Articles in English are a simple matter because there are only a few words and thus are easy to remember: ‘a’, ‘an’, and ‘the’.
But in Spanish, this topic is a bit more complex because there are many articles and they should concord with the gender and the number of the nouns that they refer to.
In this blog post you will learn the types of definite and indefinite articles utilized in Castilian and how natives apply them in their daily conversations.
So let’s start by recapping what an article is and how it works in English.
When we think about grammar rules, articles are a class of words that define a noun as something specific (definite) or general (indefinite).
From the examples above we can see that the definite article is ‘the’ because it limits the options to one particular ice cream (in this sentence we find out the flavor, the ice cream parlor that makes it and the city where the shop is situated).
Whereas ‘an’ refers to the general idea of enjoying a scoop of ice cream. Same thing for ‘some’, the speaker is asking to bring a few tubs without specifying flavors, sizes or brands.
To begin with, spot how the Spanish names are very similar to the English ones:
The big question is “What are the definite and indefinite articles in Spanish?” The answer is in the following table. This is just a list and we must cover the topic in detail, so keep reading.
Now, regarding the sentence structure there are also similarities between both languages.
Articles in English usually appear before the noun or before the adjective that is qualifying the noun.
(a) + (car)
In Spanish grammar the articles also appear before the noun. However, the adjectives are placed after the noun.
This is how it would look:
(el) + (coche)
(el) + (coche) + (rojo)
Nonetheless, you may find adjectives before nouns (mainly in literature or news reports) when the author is intentionally trying to create an emotion or draw the reader’s attention to build an atmosphere.
The old town welcomed him.
But you will never see the article sandwiched between the adjective and the noun.
û Viejo el pueblo le daba la bienvenida.
Yes! Articles are called ‘artículos’ in Spanish. They belong to a class of words that serve to indicate if what is designated by the noun is familiar or unknown to the interlocutors as well as to point out its gender and number.
In other words, articles serve to identify the noun as something known or unknown (for whoever is listening or reading), masculine or feminine, and singular or plural.
Conclusively, articles are intrinsically related to gender and number. Therefore, one way to start picking the right article is to stop and think about the characteristics of the noun.
If you don’t know the answer to the last question, you can begin by identifying the last letter of the noun:
This of course, is not a fixed rule, especially when it comes to proper names such as ‘Rocío’ (a girl’s name) and ‘Guadalupe’ (used for both boy’s and girl’s) or nouns that finish with a consonant sound like ‘resumen’ (summary) or ‘computación’ (computing).
However, the vowels ‘a’ and ‘o’ may give you a hint of the noun’s gender in common words such as ‘niño’ and ‘niña’.
In addition, remember that like in English, a letter ‘s’ at the end of the noun usually tells us that it is a plural as in ‘niños’ and ‘niñas’.
With the aforementioned introduction in mind, we can proceed to the inventory of Spanish Definite Articles. Remember that these kinds of articles point-out specific nouns.
All of these Spanish definite articles are substituted for the English definite article ‘the’.
Look at the example below, it includes people, concepts, territories, and objects. All the nouns are somehow connected to “Spain” but observe the differences in both languages.
|La Península Ibérica||The Iberian Peninsula|
|El viejo mundo||The old world|
|Las joyas de la corona española||The jewels of the Spanish crown|
|Los reyes de España||The kings of Spain|
|La monarquía parlamentaria española||The Spanish parliamentary monarchy|
The contractions are formed when the article is preceded by the prepositions ‘a’ or ‘de’:
|a||el||al||Voy al cine||I am going to the movies|
|de||el||del||Llaman de parte del Señor Varela||They are calling on behalf of Mr. Varela|
In summary, you can rely on these rules to choose the correct definite article.
|SINGULAR MASCULINE ‘EL’|
|El bebé||The baby|
|El ojo||The eye|
|El sartén||The frying pan|
|El colegio||The school|
|El doctor||The doctor|
|El elefante||The elephant|
|El lápiz||The pencil|
|SINGULAR FEMENINE ‘LA’|
|La bebita||The little baby|
|La ventana||The window|
|La señora||The lady|
|La institución||The institution|
|La maestra Pilar||Pilar the teacher|
|La pluma||The pen|
|La marmota||The marmot/The groundhog|
|PLURAL MASCULINE ‘LOS’|
|Los cachorros||The puppies|
|Los hombres de negro||The men in black|
|Los estudiantes||The students|
|Los jueces||The judges|
|Los peces||The fish|
|Los utensilios de cocina||The kitchen utensils|
|Los comercios||The shops|
|PLURAL FEMININE ‘LAS’|
|Las amigas||The friends|
|Las alubias||The haricot beans|
|Las abejas||The bees|
|Las tierras lejanas||The distant lands|
|Las diputadas||The deputies|
|Las letras||The letters|
|Las librerías||The bookshops|
Neuter Spanish Definite Article “Lo”:
There is a neuter form of the definite article called ‘lo’. It is used to transform adjectives, adverbs, possessive pronouns or participles in abstract nouns.
These are two popular Spanish sayings with ‘lo’:
A proper noun is a name used for an individual organization, place or person and is always spelled with a capital initial letter. In Spanish they are called ‘nombres propios’ and work exactly the same.
The trick is that if you want to master the Spanish language you have to know their gender because that affects how other parts of the sentence perform.
When you start learning Spanish, you may find yourself asking “Is that proper noun masculine or feminine?” The reality is that at the beginning most of it is guess-work and, as you move on through your language learning journey, lots of practice.
