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"El" or "La"? An Introduction to Spanish Articles

"El" or "La"? An Introduction to Spanish Articles

Quick Answer

El  or la ?

As a Spanish-language learner, this is a question you've probably asked yourself often when having to assign an article to a noun. Artículos , articles in English, are small functional words that go before a noun to tell us if the noun we are referring to is general or specific. While we only have three articles in English, Spanish has nine articles. But don’t panic! Below, we've prepared a list of all nine Spanish articles to get you started.

ArticleDefinite or IndefiniteMasculine or FemininePlural or Singular
el
 
DefiniteMasculineSingular
la
 
DefiniteFeminineSingular
los
 
DefiniteMasculinePlural
las
 
DefiniteFemininePlural
un
 
IndefiniteMasculineSingular
una
 
IndefiniteFeminineSingular
unos
 
IndefiniteMasculinePlural
unas
 
IndefiniteFemininePlural
lo
 
DefiniteNeuterSingular

Definite or Indefinite?

As in English, articles in Spanish are either definido  (definite), or indefinido  (indefinite). We use definite articles in Spanish the same way as we do in English: to refer to a noun as something that is specifically known to the speaker and his or her audience. For example:

Disculpa, Fernando, ¿me pasas la sal, por favor?
Excuse me, Fernando. Could you pass me the salt, please?
 

Because both the speaker and Fernando already know which container of salt is being referred to, the speaker uses the definite article. Indefinite articles are used in the opposite way: to refer to a noun that is not specifically known to the speaker and his or her audience.

Disculpa, Fernando, ¿me pasas una manzana, por favor?
Excuse me, Fernando. Could you pass me an apple, please?
 

In the example above, it does not matter to the speaker which apple Fernando passes to him or her. It could be any apple within reach, as long as it is an apple.

Masculine or Feminine?

Unlike in English, nouns in Spanish have gender. For the most part, Spanish nouns are categorized into two genders, masculino  (masculine) and femenino ) (feminine). All nouns that refer to people with human genders match with the expected grammatical genders. Madre , or mother, is feminine and hermano , or brother, is masculine. However, even non-human things have a gender; silla , or chair is feminine while escritorio , or desk, is masculine.

It’s important to know which noun is of which gender so you can assign the right article to it. Only certain articles may be used with nouns of certain genders. Check out the following sentences:

Daniela y yo vamos a la playa mañana.
Daniela and I are going to the beach tomorrow.
 
Compré un libro para leer durante el vuelo.
I bought a book to read during the flight.
 

In the first example above, we use the article la with the noun playa because playa is feminine. In the second example, both un and el are articles that must be paired with masculine nouns, such as libro and vuelo.

Watch out for contractions!

When the article el appears after the prepositions a  or de , the two words combine to make the contractions al  and del , respectively. Take a look at the correct and incorrect ways to say to your friend, Let’s go to the movies in Spanish:

Vamos a el cine.
Vamos al cine.

Neuter Article

In some cases, we can pair an article with an adjective to make it into a noun. The type of article we use in this case is the called the neuter article because it doesn’t attach to a noun with a specific gender. Consider the following sentence:

A mi gato le encanta lo brillante.
My cat loves shiny things.
 

In the example above, the neuter article, lo, pairs with the adjective brillante to make the rough translation of shiny things.

Singular or Plural?

Articles in Spanish must also match with the plurality of the noun that they refer to. In the sentences below, notice how we use the article el with the singular perro  while we use the article los with the plural form perros .

El perro me siguió a casa.
The dog followed me home.
 
Los perros ladraron toda la noche.
The dogs barked all night long.
 

Want to learn more about articles in Spanish? We’ve got you covered! Feel free to check out our in-depth article on Spanish definite articles, Spanish indefinite articles, masculine and feminine nouns, and using the neuter article lo in Spanish.

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