How to use Definite Articles in Spanish

There are two main categories of articles in Spanish: definite and indefinite articles. Definite articles in Spanish are some special words used the same way as “THE” in 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.

Introductory video: Definite Articles in Spanish

We will begin the lesson by watching a short video explaining what definite articles in Spanish are and providing some interesting examples so that you can understand this topic more easily. 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.

Making sentences using definite articles in Spanish

Definite articles are often called ARTÍCULOS DEFINIDOS or DETERMINANTES. They are words like LA, LAS, EL, LOS, plus a fifth article called LO. These words usually accompany nouns in the language, and they are essential to determine the gender and number of a noun in the language. For example, the article “EL” will be used before masculine, singular nouns like PIANO, just like in these examples:

  • El gato está sentado en el conjín. (The cat is sitting on the cushion.)
  • Compré el piano que vimos en la tienda. (I bought the piano we saw in the store)

As shown in these two sentences, definite articles will always be placed before the noun they modify. The main difference between English and Spanish definite articles is that we must use a different article 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:

  1. El carro rojo es mío. (The red car is mine – Perhaps there are many cars, but the red one is mine)
  2. El libro de español está sobre la mesa (The Spanish book is on the table – Maybe there are other books too)

Sentences using Spanish definite articles

Here are some examples of sentences for different types of nouns in language. Pay close attention to how each article must agree with the noun it goes with.

LA (before a feminine, singular noun) – Me gusta la nueva película
I like the new movie
LAS (before a feminine, plural noun) – Ellas son las nuevas estudiantes.
They are the new students
EL(before a masculine, singular noun) – El cielo está nublado.
The sky is cloudy
LOS (before a masculine, plural noun) – Los libros están sobre la mesa
The books are on the table
LO(neuter) – Eso es lo que quiero decir.
That is what I mean

When to use Spanish definite articles and common mistakes

Don’t use definite articles before names

First, it is impolite to use Spanish definite articles before names or nicknames. It is also a grammar 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 specific situations, but it is always better to omit the definite article when referring to people who are not close to you.

  • Incorrect: La Ana vive cerca de la playa.
  • Correct: Ana vive cerca de la playa. (Ana lives close to the beach.)

Use definite articles before abstract nouns

Second, we use definite articles before abstract nouns in Spanish. Abstract nouns refer to things that do not have a material existence, such as TIEMPO (time) or AMOR (love). Unlike English, it is a mistake to omit the definite article before these nouns, just like this: 

  • Correct: El amor es compartir, aprender y disfrutar. (Love is sharing, learning and enjoying)
  • Incorrect: Amor es compartir, aprender y disfrutar.
  • Correct: El tiempo es oro. (The time is gold)
  • Incorrect: Tiempo es oro.

Following this pattern, we will always say “El dinero” (money) or “El arte” (art), especially when these words are the subject of a sentence, e.g. “El dinero no lo es todo” (Money is not everything).

How and when to use Spanish definite articles

Definite articles before names of places

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”. In some countries, you could hear both of them, but you shouldn’t add an article if it is not part of the country’s name. Keep in mind 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.

  • Correct: Marcos vive en España. (Marcos lives in Spain.)
  • Incorrect: Marcos vive en la España.
  • Correct: El Salvador es un país centromericano. (El Salvador is a Central American country.)
  • Incorrect: Salvador es un país centromericano. (“EL” is part of the country’s name)

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 prepositions A + El and De + El

When the preposition “A” comes before the article EL as in “A EL”, we will replace both words for the contracted article AL, just like this:

  • Correct: A veces voy al cine. (Sometimes I go to the cinema.)
  • Incorrect: A veces voy a el cine.

Likewise, when the preposition DE comes before EL, we use the contracted article DEL, as illustrated in these sentences:

  • Correct: El restaurante está cerca del hotel. (The restaurant is near the hotel.)
  • Incorrect: El restaurante está cerca de el hotel.

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 que no encontramos el tesoro. (The bad side is that we didn’t find the treasure)
  • Lo interesante es que él no estaba cuando eso ocurrió. (What’s interesting is that he was not there when that happened.)
  • Lo bueno es que ya te sientes mejor. (The good thing is that you feel better now.)

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?).

Interactive quiz: Practicing definite articles in Spanish

It is time to practice this topic with this short quiz. Read the instructions to solve each exercise and then check your answers. ¡Buena suerte!

We got to the end of this lesson. Hopefully you will be able to remember a few of these rules. You will probably acquire some of them naturally as you move forward in learning the language. For now, you can always check this lesson as a reference. ¡Hasta pronto!

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