Let’s talk about articles. Today, we will review this basic but very important ingredient of the Spanish language. We'll begin this lesson by discussing what an article is, and then look at the two main groups of articles we have in Spanish.
An article is a word that we use in Spanish to specify the gender and number of a noun. Articles also tell us how specific a noun is and that’s why they can be definite or indefinite. Finally, we always put articles before a noun.
If that sounds too complicated, let’s see how the Cambridge Dictionary defines the word article: “Any of the English words "a," "an," and "the," or words in other languages that are used in a similar way as these.” With that being said, let’s take a look at definite and indefinite articles in Spanish.
Definite articles in English are easy. In fact, we only have one definite article: the. To the contrary, in Spanish we have four different definite articles: el, la, los, las. Let’s see that in action:
Keep in mind, however, that if you are referring to a group where you have both male and female elements, we need to use the masculine article ‘los’. In fact, in those cases we need to use the plural form of the masculine noun:
Hoy tengo clase con los alumnos principiantes de español.
Today I have class with the beginner Spanish students.
Caption 5, Español para principiantes - La horaPlay Caption
In the example above, we use the article los with the word alumnos (students) but the speaker is very likely referring to a group of both male and female students.
We also have the neuter definite article lo but if you want a further explanation about this very particular article, please check the lesson about this topic HERE.
In English, we have the indefinite articles “a” and “an.” In Spanish, we have four indefinite articles that we use to specify the gender and number of the noun they precede. These articles are un, una, unos and unas:
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
Compré un regalo para unos amigos.
I bought a gift for some friends.Play Caption
In this sentence, we use the article unos with the noun amigos (friends). However, just as it happens with the definite article los, we use the indefinite article unos when referring to groups that may include both male and female elements. In this case, some friends could easily include both male and female friends.
¿Unas entradas para ver un musical?
Some tickets to see a musical?
Caption 35, Blanca y Mariona - Planificación de cenaPlay Caption
In this example, both nouns are indefinite so the girls use the corresponding indefinite articles. If the girls had known some specific information about the tickets and the musical, they would have used definite articles:
That's it for now. If you are aware of the gender and number variables that nouns have in Spanish, you will be on your way to using articles like a pro. We hope you find this lesson useful and don’t forget to send us your feedback and suggestions.
Articles are used before nouns to indicate a subject's number or gender. Sometimes, however, the use of an article before a noun is not required. This happens with both indefinite and definite articles, in Spanish, in English and in many other languages as well. In fact, generally speaking, articles are used the same way in Spanish and English. There are many cases in which the same rules apply for both languages. For example, you don't use definite articles before days of the week or months following the verb ser(to be):
Hoy es viernes. Son las siete de la tarde.
Today is Friday. It's seven in the evening.
Caption 4, Reporteros - Crecen los robos en tiendas - Part 2
or following the preposition de (from):
Trabajo de lunes a sábado.
I work from Monday to Saturday.
Caption 31, Muñeca Brava - 33 El partido - Part 12
It's not very common, and even unnecessary, but you could use indefinite articles in both cases. The meaning is slightly different and this happens both in Spanish and English:
Hoy es un miércoles / Hoy es miércoles.
Today is a Wednesday / Today is Wednesday.
Es la misma rutina de un lunes a un viernes / Es la misma rutina de lunes a viernes.
It's the same routine from a Monday to a Friday / It's the same routine from Monday to Friday.
However, there are a few cases in which we wouldn't use "a" or "an" in English, but we would in Spanish and vice versa. For example, in Spanish you can use a definite article before days and say Los lunes no trabajo (I don't work on Mondays) or Estoy esperando desde el lunes (I've been waiting since Monday). These you need to learn, so let's explore some examples.
In Spanish, you can drop indefinite articles when the noun is preceded by words like tal[es] (such), otro/a (other), and qué (what). Compare with the English translation in the following examples:
Qué lástima que no llegaste al partido; estuvo joya.
What a pity that you didn't come to the game; it was awesome.
Caption 5, Fonda Mi Lupita - Encargado - Part 2
... de cierta manera... con ciertos defectos, ¿no?
...in a certain way... with certain defects, right?
Caption 32, Nortec Collective - Bostich+Fussible
In the previous example English drops the article when using the plural only, while Spanish drops it in both singular and plural. And yet, saying de una cierta manera in Spanish is also correct.
Spanish doesn't use definite articles before numerals that express titles of rulers:
El edificio data del siglo dieciocho, en tiempos de Felipe Quinto.
The building dates from the eighteenth century, during the time period of Philip the fifth.
Caption 22, Madrid - Un recorrido por la capital de España - Part 1
In Spanish you usually drop definite and indefinite articles before nouns in apposition (when a noun explains another). But you don't necessary want to do it every single time. For example, in Spanish you can say Ankara, capital de Turquía, es una bella ciudad (Ankara, the capital of Turkey, is a beautiful city.) However, it's still correct to say Ankara, la capital del Turquía, es una bella ciudad. Obviously, in this case you can't use the definite article. You can't say Ankara, una capital de Turquía—that doesn't make sense either in Spanish or English since cities have, by definition, only one capital.
