lo tarde que llegó?

Did you notice how late he arrived?

  • Lo de, when you’re referring to something without naming it

¿Sabes lo de Rosa y Tomás?Do you know about that business between Rosa and Tomás?
Oí algo sobre lo de Barbara.I heard something about that thing with Barbara.

Quiz

Let’s see if you can pick the right article for each of the following:

       1. _ casa es mía. (The house is mine.)

           a.  El

           b.  La

           c.  Los

Click to reveal the correct answer:

       2. He conseguido _ nuevo coche. (I’ve got a new car.)

           a.  el

           b.  un

           c.  unos

Click to reveal the correct answer:

       3. Me encanta _ fútbol. (I love soccer.)

           a.  una

           b.  la

           c.  el

Click to reveal the correct answer:

       4. Soy _ dentista. (I’m a dentist.)

           a.  un

           b.  una

           c.  [N/A]

Click to reveal the correct answer:

       5. Me duele _ garganta. (I have a sore throat/my throat hurts.)

           a.  la

           b.  mi

           c.  una

Click to reveal the correct answer:

       6. _ único que sé es que te amo. (The only thing I know is that I love you.)

           a.  el

           b.  lo

           c.  la

Click to reveal the correct answer:

       7. Necesito _ tijeras para mi proyecto de arte. (I need some scissors for my art project.)

           a.  unas

           b.  unos

           c.  las

Click to reveal the correct answer:

Great work!

Even if you’re a beginner, you’d probably seen articles before. But now you know what they actually are, and how to use them!

About the Author Annabel Beilby

Annabel is a language-enthusiast from the UK. She studied Spanish and French at the University of Southampton (with an Erasmus study year in Madrid!) and recently graduated. She has interests across the Spanish-speaking world, and is a fan of language in general.

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