A fun and easy guide to definite and indefinite articles in Spanish

Every language has certain types of words that perform thankless tasks, and no category fits the bill more than definite and indefinite articles in Spanish.

While these words aren’t the most glamorous or exciting, they perform the essential job of letting us know whether we’re talking about a specific or a general noun. They also help us define the quantity of a noun without using any numbers, whether we even know the quantity of a certain noun, and whether knowing the quantity of it is relevant in the first place.

If that sounds like a lot of information — that’s because it is! And that’s precisely the beauty of Spanish definite and indefinite articles: we can communicate a lot of information through them without even realizing it. These are essential parts of our everyday communication, and mastering them will help you sound like a true native.

Ready to get started? Although Spanish articles are only two-to-four words long, there’s a lot of ground to cover. ¡Vámonos!

What are articles in Spanish grammar?

Articles in Spanish are small words that help us define a noun. They always go before nouns and define them in terms of number and gender. If you’re an English speaker, then you’re already familiar with articles, as English uses “the,” “a,” and “an” as articles. The Spanish articles are very similar, except that they also define the gender of a noun as well as the quantity. As such, there’s a total of nine articles in Spanish, whereas English only has three.

Spanish articles are very similar to English, except that they also define the gender of a noun as well as the quantity.

What is a definite article in Spanish?

Definite articles in Spanish are used when speaking about a noun whose identity is known to the speaker or reader. In other words, use definite articles when referencing a specific noun rather than a general noun. English uses the definite article “the” in these situations.

The definite articles in Spanish are:

  • El
  • La
  • Lo
  • Los
  • Las

For example, if you’re at the dinner table, you would ask someone to pass you “the salt.” As long as there’s a salt shaker on the table, people will know that you’re referring to that specific salt container. If there’s no salt on the table, you might want to ask the waiter for some salt. In this case, you can’t use a definite article because you don’t know the identity of the noun. You know you’re getting salt, but you don’t know which salt you’re getting.

Here are the five definite articles in Spanish along with examples of how to use them:

TypeArticleExample sentenceIPAEnglish
Masculine singularel¡Buena suerte en el examen!ˈbwena ˈsweɾte en el ekˈsamen ‖Good luck on the test!
Feminine singularlaLa sandía es mi fruta favorita.la sanˈdia ˈez mi ˈfɾuta faβoˈɾita ‖Watermelon is my favorite fruit.
Neutral singularloLo mejor de vivir en Medellín es la buena música.lo meˈxoɾ ðe βiˈβiɾ em meðeˈʎin ˈez la ˈβwena ˈmusika ‖The best part about living in Medellín is the great music.
Masculine plurallosLos leones son mis animales favoritos.loz leˈones ˈsom mis aniˈmales faβoˈɾitos ‖Lions are my favorite animals.
Feminine plurallasLas azaleas son mis flores favoritas.las aθaˈleas ˈsom mis ˈfloɾes faβoˈɾitas ‖Azaleas are my favorite flowers.

The definite article lo

As you may have noticed, there’s a special neutral article within the definite articles in Spanish: lo. This article is used exclusively for adjectives, ordinal numbers, and participles. Unlike other articles, you never want to use this article before nouns.

Here are some situations where you’d use the definite article lo:

  • Lo primero
  • Lo bonito
  • Lo pasado
  • Lo mejor

Even though this is a neutral singular article, remember that all Spanish nouns are gendered, so you cannot use it as an easy way to avoid differentiating by noun gender.

What is an indefinite article in Spanish?

Indefinite articles in Spanish are used to define nouns whose identity is unknown. In other words, you don’t know which individual or group of nouns you’re talking about. This is equivalent to the English “a” and “an.”

The indefinite articles in Spanish are:

  • Un
  • Una
  • Unos
  • Unas

For example, if you’re craving a cup of coffee, you’d use an indefinite article. In this example, you’re not craving a specific cup of coffee — any cup of coffee would do. But, if you find yourself traveling through Colombia’s coffee belt, you might find yourself craving the coffee you had at that one local coffee shop the other day. In this case, you’re referring to a specific coffee cup, so you wouldn’t be able to use an indefinite article.

