Definite and Indefinite Articles in 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).
- DEFINITE ARTICLES: ‘the’ can be used for plural and singular nouns.
- INDEFINITE ARTICLES: ‘a’ and ‘an’ are used for singular nouns, depending on the word beginning with a consonant or vowel sound. The words ‘some’ and ‘any’ may be pronouns or determiners but can also be seen employed as articles for plural nouns.
- I would love to have an ice cream right now. -> an ice cream -> general
- The chocolate ice cream from the Gelatteria Unno in New York is the best. -> the chocolate ice cream -> specific
- 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
To begin with, spot how the Spanish names are very similar to the English ones:
- DEFINITE ARTICLE -> Artículo definido o determinado
- INDEFINITE ARTICLE -> Artículos indefinido o indeterminado
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.
- ARTICLE + NOUN
(a) + (car)
- ARTICLE + ADJECTIVE + NOUN
- + (red) + (car)
In Spanish grammar the articles also appear before the noun. However, the adjectives are placed after the noun.
- The red car -> el coche rojo
This is how it would look:
- ARTICLE + NOUN
(el) + (coche)
- ARTICLE + NOUN + ADJECTIVE
(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.
- ARTICLE + ADJECTIVE + NOUN
- El viejo pueblo le daba la bienvenida.
The old town welcomed him.
But you will never see the article sandwiched between the adjective and the noun.
- ARTICLE + NOUN + ADJECTIVE (INCORRECT!)
û Viejo el pueblo le daba la bienvenida.
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.
- Is it one thing, person, animal, object or place?
- Or is it a bunch of them?
- Is it a feminine or masculine word?
If you don’t know the answer to the last question, you can begin by identifying the last letter of the noun:
- If it ends with an ‘o’ it is likely to be masculine.
- If it ends with an ‘a’ it is likely to be feminine.
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
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
Spanish Contractions for Definite Articles
The contractions are formed when the article is preceded by the prepositions ‘a’ or ‘de’:
|Voy al cine
|I am going to the movies
|Llaman de parte del Señor Varela
|They are calling on behalf of Mr. Varela
How to Choose the Right Spanish Definite Article
In summary, you can rely on these rules to choose the correct definite article.
- Pick ‘El’ for singular masculine nouns.
|SINGULAR MASCULINE ‘EL’
|The frying pan
- Go for ‘La’ for singular feminine nouns.
|SINGULAR FEMENINE ‘LA’
|The little baby
|La maestra Pilar
|Pilar the teacher
|The marmot/The groundhog
- Use ‘Los’ for plural masculine nouns.
|PLURAL MASCULINE ‘LOS’
|Los hombres de negro
|The men in black
|Los utensilios de cocina
|The kitchen utensils
- Select ‘Las’ for plural feminine nouns.
|PLURAL FEMININE ‘LAS’
|The haricot beans
|Las tierras lejanas
|The distant lands
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.
- Lo mejor de la vida es… -> The best thing in life is…
- Lo peor que me ha pasado es… -> The worst thing that happened to me is…
These are two popular Spanish sayings with ‘lo’:
- Lo bailado nadie me lo quita. -> Nobody can take the experience away from me.
- Lo mío es mío y lo tuyo ¡también! –> Mine is mine and yours (is mine) too!
Spanish Definite Articles and Proper Nouns
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.
Anyway, here is a small taste of Spanish definite articles and proper names.
|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
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.
- El archipiélago de las Filipinas tiene más de 7,600 islas. -> The archipelago of the Philippines has over 7,600 islands.
- La expedición a los archipiélagos del Océano Ártico falló. -> The expedition to the archipelagos of the Arctic Ocean has failed.
