Spanish definite and indefinite articles

Master the Spanish Definite and Indefinite Articles in 10 Min

Kirsten Agla

“The” is the most used word in the English language, yet for such a common word we use every day it can be hard to define. What exactly does “the” mean?

“The” is a definite article – it goes in front of a noun to help define the word. To demonstrate, the word “chair” by itself can mean any chair, or even the concept of chairs as things we sit on, whereas “the chair” refers to a specific chair.

“A” and “an” are also in the top most used words in English and are indefinite articles. They refer to quantity, as in defining a noun as one singular thing, and are used in a more general sense. When a friend says “grab a chair” it could be any chair available. “Some” is used in the same way but as a plural indefinite article. It shows that there is more than one, like “pull up some chairs.”

Spanish definite and indefinite articles: English "a' and "the"

Spanish definite and indefinite articles are used just as often as English, if not more! Keep reading to learn how to say “the,” “a/an,” and “some” in Spanish and to learn when to use them!

Quick Grammar Note on Spanish Gender and Number

Before learning the Spanish definite and indefinite articles, you need to know about two key concepts: gender and number. If you are already familiar with these, feel free to skip ahead to the next section!

As you may know, in Spanish all nouns have a gender and are either masculine or feminine. This is purely grammatical – la mesa is feminine and means “the table” but of course the table is not a woman. The rule of thumb is that words ending with -o are masculine and words ending with -a are feminine. 

spanish definite and indefinite articles: rule of thumb for the gender of spanish words

Another quick note is that to make a word plural, simply add -s if the word ends with a vowel, and -es if it ends with a consonant. If a word does not end with -s then it is likely singular.

To learn more about these concepts, check out the LingoDeer app!

What Are Spanish Definite Articles?

The article in front of a noun must match the gender as well as the number of the said noun. For example, barrios (“neighborhoods”) is a plural masculine word, therefore the article in front must be plural and masculine. 

As you can see in the chart below, the plural masculine word for “the” is los, so “the neighborhoods” is los barrios. English does not have a plural version of “the” so this might take some getting used to. Also, vocabulary lists and dictionaries will often list the gender of the word, or even include the definite article, so you won’t have to guess!

  Singular Plural
Masculine el los
Feminine la las

Here are some more examples of definite articles paired with Spanish words:

  • The things – Las cosas
  • The coffee – El café
  • The street – La calle
  • The stores – Las tiendas
  • The friends (male) – Los amigos
  • The television – La televisión

 

What Are Spanish Indefinite Articles?

The same gender and number rules also apply when it comes to indefinite articles. Below is a chart with the Spanish indefinite articles.

  Singular (a/an) Plural (some)
Masculine un unos
Feminine una unas

Here are the same words as the previous section but with indefinite articles!

Some things – Las cosas

  • A coffee – Un café
  • A street – Una calle
  • Some stores – Unas tiendas
  • Some friends (male) – Unos amigos
  • A television – Una televisión

spanish definite and indefinite articles

Spanish Definite and Indefinite Articles Can Be Weird with Words That Start with “A”!

If you know anything about grammar you should know that there’s an exception to every rule, and Spanish is no different.

When it comes to articles, sometimes words that start with the letter “a” that are feminine such as agua use the singular masculine articles el and un. This developed in order to avoid having two “a” sounds in a row (la agua when said out loud mashes together and sounds like lagua). In the plural these words go back to using the feminine article. Below are some examples of these situations.

  • The water – el agua
  • The waters – las aguas
  • The classroom – el aula
  • The classrooms – las aulas
  • The eagle – el águila 
  • The eagles – las águilas

This is fairly uncommon and nothing to worry about, just know that it exists!

When to Use Spanish Definite and Indefinite Articles

Below are some general rules for when to include an article in front of a noun. A word of advice is that when in doubt, include the article!

Use Spanish Definite Articles When Talking About Likes and Dislikes

Even though definite articles tend to indicate that the noun is specific, you should include “the” when talking about what you like and don’t like even if it is a general concept. In English we drop the article, but as you can see in the examples below it needs to be included. 

Me gustan los perros.

I like dogs. 

Odio la tarea.

I hate homework.

Te encanta el restaurante. 

You love the restaurant. 

Use Spanish Definite, Feminine Articles to Tell Time

When telling time, Spanish uses la hora (“the hour”) and las horas (“the hours”) even when it is not explicitly in the sentence. Like how in English we can just say “it’s 12” instead of the full “it’s 12 o’clock,” Spanish keeps it simple and just uses the articles la and las plus the number. For example, “it’s 12” is son las doce. Below are the easy formulas to tell time!

Es la una.

It’s one o’clock. 

Son las + number greater than one

It’s (number greater than one) o’clock.