Here are a few more examples of when to use indefinite articles in Spanish.

TypeArticleExample sentenceIPAEnglish
Masculine singularunConocer Sudámerica siempre ha sido un sueño para mí.konoˈθeɾ suˈðameɾika ˈsjempɾe ˈa ˈsiðo wn ˈsweɲo ˈpaɾa ˈmi ‖Visiting South America has always been a dream of mine.
Feminine singularunaCon este calor, ¡se me antoja mucho una cerveza helada!kon ˈeste kaˈloɾ | se me anˈtoxa ˈmuʧo ˈuna θeɾˈβeθa eˈlaða ‖This heat is making me crave a cold beer!
Masculine pluralunosCompré unos vegetales en camino a casa.komˈpɾe ˈunoz βexeˈtales en kaˈmino a ˈkasa ‖I bought some vegetables on my way home.
Feminine pluralunasNecesito unas calcetas nuevas.neθeˈsito ˈunas kalˈθetaz ˈnweβas ‖I need some new socks.

Table of definite and indefinite articles in Spanish

If you’ve already got a handle on the Spanish articles and simply want a refresh, then this table is for you! Here’s a quick roundup of every article in Spanish along with simple examples.

Singularmasculineelel trenunun animal
femininelala camisetaunauna playa
neutrallolo malo-
Pluralmasculineloslos árbolesunosunos tacos
femininelaslas casasunasunas enchiladas

Articles and prepositions in Spanish

The masculine singular definite article “el” can be contracted when placed directly next to certain prepositions. Unlike English contractions, these Spanish contractions are always mandatory, and failing to contract the articles and prepositions would be grammatically incorrect.

Here are the Spanish contractions and how to use them:

aelalVamos de camino al trabajo.ˈbamoz ðe kaˈmino al tɾaˈβaxo ‖We’re on our way to work.
deeldelSoy del sur de California.ˈsoj ðel ˈsuɾ ðe kaliˈfoɾnja ‖I’m from Southern California.

When to include articles in Spanish

Knowing what the Spanish articles are is a great first step toward learning how to use them masterfully. However, the real challenge is knowing when to use them. Here are some examples of when you need to include articles in Spanish.

When to include definite and indefinite articles in Spanish.

Personal identity

As you’ll learn later on, Spanish doesn’t use articles for describing personal adjectives. However, there is one exception: when you use an adjective to modify the noun.

You’re the best momEres la mejor mamáeh-rehs la meh-hor mah-mahˈeɾez la meˈxoɾ maˈma
My dad is a great businessmanMi papá es un gran empresariome pa-pa ehs oon grahn ehm-preh-sah-ree-ohmi paˈpa ˈes un ˈɡɾan empɾeˈsaɾjo
She’s the most qualified teacherElla es la maestra mejor calificadaeh-yah ess la mah-ehs-trah meh-hor cah-lee-fee-cah-dahˈeʎa ˈez la maˈestɾa meˈxoɾ kalifiˈkaða


As you now know, things require a definite or indefinite article depending on whether their identity is known. However, as you’ll see in the following section, articles aren’t always necessary. Here are a few examples of when to use articles in Spanish.

I need to buy a new bicycleNecesito comprar una bicicletaneh-seh-see-toe com-prar oo-nah bee-see-cleh-tahneθeˈsito komˈpɾaɾ ˈuna βiθiˈkleta
I don’t like coffeeNo me gusta el caféno meh goose-tah elle cah-fehˈno me ˈɣusta el kaˈfe
The shoes over there are mineLos zapatos de allá son míoslos za-pah-toss deh ah-yah son me-osslos θaˈpatoz ðe aˈʎa ˈsom ˈmios


You’ll want to use articles when describing a means of transportation as a physical location. For example, “Ya estoy en el avión” (I am on the plane). In this situation, you’re using the means of transport as a physical space in relation to something else (you). Here are a few more examples:

