Guide To Definite and Indefinite Articles in Spanish
To speak Spanish like a native, you need to know the rules for Spanish definite and indefinite articles.
It’s tempting to think that if Spanish has definite and indefinite articles like English does, you can simply translate them from one language to another. Unfortunately, you usually can’t.
That’s where this article comes in handy! Read it to understand Spanish definite articles and how to use them correctly. I’ll throw in lots of examples. Take a quiz at the end to check your newly acquired knowledge.
What Are Spanish Definite and Indefinite Articles?
Let’s briefly review what Spanish definite and indefinite articles are.
Articles are the little words that go before a noun to define it better. They’re one of the 8 parts of speech in Spanish—along with nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections.
In English, the definite article is ‘the.’ Indefinite articles are ‘a’ and ‘an.’ In Spanish, gender and number come into question, so you have more options to match the noun.
Definite Articles in Spanish
You use definite articles in Spanish, like in English, to talk about something specific. In Spanish, you have 4 forms to choose from:
- el – singular and masculine
- la – singular and feminine
- los – plural and masculine
- las – plural and feminine
Why so many? Remember that in Spanish the article needs to match the gender and number of the noun. For example, if you use a singular and feminine noun, your definite article must also be singular and feminine.
El perro de Ana ladra mucho.
Ana’s dog barks a lot.
La cama de mis padres es muy vieja.
My parents’ bed is very old.
Las hijas de mi tío son mis primas.
My uncle’s daughters are my cousins.
Los gatos de Juan son lindos.
Juan’s cats are cute.
Watch out for the exceptions. When a feminine, singular noun starts with a stressed a or ha, you use the masculine definite singular article (el) instead of the feminine one (la). When the same noun is plural, use the feminine definite article (las).
Pásame el agua.
Pass me the water.
Las aguas de aquí pueden ser peligrosas.
The waters here can be dangerous.
Other feminine nouns that use the singular masculine definite article are el águila (eagle), el alma (soul), and el hacha (axe).
When To Use a Definite Article in Spanish
As you may have noticed in the example sentences, Spanish articles do not necessarily match up with the English translation.
That’s why you need to learn when to use the definite articles in Spanish instead of simply trying to translate them.
You already know that you should use the definite article when talking about specific things that both you and the person you’re talking to find familiar. But let’s see other uses.
To Talk About Things in General
Watch out, as this is opposite to English use. When you want to talk about a group of things or people in general, you need to use a definite article in Spanish.
Los mexicanos comen mucha comida picante.
Mexicans eat a lot of spicy food.
Los perros no me gustan.
I don’t like dogs.
Los gatos cazan de noche.
Cats hunt at night.
To Talk About Days of the Week
In Spanish, you use a definite article with days of the week. (And remember to write the days of the week in Spanish with lowercase letters.)
Nos vemos el miércoles.
See you on Wednesday.
Los sábados descanso.
On Saturdays, I rest.
El viernes es mi día favorite.
Friday is my favorite day.
The exception to the above rule is when you have to write a day of the week after the verb ser (to be). In this case, don’t put an article before.
Hoy es domingo.
Today is Sunday.
To Talk About Languages
Contrary to English, Spanish uses a definite article with names of languages when they are the subject of a sentence.
El español es muy fácil.
Spanish is very easy.
El inglés y el chino no se parecen nada.
English and Chinese are not alike.
Remember, that you have to omit the article if the language is the object of a verb and not the subject of the sentence.
Quiero hablar español.
I want to speak Spanish.
To Talk About Body Parts
Another difference between the use of definite articles in English and Spanish is how you talk about body parts. Instead of using possessive pronouns, you must use definite articles.
Me duele la cabeza.
My head hurts.
Dame la mano.
Give me your hand.
To Talk About Time
If somebody asks you about the hour, answer with a definite article.
Son las tres de la trade.
It’s three o’clock.
Comemos a la una.
We eat at one.
To Talk About Possessions
If you talk about possessions or creations in Spanish, use the definite article.
El carro de Juan es bonito.
Juan’s car is nice.
Los libros de García Márquez me gustan mucho.
I really like García Marquez’s books.
To Talk About People With Tiles
When talking about people with titles, add a definite article before.
El profesor Santamaría da buenas classes.
Professor Santamaria gives good classes.
El doctor Rodríguez es bueno.
Dr. Rodriguez is good.
However, if you address people with their titles, omit the article.
Profesor Santamaría, ¿podría ver mi trabajo?
Professor Santamaría, could you see my work?
Muchas gracias, doctor Rodríguez.