But check out this example: Juanita, una tía de Raquel, vino de visita (Juanita, one of Raquel's aunts, came to visit).Saying Juanita, tía de Raquel, vino de visita (Juanita,Raquel's aunt, came to visit) is also correct. And Juanita, la tía de Raquel, vino de visita is correct too.The translation in English is the same: Juanita, Raquel's aunt, came to visit. The only difference is that the definite article la (the) confers some sense of specificity to the expression. Maybe it means that Juanita is the only aunt Raquel has, or that she is particularly close or somehow special, she is not any aunt but la tía (the aunt).
In Spanish you usually drop indefinite articles before unmodified nouns when stating nationality, profession, and religious or political affiliation. You can't always do the same in English. For example:
El Señor Chong es mexicano. Es burócrata. Es Secretario de Gobernación. Es católico. Es priísta.
Mr. Chong is Mexican. He is a bureaucrat. He is Secretary of State. He is a Catholic. He's an affiliate of the PRI party.
Here is another example from our catalog:
Y ¿tu marido es agricultor o algo?
And your husband is a farmer or something?
Caption 55, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 18
That doesn't mean that saying mi marido es un agricultor (my husband is a farmer) is wrong. It's just not the way you usually state professions. On the other hand, when the noun is modified (usually by an adjetive or a subordinate clause), you have to use an article. For example, you must say: mi marido es el agricultor famoso (my husband isthe famous farmer) or mi marido es un agricultor que se preocupa por el medio ambiente (my husband is a farmer who cares about the environment).
What is really incorrect is not using articles before the names of languages. When talking about languages, English usually drops the articles, but Spanish doesn't:
El español es un idioma muy bonito.
Spanish is a very nice language.
Caption 42, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana - Crista Pérez - Part 1
There's an exception. You can drop the article when the language is used directly after a verb as its complement:
Como... como yo hablo árabe.
Since... since I speak Arabic.
Caption 8, Taimur - Taimur habla - Part 1
Finally, don't drop the article when telling the time in Spanish. You will always use the feminine definite article la or its plural las, since it refers to la hora (the hour) or las horas (the hours).
Salí a las siete y media y voy llegando a la una.
I went out at seven thirty and I'm arriving at one.
Caption 77, Calle 13 - La Perla
The word lo can either be used as a neuter article, or as a pronoun. In this lesson we will focus on its use as an article.
Neuter articles are used to express abstract ideas or give extra emphasis to a certain adjective. As a neuter article, lo is the easiest of all the articles as there is only one form: lo. It can be placed in front of just about any adjective that expresses an abstraction or a quality (or extreme degree of quantity), something that's not a concrete object or person.
Here are some phrases that take lo before different types of adjectives:
lo bueno = "the good part, what's good"
lo fácil = "the easy part, what's easy"
lo mío = "(that which is) mine"
lo nuestro = "(that which is) ours"
Lo + adjective can be translated in English as "the" + adjective + the word "thing" or "part":
Y pues, es lo malo de vivir en un país así.
And well, it's the bad thing about living in a country like this.
Caption 45, Amigos D.F. - El secuestrar
Eso es lo bonito de la gastronomía.
That's the nice thing about gastronomy.
Caption 23, Cómetelo - Crema de brócoli - Part 7
In fact, lo + adjective generates the syntactic equivalent of a noun phrase. That's why it's also common to translate it as "what is + adjective." In the previous examples, we would have:
Y pues, es lo malo de vivir en un país así / And well, it's what is bad about living in a country like this.
Eso es lo bonito de la gastronomía / That's what is nice about gastronomy.
The use of lo before a relative clause has a similar effect:
Hay gente que rectifica lo que dice
There are people who correct what they say
Caption 39, Calle 13 - No hay nadie como tú
Lucio, tengo que contarte que por lo que me adelantó Morena...
Lucio, I have to tell you that from what Morena told me in advance...
Caption 42, Yago - 7 Encuentros - Part 14
In fact, lo can often be taken to mean roughly la cosa or las cosas:
Hay gente que rectifica lo que dice → There are people who correct what they say.
Hay gente que rectifica (las cosas) que dice. → There are people who correct (the things) they say.
...por lo que me adelantó Morena → ...from what Morena told me.
...por (las cosas) que me adelantó Morena → ...from (the things) that Morena told me.
By the way, lo can be used before a series of adjetives too:
Pero encontrar lo bueno, bonito y barato a veces es muy complicado.
But finding the good, [the] nice and [the] cheap is sometimes complicated.
Caption 2, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 14
Of course, in order to help our subscribers with their learning process, we have made the translation here as parallel as possible. But you already know what would make a more natural translation, right?
→ But finding what's good, nice, and cheap is sometimes complicated.
→ But finding the good, nice, and cheap things is sometimes complicated.
There is yet one more use of lo as a neuter article and it's rather interesting. Lo is used to express the extreme degree or nature of a given concept or idea. Here it's best to review some examples:
¿Es que no eres todo lo feliz que desearías?
Is it that you are not as happy as you would like?
Caption 24, De consumidor a persona - Short Film - Part 1
Sometimes this lo equates to using the word “how”:
Si supieras lo mucho que te amo.
If you knew how much I love you.
Caption 35, Ozomatli - Jardinero
Porque ves las gradas llenas, eh, la gente lo bien que se lo pasa con la música,
Because you see the packed bleachers, um, how much fun the people have with the music,
Caption 10, Los Juegos Olímpicos - Adrián Gavira
¿Pero cómo voy a perder mis maletas de vista con lo grandes que son?
But how am I going to lose sight of my suitcases with how big they are?
Caption 23, Raquel - Avisos de Megafonía
Read more about the use of the neuter gender here.