There are for sure a few guidelines regarding suffixes but then exceptions are also abundant.
That is why it would be of great help to learn in an immersive environment and by taking actual lessons with a Spanish native speaker who is also a certified language teacher.
Want to know more about LiveLingua’s teaching methods?
Anyway, here is a small taste of Spanish definite articles and proper names.
|Los Andes||The Andes|
|La Plaza Constitución||The Constitution Square|
|El Hotel Royal||The Royal Hotel|
|La Organización de las Naciones Unidas||The United Nations|
|El Río Bravo||The Brave River|
|El restaurante Los Laureles||The restaurant Los Laureles|
|La obra Carmina Burana||The Carmina Burana play|
Collective nouns are words that make reference to a group, ensemble or set of animals, people, places or objects. For instance, the word ‘archipelago’ (archipiélago) means a collection of islands (islas).
Collective nouns are considered singular but can also be used in plural according to the context of the sentence. Thus make sure to pick the right article.
Here is a list of the most common ones and their meaning.
|El||Follaje||Hojas verdes||Foliage||Green leaves|
|El||Maizal||Plantas de maíz||Cornfield||Corn plants|
|El||Ganado||Ovino, cabrío, vacuno, etc.||Livestock||Ovine, bovine, goats, etc.|
|La||Cristalería||Vasos, copas y jarras de cristal||Glassware||Glasses, cups, and jugs made of glass|
|La||Flota||Navíos o vehículos de una empresa||Fleet||Boats or vehicles own by a company|
|La||Flora||Plantas de una región||Flora||Plants from a region|
|La||Fauna||Animales de una región||Fauna||Animals from a region|
|La||Manada||Animales salvajes||Herd||Wild animals|
|La||Muchedumbre||Multitud de personas||Crowd/Mob||Large group of people|
|La||Piara||Cerdos||Herd of pigs, mares or mules||Pigs, mares, and mules|
|La||Papelería||Papel para escribir y material de oficina||Stationary||Writing paper and office materials|
Countries and kingdoms have a gender so the definite article must be in agreement with it.
Nonetheless, sometimes it is fine to write them without articles.
In addition, there are nations or regions whose official names in Spanish are in fact plural.
In which case the articles ‘los’ and ‘las’ are called-in.
Notice that, when the definite article ‘los’ precede the name, the verb should appear in plural too.
Finally, country demonyms are usually given in plural forms. Note that in Spanish they are not capitalized. For instance, people from Cyprus (Chipre) are known as Cypriots (cipriotas).
On a last note, you may want to study the grammar rules shown on the chart below to help you converting country’s adjectival and demonymic forms from singular to plural.
|-vowel||+s||la ciudad francesa||las ciudades francesas||French city/cities|
|-consonant||+es||el pueblo inglés||los pueblos ingleses||English town/towns|
|-í||+es||el pueblo marroquí||los pueblos marroquíes||Moroccan town/towns|
In this section we are moving on to the articles that point-out to general individuals, places, objects, and animals. Remember that as the name suggests, Spanish indefinite articles are undefined or indeterminate. This means that the receptor of the communication might not know the specifics of the noun.
However, it does indicate the gender and the number.
These are the equivalent of ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘any’ or ‘some’.
In summary, you can rely on these rules to choose the correct indefinite article.
|SINGULAR MASCULINE ‘UN’|
|Un mosco||A mosquito|
|Un señor||A sir|
|Un libro||A book|
|Un lugar||A place|
|Un automóvil||An automobile|
|Un pastel||A cake|
|Un elefante||An elephant|
|SINGULAR FEMENINE ‘UNA’|
|Una niña||A girl|
|Una araña||A spider|
|Una manzana||An apple|
|Una muñeca||A doll|
|Una mesa||A table|
|Una casa||A house|
|Una enfermera||A nurse|
|PLURAL MASCULINE ‘UNOS’|
|Unos jóvenes||Some youngsters|
|Unos limones||Some lemons|
|Unos ruidos||Some noises|
|Unos abogados||Some lawyers|
|Unos policías||Some policemen|
|Unos caminos||Some roads|
|Unos países||Some countries|
|PLURAL FEMININE ‘UNAS’|
|Unas uvas||Some grapes|
|Unas señoritas||Some ladies|
|Unas margaritas||Some margaritas|
|Unas recetas de cocina||Some cooking recipes|
|Unas sillas||Some chairs|
|Unas monjas||Some nuns|
|Unas noticias||Some news|
Here are a few final notes on the use of indefinite articles for you to memorize.
According to the Real Academia de la Lengua Española (Royal Academy of the Spanish Language), when the singular feminine ‘una’ precedes a noun that begins with the letter ‘a’ or the sound ‘ha’ such as ‘águila’ and ‘hacha’ then it is modified to ‘un’.
But if there is an adjective between the article and the noun it remains the same.
But bear in mind that ‘Un águila hermosa’ is incorrect!
Lastly, when the indefinite article precedes a noun that describes your profession it should be omitted.
Imagine that someone asks you “What do you do for a living?”
Fill in the blanks:
If you are looking to expand your Spanish vocabulary and learn more about how to talk like native speaker, start with our Spanish Survival Crash Course. Each day for six days, we’ll send e-books and audio files to your inbox to help you get a basic foundation for the language, totally FREE!
Let's connect you with a hand-picked native-speaking tutor today.