Thank you very much, Dr. Rodríguez.
Indefinite Articles in Spanish
Indefinite articles refer to a person or thing that is not defined or specific. In English, you use ‘a’, ‘an,’ and ‘some’. In Spanish, again 4 options are available depending on the number and gender.
- un – singular and masculine
- una – singular and feminine
- unos – plural and masculine
- unas – plural and feminine
Quiero un helado.
I want ice cream.
Me compré una chaqueta nueva.
I bought a new jacket.
Necesito unos marcadores nuevos.
I need some new markers.
¿Me pasas unas hojas, por favor?
Can I have some sheets, please?
Watch out for the exceptions. When a feminine, singular noun starts with a stressed a or ha, use the masculine indefinite singular article (un) instead of the feminine one (una). However, when the same noun is plural, use the feminine definite article (unas).
Un águila pasó encima de nosotros.
An eagle passed over us.
Ayer vimos unas águilas volando.
Yesterday, we saw some eagles flying.
When To Use the Indefinite Article in Spanish
Although you might say that quite often if there is an indefinite article in English you can translate it to an indefinite article in Spanish, it’s not always like this. It’s better to get used to not relying on translations and know the rules instead.
To Talk About One Thing
When there’s exactly one of something, you’ll use the indefinite article for singular feminine and masculine nouns.
Necesito un vaso.
I need a glass.
Quiero una taza.
I want a cup.
To Describe a Person With a Noun
When you want to describe somebody with a noun, instead of using adjectives, put an indefinite article before the descriptive noun.
Mi hermano es un monstruo.
My brother is a monster.
¡Ustedes son unos genios!
You guys are geniuses!
To Describe an Approximate Amount
When you don’t know the exact amount of something, or the exact number is not stated, use the indefinite article before the noun.
Necesito unos papeles más para obtener la residencia.
I need a few more papers to obtain residency.
Compra unas manzanas para la ensalada.
Buy some apples for the salad.
Conozco unas veinte personas que saben más de 5 idiomas.
I know about twenty people who know more than 5 languages.
When Not To Use Articles in Spanish
As in English, there are situations when you don’t need an article. In Spanish, there are 7 cases when you shouldn’t use definite or indefinite articles. Here’s a quick summary of the situations when you shouldn’t use an article in Spanish.
1. To Talk About Identity
Mi padre es ingeniero.
My father is an engineer.
Tomás es argentino y budista.
Tomas is Argentine and Buddhist.
2. To Talk About Dates and Months
Tu cumpleaños es en junio.
Your birthday is in June.
Hoy es jueves.
Today is Thursday.
3. With Proper Names
Pregunta a Andrés.
Puedo ir con Juan.
I can go with Juan.
4. After the Verb Haber
Hay trabajo por hacer.
There is work to be done.
Hay dinero de por medio.
There is money involved.
5. With Numbers in Titles
Juan Pablo Segundo fue el papa.
Juan Pablo II was the pope.
6. To Talk About Plurals
Mi mamá cose vestidos.
My mum sews dresses.
Me gustan zanahorias.
I like carrots.
7. With Infinitives as Nouns
See also: How to Use Spanish Infinitives as Nouns
Fumar es malo.
Smoking is bad.
Spanish Definite and Indefinite Articles Summary
Before you get into some Spanish definite and indefinite articles practice, let’s wrap up what you’ve already learned:
Spanish Definite and Indefinite Articles Quiz
Now, it’s time for a quiz on Spanish definite and indefinite articles. Remember, there’s only one correct answer to each question.
1. Cómprate ______ libro, el que quieras.
2. ______ pájaro de Pedro sabe hablar.
3. Eres ______ genio.
4. ______ domingos no trabajo, nunca.
5. ______ gatos maullan.
6. Me duele ______ alma.
7. Me duele ______ estómago.
8. Mi padre es ______ profesor.
9. Necesito ______ cinco minutos, más o menos.
10. Pásame ______ sal.
Study Spanish Definite and Indefinite Articles
Practice makes perfect. Knowing the rules for Spanish definite and indefinite articles is just the first step. Now you need to use them—ideally in a conversation.
Remember, becoming bilingual is a long-term process. It takes time and motivation. However, it broadens your horizons not only geographically but also socially. Speaking fluent Spanish will open you up to nearly 41 million native Spanish speakers in the U.S., who according to CNN speak Spanish at their homes.
Sign up for a free trial class at Homeschool Spanish Academy with one of our friendly, certified Spanish instructors from Guatemala to practice Spanish definite and indefinite articles in a conversation and much more.
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