7 Cases When Not to Use Articles in Spanish
If you’re a high beginner or intermediate Spanish learner, you may already be familiar with articles in Spanish. Perhaps you’ve heard that articles in Spanish accompany nouns most of the time and help to define their gender and number.
Maybe you even know when to use them, and which kind of articles in Spanish you should use according to the different situations that may arise. But, do you know when not to use articles in Spanish?
That’s the topic for today—7 cases when you do not have to use articles in Spanish. Before getting there, I give you a quick overview of definite and indefinite articles.
Articles in Spanish: What They Are and How They Work
Articles and nouns in Spanish usually go together. They have a close relationship in a sentence. Each of them is one of the 8 parts of speech, a basic grammar concept that explains how nouns and articles (and 6 other parts) function in Spanish.
Articles in Spanish are words that go before a noun to identify which thing you’re talking about. They help to define the gender and plurality of nouns and are divided into definite and indefinite articles.
If you’re talking about a specific thing or idea, you have to use a definite article. In English, you also have definite articles, or actually just “articles.” All the work done in Spanish by a series of different articles, is taken care of in English with the simple word “the.” The translation of “the” into Spanish can take 4 different forms:
- el – singular and masculine
- la – singular and feminine
- los – plural and masculine
- las – plural and feminine
If you’re talking about a thing in general, as opposed to a specific item, then you have to use indefinite articles. They also exist in English as the words “a” and “an.” In Spanish, indefinite articles take 4 different forms too:
- un – singular and masculine
- una – singular and feminine
- unos – plural and masculine
- unas – plural and feminine
When Not to Use Articles in Spanish
If you want to learn more about when to use articles in Spanish, I strongly recommend reading A Simple Guide to Mastering Definite and Indefinite Articles in Spanish.
In this article, I’m focusing on the opposite—when not to use them. If you ask me, this topic is just as important as knowing when to omit an article from your sentence, and it indicates an advanced level of Spanish.
When I say “identity” I’m referring to a series of abstract ideas that form your identity. Concepts such as nationality, religion, and profession. When you talk about any of these ideas in Spanish, there’s no need for you to include an article. In contrast, in English, you would usually add the indefinite article “a” or “an.”
Carla es argentina.
Carla is (an) Argentinian.
I’m a journalist.
Miguel es católico.
Miguel is (a) Catholic.
2. Date and Months
If you’re talking about a date in general, without a fixed plan, then you should omit using articles in Spanish. Also, when talking about months, you don’t need an article.
Mañana es diez de mayo.
Tomorrow is the tenth of May.
Hoy es miércoles.
Today is Wednesday.
Mi cumpleaños es en diciembre.
My birthday is in December.
3. Proper Names
By “proper names,” I’m referring to the names of people, cities, countries, or continents. These are nouns but they don’t need an article before them.
María es inteligente.
María is intelligent.
México es hermoso.
Mexico is beautiful.
Mi ciudad favorita es Madrid.
My favorite city is Madrid.
For some reason, this rule doesn’t apply to rivers, lakes, and mountains, which do require an article.
Un día voy a escalar el Monte Everest.
One day, I’ll climb Mount Everest.
El Nilo es el río más grande del mundo.
The Nile is the largest river in the world.
José tiene una cabaña en el lago de Chapala.
Jose has a cabin on Lake Chapala.
4. After the Verb Haber
The translation of Spanish verb haber is a tricky one. Sometimes, it’s translated as “to have” in compound tenses, but that’s not the meaning I’m referring to here. In this case, haber translates not as a verb, but rather as the English expression “there is” or “there are.”
Hay leche en el refrigerador.
There is milk in the fridge.
Debe haber dinero en mi bolso.
There must be money in my purse.
Hay mucha gente en el parque.
There are a lot of people in the park.
5. Numerals of Titles
Think of Queen Elizabeth II or King George VI; those kinds of numerals in those kinds of titles. When you have a numeral like that, you don’t need to add an article before it.
El rey Carlos V fue muy importante en la historia de España.
King Charles V was very important in the history of Spain.
Juan Pablo II fue un papa popular.
John Paul II was a popular Pope.
6. Unspecified Quantity
When you are using a plural noun of unspecified quantity, you don’t need to add an article in Spanish before the noun.
Tendremos nevadas este invierno.
We’ll have snowstorms this winter.
Mario vende lápices.
Mario sells pencils.
Me gusta comer postres.
I like to eat desserts.
7. Noun in Infinitive
When the subject in the sentence is a verb in infinitive you don’t need to add an article in Spanish.
Correr es relajante.
Jogging is relaxing.
Estudiar es muy importante.
Studying is very important.
Votar es tu derecho.
Voting is your right.
With or Without (the) Article?
Knowing when to use or not use an article in Spanish may prove a bit tricky at first, as you have to think about each specific case. The only solution for that is to practice these 7 cases of when not to use articles in Spanish by integrating them into real-life conversations and specific grammar exercises. That way, what now feels “unnatural” will become “natural” and you’ll master articles in Spanish quickly.
Sign up for a free class to practice your conversation skills in real-time with one of our certified, native Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala, and start using (or not using) articles in Spanish today!
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