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The Articles in Spanish Grammar

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.

 

What is an article 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 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:

 

  • El niño (the boy) - We use ‘el’ to indicate that the noun is singular and masculine.
  • La niña (the girl) - We use ‘la’ to indicate that the noun is singular and feminine.
  • Los niños (the boys) - We use ‘los’ to indicate that the noun is plural and masculine.
  • Las niñas (the girls) - We use ‘las’ to indicate that the noun is plural and feminine.

 

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:

 

  • A group of 4 male friends: los amigos (the friends)
  • A group of 4 female friends: las amigas (the friends)
  • A group of 2 male friends and 2 female friends: los amigos (the friends)

 

Hoy tengo clase con los alumnos principiantes de español.

Today I have class with the beginner Spanish students.

Caption 5, Español para principiantes - La hora

 Play 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.

 

Indefinite articles in Spanish

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:

 

  • Un perro (a dog) - We use ‘un’ to indicate that the noun is singular and masculine.
  • Una serpiente (a snake) - We use ‘una’ to indicate that the noun is singular and feminine.
  • Unos perros (some dogs) - We use ‘unos’ to indicate that the noun is plural and masculine.
  • Unas serpientes (some snakes) - We use ‘unas’ to indicate that the noun is plural and feminine.

 

Let’s look at a couple of examples:

Compré un regalo para unos amigos.

I bought a gift for some friends.

Caption 9, Conversaciones en el parque - Cap. 4: Regalos para un nuevo bebé

 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 cena

 Play 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:

 

  • ¿Las entradas para ver el musical?
  • ¿The tickets to see the musical?

 

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.

 

Explore more lessons:

Lo: the Neuter Article

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Lo: the Neuter Article

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.

 

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Gender Reversals: "El Alma" and more

Colombian crooner Juanes has the audience singing along to every word of his hit Para tu amor in this week's featured video. Catchy lyrics are helpful language-learning aids: When they get stuck in your head (and won't leave) they build up your vocab and aid in your memorizaiton of usage rules. Case in point: Para tu amor contains many lyrical lines that can help non-native speakers grasp the difference between para and por -- both translated into English as "for" in many cases. In newsletters past, we've drawn from the Yabla Spanish archive of song lyrics to write about distinctions between por and para. (Linked here for your review.) So, in this week's newsletter, we'll use Juanes to illuminate a gender rule bender instead.

He sings:

Yo te quiero con el alma y con el corazón



"I love you with my soul and with my heart."



[Captions 13 and 23, Juanes > Para tu amor]

Check our online dictionary and you'll see alma (a noun) is feminine, as so many Spanish words that '-a' are. But alma belongs to a subgroup of feminine nouns that take masculine articles when singular. Others include:

  • El agua fría ("The cold water")
  • El águila americana ("The American eagle")
  • El ama de casa desperada ("The desperate housewife")

Note that all four examples listed above begin with a stressed a-, which wouldn't sound right to a native speaker if preceded by la or una. Also note that when plural, they revert to the feminine article las or unas. So it's las aguas tibias ("the lukewarm waters").







As a final note: Whatever the number, alma and her gender-bending ilk behave like feminine nouns when they are paired with adjectives. That is to say, the adjectives they are paired with are made feminine with an -a ending. For more on words that break gender rules, see:



About.com > Spanish grammar > Gender reversals

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