Here is a list of the most common ones and their meaning.
|Plantas de maíz
|Ovino, cabrío, vacuno, etc.
|Ovine, bovine, goats, etc.
|Vasos, copas y jarras de cristal
|Glasses, cups, and jugs made of glass
|Navíos o vehículos de una empresa
|Boats or vehicles own by a company
|Plantas de una región
|Plants from a region
|Animales de una región
|Animals from a region
|Multitud de personas
|Large group of people
|Herd of pigs, mares or mules
|Pigs, mares, and mules
|Papel para escribir y material de oficina
|Writing paper and office materials
Spanish Definite Articles for Nations and their Demonymics
Countries and kingdoms have a gender so the definite article must be in agreement with it.
- El Reino Unido está por salirse de la Unión Europea. -> The United Kingdom is about to leave the European Union.
- La India es un país enigmático. -> India is an enigmatic country.
- Los Balcanes se ubican al sureste de Europa. -> The Balkans are located in southeastern Europe.
- La República Checa es un país sin litoral. -> The Czech Republic is a landlocked country.
- El México de ayer era más seguro para sus ciudadanos. -> Yesterday’s Mexico was safer for its citizens.
Nonetheless, sometimes it is fine to write them without articles.
- La Argentina y el Paraguay disputan sus fronteras con Bolivia. -> Argentina and Paraguay dispute their borders with Bolivia.
In addition, there are nations or regions whose official names in Spanish are in fact plural.
- Unites States of America -> Estados Unidos de América
- United States of Mexico -> Estados Unidos Mexicanos
- Netherlands -> Países Bajos
In which case the articles ‘los’ and ‘las’ are called-in.
- Aruba es una isla ubicada en el sur del mar Caribe que forma parte de los Países Bajos. -> Aruba is an island located in the Southern Caribbean Sea that is part of the Netherlands.
- Las Américas son el segundo continente más grande del planeta Tierra. -> The Americas are the second largest continent of Planet Earth.
Notice that, when the definite article ‘los’ precede the name, the verb should appear in plural too.
- Los Estados Unidos de América participaron en las últimas olimpiadas. -> The Netherlands participated in the last Olimpic games.
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).
- La mayoría de los cipriotas pertenecen a la Iglesia Ortodoxa Autocéfala de Chipre. -> The majority of Cypriots belong to the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Cyprus.
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.
|la ciudad francesa
|las ciudades francesas
|el pueblo inglés
|los pueblos ingleses
|el pueblo marroquí
|los pueblos marroquíes
Indefinite Articles in 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.
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.
- Pick ‘Un’ for singular masculine nouns.
|SINGULAR MASCULINE ‘UN’
- Go for ‘Una’ for singular feminine nouns.
|SINGULAR FEMENINE ‘UNA’
- Use ‘Unos’ for plural masculine nouns.
|PLURAL MASCULINE ‘UNOS’
- Select ‘Unas’ for plural feminine nouns.
|PLURAL FEMININE ‘UNAS’
|Unas recetas de cocina
|Some cooking recipes
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’.
- Un águila se posa sobre el nopal. -> An eagle perches on the cactus.
- Lo mató con un hacha. -> He killed him with an ax.
But if there is an adjective between the article and the noun it remains the same.
- Una hermosa águila se posa sobre el nopal. -> A beautiful eagle perches on the cactus.
- Lo mató con una filosa hacha. -> He/she killed him with a sharp ax.
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?”
- QUESTION: ¿A qué te dedicas?
- ANSWER: Soy médico.
- ANSWER: Soy un médico.
Definite and Indefinite Articles in Spanish Quiz
Fill in the blanks:
- Ayer fui __ banco.
- Mi madre me compró ___ pendientes azules que he perdido esta mañana.
- La ha mordido __ perro.
- Manuel ha llamado a ___ policía federal.
- ___ manzanas ya están maduras.
- Necesitamos ___ flores para decorar ___ tumba de mi padre.
- Me he comprado ___ par de zapatos.
- ¿Quién se llevó mi bolso? Se __ ha robado ___ mujer.
- __ camioneta roja es ___ vecino de enfrente.
- ___ mejor de la cena fue el postre.
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