There are two main categories of articles in Spanish: definite and indefinite articles. Spanish definite articles, “los artículos definidos”, are some special words used just like THE from the English language. In this grammar lesson, we will learn to make sentences using definite articles. Moreover, you will be able to practice grammar with an interesting quiz.
Means of transportation and definite articles in Spanish
We will begin the lesson by watching a short video showing the vocabulary for means of transportation along with the four definite articles in Spanish, that is: EL, LA, LOS and LAS. These words will be placed before the objects mentioned in the video. We will develop more on how to use Spanish definite articles later, but for now please watch the video and try to figure out how they work by yourself.
Making sentences using Spanish definite articles
Spanish definite articles are often called ARTÍCULOS DEFINIDOS or DETERMINANTES, including LA, LAS, EL, LOS, plus a fifth article called LO. These words are used to determine the gender and number of a noun in the language. For example, “EL” will be used before masculine, singular nouns like PIANO, e.g. “El piano“. They will always be placed before the noun they modify.
The main difference between English and Spanish definite articles is that the article to use in Spanish will change depending on the noun’s number (how many objects we are talking about) and gender (masculine or feminine). In real life situations, we will use definite articles to point out objects or people from a group, especially with the help of adjectives. To illustrate this here are some basic examples:
- El carro rojo es mío. (The red car is mine – Perhaps there are many cars, but the red one is mine)
- El libro de español está sobre la mesa (The Spanish book is on the table – Maybe there are other books too)
Listen to more examples with definite articles below.
Examples using Spanish definite articles
LA (before a feminine, singular noun) – Me gusta la nueva película
Translation: I like the new movie
LAS (before a feminine, plural noun) – Ellas son las nuevas estudiantes.
Translation: They are the new students
EL(before a masculine, singular noun) – El cielo está nublado.
Translation: The sky is cloudy
LOS (before a masculine, plural noun) – Los libros están sobre la mesa
Translation: The books are on the table
LO(neuter) – Eso es lo que quiero decir.
Translation: That is what I mean
When to use Spanish definite articles and common mistakes
Situations in which using definite articles in Spanish is appropriate
First, it is impolite to use Spanish definite articles before names or nicknames, so it would be a mistake to say something like “La Ana”, being ANA a name. As a cultural fact, using articles this way may be acceptable in some countries in certain situations, but it is better to omit the definite article when referring to people.
Second, we use define articles before abstract nouns, the ones that do not have a material existence like TIEMPO (time) or AMOR (love). Unlike English, it would be a mistake to begin a sentence like this: “Amor es un sentimiento” as we should say “El amor es…”. That being said, we will always say “El tiempo” or “El amor”, especially when these words are the subject of a sentence, e.g. “El tiempo es oro“.
Third, it is not frequent to use definite articles before the names of cities or countries. This means it is better to say “Vivo en China” than “Vivo en la China”, though you may hear both sometimes in some countries. Know that in some cases, the article will be a part of the name of the country as in “El Salvador” and “El Reino Unido”, thus omitting EL would be a mistake.
In addition, Spanish definite articles will be used before languages (El español), parts of the body (La cabeza), days of the week (El lunes), dates (EL trece de diciembre), seasons (La primavera), time (La una de la tarde), weights and measures (El kilo de arroz…). We also use them to talk about specific places, e.g. “El monte Everest” and “La ciudad de Barcelona” and for superlatives and comparatives in Spanish.
The preposition A plus El and LA
When the preposition “A” comes before the article EL as in “A EL, we will replace both words for the contracted article AL so it is correct to say “A veces voy al cine” but not “A veces voy a el cine”. Likewise, when the preposition DE comes before EL, we use the contracted article DEL so it is correct to say “Ellos ya regresaron del viaje” but not “Ellos ya regresaron de el viaje”.
The neuter article LO
The neuter article LO, the fifth definite article in Spanish, will be used before adjectives in singular form to emphasize a quality or make a point. Some examples using the article LO are: “Lo malo es…” (The bad side is….), “Lo interesante…” (The interesting thing in it…) and “Lo bueno es que vino” (The good about it…). The article LO will also be used before the word “Qué” (What) when this word acts as the subject of a clause, e.g. “Lo que dije es…” (What I said is…) and ¿Sabe lo que significa esto? (Do you know what this means?).
Hopefully you will be able to remember a few of these rules. If not, do not worry as you will probably acquire some of them naturally while learning the language. Anyway, you can always check this lesson as a reference. It is time to practice Spanish definite articles with this short quiz. ¡Buena suerte!