Articles are one of the most interesting areas of the Spanish language you can familiarize yourself with. Not only do they help you indicate a subject’s number and gender, but they also enable you to make more natural sentences that sound more like those of a native.
Articles in English are pretty straightforward; you only have to worry about “the” and “an/a.” However, when it comes to definite and indefinite articles in Spanish, there is, of course, more than meets the eye.
The Definite Article
There are four forms of the definite article in Spanish: el, la, los, las. The first thing you need to learn here is that these forms will directly depend on the gender and number of the noun you are using. You must, therefore, identify these two elements first.
The definite article can be used to talk about things in general, things that have been mentioned before, days of the week, names of languages, and telling the time, among others.
El is always used for singular, masculine words. For example:
- El libro - The book
- El vaso - The glass
- El camino - The road
- El profesor - The professor
- El marcador - The marker, score
La is always used for singular, feminine words. For example:
- La casa - The house
- La mesa - The table
- La blusa - The blouse
- La niña - The girl
- La profesora - The professor
Los is always used for plural, masculine words. For example:
- Los libros - The books
- Los colores - The colors
- Los niños - The boys
- Los gatos - The cats
- Los celulares - The cellphones
Las is always used for plural, feminine words. For example:
- Las casas - The houses
- Las puertas - The doors
- Las manzanas - The apples
- Las letras - The letters
- Las blusas - The blouses
The Indefinite Article
Pretty much like in English, the indefinite article is used to refer to a non-specific item. It also follows the gender-number rule. There are four forms for the indefinite article in Spanish: un, una, unos, unas.
Un is always used for singular, masculine words. For example:
- Un vaso - A glass
- Un libro - A book
- Un gato - A cat
- Un niño - A boy
- Un camión - A truck
Una is always used for singular, feminine words. For example:
- Una casa - A house
- Una niña - A girl
- Una blusa - A blouse
- Una respuesta - A response
- Una cama - A bed
Unos is always used for plural, masculine words. For example:
- Unos tragos - Some drinks
- Unos libros - Some books
- Unos zapatos - Some shoes
- Unos estudiantes - Some students
- Unos perros - Some dogs
Unas is always used for plural, feminine words. For example:
- Unas casas – Some houses
- Unas niñas - Some girls
- Unas computadoras - Some computers
- Unas reuniones - Some meetings
- Unas actrices - Some actresses
Contractions of the Definite Article
The indefinite article el is contracted following the prepositions de and a. This contraction rule doesn’t work like English contractions where it’s an option to be formal or informal, this is a rule to remember.
- Mis hijas van al cine todos los días. - My daughters go to the cinema every day.
- Yo vengo del cine. - I just came from the cinema.
There is, however, an exception to this rule. The indefinite article el can’t be contracted if it is part of a brand name, proper name, business name, place name, or similar.
- Acabamos de llegar de ‘‘El Vigía.’’ - We just got from El Vigía.
Omission of Articles in Spanish
Spanish articles can be omitted in very particular cases. For instance:
The definite article can be omitted when it is used with ordinal numbers for names of kings and queens:
- Elizabeth segunda - Elizabeth the Second
- Richard tercero - Richard the third
It can also be omitted in front of the days of the week when they are followed by a conjugated form of the verb ser indicating the current day of the week:
- Hoy es miércoles. - Today is Wednesday.
In all other cases, the Spanish definite article can’t be omitted when used with days of the week.
El shouldn’t be omitted when used with names of languages. However, when used in phrases that contain the preposition en or verbs such as aprender, saber, and hablar, it must be omitted.
- Mi hermana sabe inglés. - My sister knows English.
In the same way, the definite article el can be omitted with seasons of the year and with transportation means.
- Siempre voy a la playa en verano. - I always go to the beach in summer.
- Voy al trabajo en carro. - I go to work by car.
One of the most common omissions of the Spanish indefinite article happens when it is used after the verb ser, if the noun used is related to a profession, a nationality, or a religion, among others. However, it is important to remember that if the noun is used after an adjective, the article can’t be omitted.*
- Soy enfermera. - I am a nurse.
- Soy músico. - I am a musician.
- Ella es estudiante de medicina. - She is a medical student.
- Ella es una excelente enfermera. - She is an excellent nurse.*
It Sounds More Natural
See? That wasn’t so bad. Definite and indefinite articles are extremely important and useful in Spanish grammar. Make sure you follow these simple rules and you’ll definitely notice a quick improvement in your ability to talk and write more like a native Spanish speaker. Gender goes hand in hand with articles in Spanish, so why not refresh your memory on the gender of Spanish words?