I didn’t make it onto the trainNo alcancé a llegar al trenno al-cahn-seh ah yeh-gar all trehnˈno alkanˈθe a ʎeˈɣaɾ al ˈtɾen
Let me know when you’re on the busAvísame cuando estés en el autobúsah-ve-sah-meh coo-ahn-doe ehs-tess ehn elle ah-oh-toe-boosaˈβisame ˈkwando esˈtes en el awtoˈβus
I already looked for it all over the car, but I can’t find itYa lo busqué por todo el carro, pero no lo encuentro.yah loh boos-keh pore toe-doe elle cah-ro, pear-oh no lo ehn-coo-ehn-trohʝa lo βusˈke poɾ ˈtoðo el ˈkaro | ˈpeɾo ˈno lo enˈkwentɾo ‖


As you can imagine from the section above, most places require a definite or indefinite article in Spanish. Use articles whenever asking and answering a ¿Dónde? question (feel free to brush up on your Spanish question words if you’re a little rusty). Here are some examples:

Where is the library?¿Dónde está la biblioteca?don-deh ess-tah la bee-blee-oh-teh-cahˈdonde esˈta la βiβljoˈteka ‖
The nearest bathrooms are thereLos baños más cercanos están ahílos bah-nyos mas ser-cah-noss ess-tahn ah-eloz ˈβaɲoz ˈmas θeɾˈkanos esˈtan aˈi
I’m not at schoolNo estoy en la escuelano ess-toy ehn la ess-coo-eh-lahˈno esˈtoj en la esˈkwela

Date and time

While English uses prepositions like “at” or “on” when telling the time to make plans, Spanish uses definite articles. More specifically, it uses the feminine plural definite article las for telling every hour of the day except for 1, when it uses the feminine singular definite article la. For days of the week, it uses the masculine singular definite article el for one-off events and the plural los for recurring events. Here are some examples:

Dinner is at seven p.m.La cena es a las siete de la nochela seh-nah ess ah lass see-eh-teh deh la no-chela ˈθena ˈes a las ˈsjete ðe la ˈnoʧe
I get out of class at one p.m.Salgo de clase a la una de la tardesal-go deh clah-seh ah la oo-nah deh la tar-dehˈsalɣo ðe ˈklase a la ˈuna ðe la ˈtaɾðe
Are we seeing each other on Friday?¿Nos vamos a ver el viernes?nos vah-moss ah ver elle vee-air-nessnoz ˈβamos a ˈβeɾ el ˈβjeɾnes ‖
I have dance class on FridaysLos viernes tengo clases de bailelos vee-air-ness ten-go clah-sehs deh bah-e-lehloz ˈβjeɾnes ˈtenɡo ˈklasez ðe ˈβajle

Reflexive verbs

If you’re not yet familiar with Spanish reflexive verbs, these are actions that you do unto yourself. They use a special type of Spanish pronouns, appropriately called reflexive pronouns — me, te, se, nos, se. You’ll want to use an article with the noun any time you use a reflexive verb in Spanish.

My head hurtsMe duele la cabezameh doo-eh-leh la cah-beh-zame ˈðwele la kaˈβeθa
Did you hurt your arm?¿Te lastimaste el brazo?teh las-tee-mas-teh elle brah-zote lastiˈmaste el ˈβɾaθo ‖
I’m craving an iced teaSe me antoja un té heladoseh meh ahn-toe-hah oon teh eh-la-doese me anˈtoxa wn ˈte eˈlaðo
I like hot sauceMe gusta la salsameh goose-tah la sal-same ˈɣusta la ˈsalsa


This trick might fall more into the intermediate Spanish category and above, but it’s still a neat trick to learn even if you’re a beginner. Instead of saying “tengo hambre” or “tengo frío,” you can add an almost scary level of emphasis by placing an indefinite article before the noun “tengo un hambre” and “tengo un frío.” Here are some more examples:

I have a tremendous thirst.Tengo una sed tremenda.ten-go oo-nah sed treh-men-dahˈtenɡo ˈuna ˈseð tɾeˈmenda ‖
I am so sleepy that I couldn’t get rid of it if I slept all day long.Tengo un sueño que ni con un día entero durmiendo se me quita.ten-go oon soo-eh-nyoh keh nee con oon dee-ah ehn-teh-roe door-me-ehn-doe seh meh key-tahˈtenɡo wn ˈsweɲo ˈke ni kon un ˈdia enˈteɾo ðuɾˈmjendo se me ˈkita ‖
I have a major stomach ache…Tengo un dolor de estómago…ten-goh oon do-lore deh ess-toe-ma-goˈtenɡo wn doˈloɾ ðe esˈtomaɣo

When to exclude articles in Spanish

Perhaps more important than knowing when to include Spanish articles is knowing when to exclude them. Indeed, inserting an article where it doesn’t belong could confuse the listener but make them think that they missed out on an important piece of information. Here are some situations where excluding the articles in Spanish is essential.

When to exclude articles in Spanish.

Personal identity

English uses articles to define personal characteristics like nationality, profession, some personality traits, and even family status. However, Spanish doesn’t use articles for any of these, so you’ll have to remember not to translate directly from English!

I’m an AmericanSoy Estadounidensesoy ess-tah-doe-oo-nee-dehn-sehˈsoj estaðowniˈðense
I’m a CatholicSoy católicosoy cah-toe-lee-coeˈsoj kaˈtoliko
I’m a momSoy madresoy mah-drehˈsoj ˈmaðɾe
She’s a lawyerElla es abogadaeh-yah ess ah-boh-gah-dahˈeʎa ˈes aβoˈɣaða
He’s a boreÉl es aburridoelle ess ah-boo-ree-doeˈel ˈes aβuˈriðo


As you’ve learned earlier in this article, definite articles are used for nouns whose identity is known, and indefinite articles are used for those whose identity isn't known. However, what about when you’re talking about nouns in a general way? If you need to talk about a noun in a general way without alluding to any quantity, you can just omit the article.

Do you have any money?¿Tienes dinero?tee-eh-ness dee-neh-roeˈtjenez ðiˈneɾo ‖
My mom sells carsMi mamá vende cochesme ma-mah ven-deh coe-chessmi maˈma ˈβende ˈkoʧes
Vegetarians don’t eat meat.Los vegetarianos no comen carneloss veh-heh-tah-ree-ah-noss no coe-men car-nehloz βexetaˈɾjanoz ˈno ˈkomen ˈkaɾne


Using articles isn’t necessary when describing means of transportation in Spanish. In English, you’d say “I’m taking the train” or “I’m taking a bus” when describing how you plan on getting somewhere. In Spanish, however, using articles isn’t necessary. Here are some examples:

I’m taking a planeMe voy en aviónmeh voy ah eer ehn ah-vee-ohnme ˈβoj en aˈβjon
Let’s take a bus insteadMejor hay que irnos en autobúsmeh-hor ay keh eer-noss ehn ah-oo-toe-boosmeˈxoɾ ˈaj ˈke ˈiɾnos en awtoˈβus
I’ve always wanted to travel on a train¡Siempre he querido viajar en tren!see-ehm-preh eh keh-ree-doe vee-ah-har ehn trehnˈsjempɾe ˈe keˈɾiðo βjaˈxaɾ en ˈtɾen ‖


If you’ve been taking Spanish lessons for some time now, then you definitely know that this language is full of rules — and also full of exceptions. So, although most places do require an article, there are a few that go without an article. Here are some of the exceptions:

My daughter woke up sick, so she decided to stay home from school.Mi hija amaneció enferma, así que decidió quedarse en casa y no ir a la escuelame e-hah ah-mah-neh-see-oh ehn-fer-mah, ah-see keh deh-see-dee-oh keh-dar-seh ehn cah-sah e no eer ah la ess-coo-eh-lahmi ˈixa amaneˈθjo emˈfeɾma | aˈsi ˈke ðeθiˈðjo keˈðaɾse en ˈkasa j ˈno ˈiɾ a la esˈkwela ‖
Don’t call me, I’ll be in class.No me vayas a llamar, voy a estar en claseno meh vah-yas ah yah-mar, voy ah ess-tar ehn clah-sehˈno me ˈβaʝas a ʎaˈmaɾ | ˈboj a esˈtaɾ en ˈklase ‖
I’m sorry I didn’t respond to your email, I was on a call.Disculpa que no respondí tu correo, estaba en llamadadees-cool-pah keh no res-pon-dee too coh-reh-oh, ess-tah-bah ehn yah-mah-dahdisˈkulpa ˈke ˈno responˈdi tu koˈreo | esˈtaβa en ʎaˈmaða ‖
I didn’t get any rest this weekend, I was sick in bed with a fever.No descansé el fin de semana, estuve en cama con fiebreno dess-can-seh elle feen deh seh-mah-nah, es-too-veh ehn cah-mah con fee-eh-brehˈno ðeskanˈse el ˈfin de seˈmana | esˈtuβe en ˈkama kom ˈfjeβɾe ‖

Date and time

Hopefully by this point, you’re starting to pick up on a trend: generalized statements tend to not need articles while specific ones do. When talking about the date or the time in a general way, rather than making specific plans, you can exclude the article.

I think I’m going to Colombia in JuneCreo que voy a ir a Colombia en juniocreh-oh keh voy ah er ah coe-lom-be-ah ehn who-nee-ohˈkɾeo ˈke ˈβoj a ˈiɾ a koˈlombja en ˈxunjo
Tomorrow is WednesdayMañana es miércolesmah-nyah-nah ess mee-air-coe-lessmaˈɲana ˈez ˈmjeɾkoles
It’s already lateYa es tardeya ess-tar-dehʝa ˈes ˈtaɾðe

FAQs about articles in Spanish

How do you know when to use a definite or indefinite article in Spanish?

You use a definite article when the listener knows the exact noun you are talking about. This can happen when you’ve already mentioned the noun in detail or when the noun in question is obvious. You use an indefinite article if you haven’t talked about a noun before or don’t want to talk about a specific object.

How do I know when to use el or la in Spanish?

Spanish is a gendered language, meaning that all nouns have a grammatical gender. The definite article used for masculine nouns is el, and the definite article used for feminine nouns is la. These articles have to agree with the gender of the noun they are referring to, not the noun of the person. So, in order to know whether to use el or la in Spanish, you first have to know the gender of a noun in question.

A quick trick to figure out what the gender is is to pay attention to the ending of the noun. If the noun ends in -o, such as cuchillo, hermano or amigo, then it’s likely masculine. If the noun ends in -a, such as abeja, altura or falda, then it’s likely feminine.

Is it el agua or la agua in Spanish?

In Spanish, feminine nouns that start with an a and also start with the stressed syllable use the masculine article el. Since agua meets both criteria, you should say el agua in Spanish even if agua is a feminine noun. Note that this doesn’t happen for all feminine nouns that start with an a. For example, you still say la abeja (the bee) in Spanish. That’s because abeja doesn’t start with a stressed syllable. To review stressed syllable rules, check out our ultimate guide to Spanish accent marks.

Enjoy a definite improvement in your Spanish with the definite and indefinite articles

As promised at the beginning of this article, spending the time to learn when to use (and when not to!) the Spanish articles will pay off tremendously. Although not as glamorous as learning names for landforms and beaches or terms for feelings and emotions, learning the articles in Spanish will level up your grammar game like few other topics could.

If you enjoyed this blog post and feel like you’ve learned about the use of definite and indefinite articles in Spanish, make sure to check out the rest of our Spanish content. We regularly publish helpful grammar and vocabulary posts to help answer some of your most burning Spanish questions.

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