As you can see, the singular article la is used with the number one because it is singular, and the plural las is used with larger numbers.

spanish definite and indefinite articles: clock wiht numbers in spanish
A Clock with Numbers in Spanish. Image from Zazzle.

Use Spanish Definite Articles with Habitual or Specific Days

When using days of the week, the article is not usually included unless it is referring to a specific day or days, such as the day of an event. 

El examen es el viernes.

The exam is on Friday.

The plural article is used when referring to a habitual or repeated event.

Sacamos la basura los lunes.

We take out the trash on Mondays.

With Tener Expressions, Use Spanish Indefinite Articles for Emphasis

If you want to exaggerate and say “I’m so hungry!” or “I’m so cold!” then you can add an indefinite article in front of the noun. This is more of a colloquial way of speaking with friends and family.

Tengo un hambre.

I’m so hungry.

Tienes una prisa.

You are in such a rush.

This works with most tener expressions and will make you seem like a native!

When to Drop Spanish Definite and Indefinite Articles

Sometimes it is not necessary to include an article before a noun. Here are some guidelines to help you know when to drop the Spanish definite or indefinite article!

  • When talking about profession, nationality, and religion.
  • When talking about an unspecified quantity.
  • When mentioning general transportation and some locations.
  • When saying the month and the day of the week.

    Let’s expand on each of them and check out some examples.

Drop the Articles When Talking About Your Profession, Nationality, and Religion

When talking about yourself, it’s common to say what you do for a living, like “I’m a student,” or say where you are from, like “I’m American.” The article is dropped when saying someone’s profession, nationality, or religion. Here are some more examples:

Soy ingeniero.

I am an engineer.

Mi amigo es católico.

My friend is catholic.

Mi madre es doctora.

My mother is a doctor. 

However, if you want to add more information and describe how a person is in this profession, nationality, or religion, the article is included. Basically if you are adding an adjective, include the article too!

Mi madre es una doctora fantástica! 

My mother is a fantastic doctor!

Eres un cristiano malo.

You are a bad Christian. 

Drop the Articles When Talking About an Unspecified Quantity

In Spanish, an article is not used when talking about an unspecified quantity or when the noun is uncountable. This is different from the indefinite article because un/una is for one and unos/unas is for a small amount. 

When something is not there, you can’t count it because it doesn’t exist. Therefore you drop the article like in the following sentences:

No hay sal en la mesa.

There isn’t any salt on the table. 

No tienes coche.

You (informal) don’t have a car.

No tengo dinero.

I don’t have any money. 

As you can see, in English we tend to use the word “any” when using uncountable nouns. Another word we use in these cases is “some.” Here are some more examples of uncountable nouns that drop the article.

Hay comida en la refrigeradora.

There is some food in the fridge.

Queremos café.

We want some coffee.

Ella vende fruta.

She sells fruit. 

spanish definite and indefinite articles: ella vende fruta

So why can’t we use unos/unas as “some” when translating these sentences? “Some” is used in English for both the plural indefinite article and for uncountable nouns, while in Spanish unos/unas is only for the plural indefinite article. If you are not sure if unos/unas should be used, look at the sentence in English and take out the word “some.” Does the sentence still make sense? If so, drop the article. If the sentence needs the word “some” then keep it in Spanish too! 

Drop the Articles with General Transportation and Some Locations

The article is not needed when talking about any transportation (planes, trains, and automobiles) if used in a prepositional phrase. In other words, drop the article after en and por

Vamos al museo en autobús.

We are going to the museum in a bus.

Voy a la fiesta en coche.

I’m going to the party in a car. 

La caja viene por avión.

The box is coming by plane. 

This rule also applies to places like class or home. Even in English we drop the article after a preposition, as you can see here:

Estoy en clase.

I am in class. 

Estamos en casa.

We are at home. 

spanish definite and indefinite articles: estamos en casa

Drop the Articles with Months and When Saying Today’s Day of the Week

This one is pretty straight forward. As the heading says, drop the Spanish article with months and when saying today’s day of the week. As mentioned previously, this is because the article is only used when talking about a specific event and habitual events.

Hoy es miércoles.

Today is Wednesday. 

Mi cumpleaños es en febrero.

My birthday is in February. 

That Is all About Spanish Definite and Indefinite Articles!

Definite and indefinite articles are vital to becoming proficient in Spanish and are used in much the same way as they are in English! This quick guide went over when to include the article, such as when talking about likes and dislikes and telling time, and when to drop the article, like when stating your profession and nationality and when using an uncountable noun. 

You can practice using articles with the LingoDeer app and remember, when in doubt use the article. Have fun with it and don’t stress if you forget one of these rules when speaking Spanish – you will still be understood and your efforts will be appreciated!

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