definite indefinite articles spanish

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.

English Articles Recap

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).

Example:

  1. I would love to have an ice cream right now. -> an ice cream -> general
  2. The chocolate ice cream from the Gelatteria Unno in New York is the best. -> the chocolate ice cream -> specific
  3. If you go to the supermarket please bring some ice cream tubs. -> some ice cream -> general

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.

Definite and Indefinite Articles Spanish

definite indefinite articles spanish

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.

MASCULINE DEFINITE INDEFINITE  
SINGULAR El Un  
PLURAL Los Unos

FEMININE SINGULAR

La

Una

 

PLURAL

 

Las Unas

 

 

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.

Example:

(a)  +  (car)

In Spanish grammar the articles also appear before the noun. However, the adjectives are placed after the noun.

Example:

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.

Example:

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.

definite indefinite articles spanish

Do Spanish Articles have a Gender?

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’.

Definite Articles in Spanish

definite indefinite articles spanish

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.

  MASCULINE FEMININE
SINGULAR El La
PLURAL Los Las

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.

SPAIN
SPANISH ENGLISH
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

Spanish Contractions for Definite Articles

The contractions are formed when the article is preceded by the prepositions ‘a’ or ‘de’:

PREPOSITION + ARTICLE = CONTRACTION EXAMPLE ENGLISH
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
definite indefinite articles spanish

How to Choose the Right Spanish Definite Article

In summary, you can rely on these rules to choose the correct definite article.

SINGULAR MASCULINE ‘EL’
SPANISH ENGLISH
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’
SPANISH ENGLISH
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’
SPANISH ENGLISH
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’
SPANISH ENGLISH
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.

Example:

These are two popular Spanish sayings with ‘lo’:

Spanish Definite Articles and Proper Nouns

definite indefinite articles spanish

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.

SPANISH ENGLISH
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

Spanish Definite Articles and Collective Nouns

definite indefinite articles spanish

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.

Example:

Here is a list of the most common ones and their meaning.

COLECTIVE NOUNS
SPANISH ENGLISH
ARTICLE NAME COLLECTION NAME COLLECTION
El Abecedario Letras Alphabet Letters
El Archipiélago Islas Archipelago Islands
El Cardumen Peces Shoal Fish
El Enjambre Abejas Swarm Bees
El Follaje Hojas verdes Foliage Green leaves
El Pinar Pinos Pinewood Pine trees
El Racimo Uvas Bunch/Cluster Grapes
El Vocabulario Palabras Vocabulary Words
El Maizal Plantas de maíz Cornfield Corn plants
El Rebaño Ovinos Sheep flock Sheep
El Ganado Ovino, cabrío, vacuno, etc. Livestock Ovine, bovine, goats, etc.
La Parvada Aves Flock Birds
La Constelación Estrellas Constelation Stars
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 Tropa Soldados Troop Soldiers
La Arboleda Árboles Grove Trees
La Papelería Papel para escribir y material de oficina Stationary Writing paper and office materials
La Gente Personas People Individuals
La Jauría Perros Pack Dogs

Spanish Definite Articles for Nations and their Demonymics

Countries and kingdoms have a gender so the definite article must be in agreement with it.

Example:

Nonetheless, sometimes it is fine to write them without articles.

Example:

In addition, there are nations or regions whose official names in Spanish are in fact plural.

Example:

In which case the articles ‘los’ and ‘las’ are called-in.

Example:

Notice that, when the definite article ‘los’ precede the name, the verb should appear in plural too.

Example:

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).

Example:

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.

ENDING ADDITION SINGULAR PLURAL ENGLISH  
-vowel +s la ciudad francesa las ciudades francesas French city/cities
-consonant +es el pueblo inglés los pueblos ingleses English town/towns
+es el pueblo marroquí los pueblos marroquíes Moroccan town/towns

Indefinite Articles in Spanish

definite indefinite articles spanish

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.

  MASCULINE FEMININE
SINGULAR Un Una
PLURAL Unos Unas

These are the equivalent of ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘any’ or ‘some’.

How to Choose the Right Spanish Indefinite Article

In summary, you can rely on these rules to choose the correct indefinite article.

SINGULAR MASCULINE ‘UN’
SPANISH ENGLISH
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’
SPANISH ENGLISH
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’
SPANISH ENGLISH
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’
SPANISH ENGLISH
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

Spanish Indefinite Articles Final Notes


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’.

Example:

But if there is an adjective between the article and the noun it remains the same.

Example:

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.

Example:

Imagine that someone asks you “What do you do for a living?”   

definite indefinite articles spanish

Definite and Indefinite Articles in Spanish Quiz

Fill in the blanks:

  1. Ayer fui __ banco.
  2. Mi madre me compró ___ pendientes azules que he perdido esta mañana.
  3. La ha mordido __ perro.
  4. Manuel ha llamado a ___ policía federal.
  5. ___ manzanas ya están maduras.
  6. Necesitamos ___ flores para decorar ___ tumba de mi padre.
  7. Me he comprado ___ par de zapatos.
  8. ¿Quién se llevó mi bolso? Se __ ha robado ___ mujer.
  9. __ camioneta roja es ___ vecino de enfrente.
  10. ___ mejor de la cena fue el postre.

ANSWERS:

  1. Al
  2. Los
  3. Un
  4. La
  5. Las
  6. Unas/la
  7. Un
  8. Lo/una
  9. La/del
  10. Lo

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