"El" or "La"? An Introduction to Spanish Articles
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.
|Article||Definite or Indefinite||Masculine or Feminine||Plural or Singular|
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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 .
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.