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.
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:
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:
|Masculine singular||el||¡Buena suerte en el examen!||ˈbwena ˈsweɾte en el ekˈsamen ‖||Good luck on the test!|
|Feminine singular||la||La sandía es mi fruta favorita.||la sanˈdia ˈez mi ˈfɾuta faβoˈɾita ‖||Watermelon is my favorite fruit.|
|Neutral singular||lo||Lo 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 plural||los||Los leones son mis animales favoritos.||loz leˈones ˈsom mis aniˈmales faβoˈɾitos ‖||Lions are my favorite animals.|
|Feminine plural||las||Las 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:
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.
|Masculine singular||un||Conocer 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 singular||una||Con 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 plural||unos||Compré unos vegetales en camino a casa.||komˈpɾe ˈunoz βexeˈtales en kaˈmino a ˈkasa ‖||I bought some vegetables on my way home.|
|Feminine plural||unas||Necesito 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.
|Singular||masculine||el||el tren||un||un animal|
|feminine||la||la camiseta||una||una playa|
|Plural||masculine||los||los árboles||unos||unos tacos|
|feminine||las||las casas||unas||unas 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:
|a||el||al||Vamos de camino al trabajo.||ˈbamoz ðe kaˈmino al tɾaˈβaxo ‖||We’re on our way to work.|
|de||el||del||Soy 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.
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 mom||Eres la mejor mamá||eh-rehs la meh-hor mah-mah||ˈeɾez la meˈxoɾ maˈma|
|My dad is a great businessman||Mi papá es un gran empresario||me pa-pa ehs oon grahn ehm-preh-sah-ree-oh||mi paˈpa ˈes un ˈɡɾan empɾeˈsaɾjo|
|She’s the most qualified teacher||Ella es la maestra mejor calificada||eh-yah ess la mah-ehs-trah meh-hor cah-lee-fee-cah-dah||ˈeʎa 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 bicycle||Necesito comprar una bicicleta||neh-seh-see-toe com-prar oo-nah bee-see-cleh-tah||neθeˈsito komˈpɾaɾ ˈuna βiθiˈkleta|
|I don’t like coffee||No me gusta el café||no meh goose-tah elle cah-feh||ˈno me ˈɣusta el kaˈfe|
|The shoes over there are mine||Los zapatos de allá son míos||los za-pah-toss deh ah-yah son me-oss||los 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 train||No alcancé a llegar al tren||no al-cahn-seh ah yeh-gar all trehn||ˈno alkanˈθe a ʎeˈɣaɾ al ˈtɾen|
|Let me know when you’re on the bus||Avísame cuando estés en el autobús||ah-ve-sah-meh coo-ahn-doe ehs-tess ehn elle ah-oh-toe-boos||aˈβisame ˈkwando esˈtes en el awtoˈβus|
|I already looked for it all over the car, but I can’t find it||Ya 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-troh||ʝa 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-cah||ˈdonde esˈta la βiβljoˈteka ‖|
|The nearest bathrooms are there||Los baños más cercanos están ahí||los bah-nyos mas ser-cah-noss ess-tahn ah-e||loz ˈβaɲoz ˈmas θeɾˈkanos esˈtan aˈi|
|I’m not at school||No estoy en la escuela||no ess-toy ehn la ess-coo-eh-lah||ˈno 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 noche||la seh-nah ess ah lass see-eh-teh deh la no-che||la 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 tarde||sal-go deh clah-seh ah la oo-nah deh la tar-deh||ˈsalɣo 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-ness||noz ˈβamos a ˈβeɾ el ˈβjeɾnes ‖|
|I have dance class on Fridays||Los viernes tengo clases de baile||los vee-air-ness ten-go clah-sehs deh bah-e-leh||loz ˈβjeɾnes ˈtenɡo ˈklasez ðe ˈβajle|
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 hurts||Me duele la cabeza||meh doo-eh-leh la cah-beh-za||me ˈðwele la kaˈβeθa|
|Did you hurt your arm?||¿Te lastimaste el brazo?||teh las-tee-mas-teh elle brah-zo||te lastiˈmaste el ˈβɾaθo ‖|
|I’m craving an iced tea||Se me antoja un té helado||seh meh ahn-toe-hah oon teh eh-la-doe||se me anˈtoxa wn ˈte eˈlaðo|
|I like hot sauce||Me gusta la salsa||meh goose-tah la sal-sa||me 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-dah||ˈtenɡo 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-tah||ˈtenɡo 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-go||ˈtenɡo 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.
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 American||Soy Estadounidense||soy ess-tah-doe-oo-nee-dehn-seh||ˈsoj estaðowniˈðense|
|I’m a Catholic||Soy católico||soy cah-toe-lee-coe||ˈsoj kaˈtoliko|
|I’m a mom||Soy madre||soy mah-dreh||ˈsoj ˈmaðɾe|
|She’s a lawyer||Ella es abogada||eh-yah ess ah-boh-gah-dah||ˈeʎa ˈes aβoˈɣaða|
|He’s a bore||Él es aburrido||elle ess ah-boo-ree-doe||ˈel 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-roe||ˈtjenez ðiˈneɾo ‖|
|My mom sells cars||Mi mamá vende coches||me ma-mah ven-deh coe-chess||mi maˈma ˈβende ˈkoʧes|
|Vegetarians don’t eat meat.||Los vegetarianos no comen carne||loss veh-heh-tah-ree-ah-noss no coe-men car-neh||loz 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 plane||Me voy en avión||meh voy ah eer ehn ah-vee-ohn||me ˈβoj en aˈβjon|
|Let’s take a bus instead||Mejor hay que irnos en autobús||meh-hor ay keh eer-noss ehn ah-oo-toe-boos||meˈxoɾ 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 trehn||ˈsjempɾe 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 escuela||me 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-lah||mi 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 clase||no meh vah-yas ah yah-mar, voy ah ess-tar ehn clah-seh||ˈno 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 llamada||dees-cool-pah keh no res-pon-dee too coh-reh-oh, ess-tah-bah ehn yah-mah-dah||disˈkulpa 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 fiebre||no dess-can-seh elle feen deh seh-mah-nah, es-too-veh ehn cah-mah con fee-eh-breh||ˈno 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 June||Creo que voy a ir a Colombia en junio||creh-oh keh voy ah er ah coe-lom-be-ah ehn who-nee-oh||ˈkɾeo ˈke ˈβoj a ˈiɾ a koˈlombja en ˈxunjo|
|Tomorrow is Wednesday||Mañana es miércoles||mah-nyah-nah ess mee-air-coe-less||maˈɲana ˈez ˈmjeɾkoles|
|It’s already late||Ya es tarde||ya ess-tar-deh||ʝa 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.