Definite and indefinite articles in Spanish

Jun 8, 2021

Would you like to sound more like a Spanish native speaker? Do not worry!

Keep reading this post to find out how to make sentences using definite and indefinite articles in Spanish through several simple rules and examples that will help you understand this topic more easily. Articles are a tricky part of the grammar of a language which cause problems to Spanish students, particularly when compared to English. English has one definite article (the), while Spanish has four (el/ la/ los / las).

In this post you’ll learn some of the similarities and differences between definite articles and indefinite articles, its different uses and how to use them correctly in a sentence. 

The main problem for many Spanish learners arises from the fact that in Spanish you need to remember the gender (masculine or feminine) because the gender of the article has to match the gender of the noun. El problema principal para muchos estudiantes de español es que deben acordarse del género (masculino o femenino), ya que el género del artículo tiene que concordar con el género del sustantivo.

Articles are a tricky part of the grammar of a language which cause problems to Spanish students, particularly when compared to English. English has one definite article (the), while Spanish has four (el/ la/ los / las).

In Spanish grammar, we can find two different types of articles: the definite articles (el/ lo/ la/ los/ las) and the indefinite articles (un/ una/ unos/ unas). In the two following tables, you’ll find the definite articles and the indefinite articles according to its gender and number. 

  • Definite articles

  Singular  Plural 
Masculine el   los 
Feminine  la  las 
  • Indefinite articles 

  Singular Plural 
Masculine un unos 
Feminine  una unas 

 We’ll now take a look at the features that definite and indefinite articles have in common: 

  • They always precede the noun. Se colocan delante del sustantivo.
Example:

El niño/ Un niño

La copa / Una copa

  • They are all marked for gender and number. Todos tienen marca de género y de número. 
Example: 

El niño (masculino, singular)

Las copas (femenino, plural)

Now that you know the features that definite and indefinite articles have in common, let’s move on and focus on the differences between them. 

In general terms, the main difference between a definite article and an indefinite article is that a definite article is used to refer to something specific and known, where as an indefinite article is used to refer to something unspecified or unknown, that is to say, a generalized noun. La principal diferencia entre un artículo definido y un artículo indefinido es que el artículo definido se utiliza para indicar una persona o una cosa concreta o conocida, mientras que empleamos el artículo indefinido para identificar algo que no es específico o bien que es desconocido.

Note the following examples to make this difference clear:

Ana se está comiendo un helado (the indefinite article refers to a generalized noun, in this case, an ice-cream). El helado está rico (in this case, the definite article refers to something specific, the speaker refers to a specific ice-cream).

Definite and indefinite articles in spanish
  • ¡Pásame el lápiz, por favor! (the definite article refers to a specific or particular pencil).
  • ¡Pásame un lápiz, por favor! (the indefinite article refers to a general pencil, it can be any pencil).  
definite and indefinite articles in spanish

Uses of definite articles

As mentioned previously, definite articles are used to refer to something specific. We’ll now feature some of the most common uses of definite articles in Spanish along with some examples (both in Spanish and in English).  

  • To talk about people, animals and things in a general way
Example:
Me encanta el chocolate caliente.  I love hot chocolate.  
  • To talk about nouns that refer to abstract qualities such as time, happiness or hope
Example: 
Admiro la felicidad de Marta, siempre está sonriendo.  I admire Marta’s happiness, she is always smiling. 
  • To talk about colours.  
Example: 
Mi color favorito es el rojo.  My favourite colour is red. 
  • To talk about time.
Example:
Son las tres.  It is three o’clock. 
  • To talk about days of the week and dates. (Note that English uses the preposition on)
Example: 
El sábado que viene tengo una fiesta. I have a party next Saturday. 
  • To talk about parts of the body. 
Example: 
Me encantan los ojos verdes. I love green eyes.
  • To talk about meals.
La cena estará lista pronto.  Dinner will be ready soon.

 

Definite articles are used to refer to something specific.

Uses of indefinites articles

Once you’ve learned the main uses of the definite article in Spanish, let’s now focus on the uses of indefinite articles. As stated before, indefinite articles are generally used to refer to something unspecific or unknown. 

  • To talk about something that is mentioned for the first time.
Example:
¿Te gustaría ver una película? ¿Would you like to watch a movie?
  • To refer to something unspecific, general. 
Example:
Tengo un perro y un gato.  I have a dog and a cat.
  • After the verb “haber”. 
Example:
Hay un sobre en la mesa.  There is a letter on the table.
  • To describe an approximate amount of something. 
Example: 
Compré unos caramelos para mi hija.  I bought some sweets for my daughter. 
  • To say that there is exactly one of something. 
Example:
Tengo un libro de medicina en casa.  I have a book of medicine at home. 

As stated before, indefinite articles are generally used to refer to something unspecific or unknown. 

If you devoted some time and energy reading the content of this post, you would certainly know which are the main differences between definite and indefinite articles, their different usages and how to use them properly in a sentence. Hope that after reading this post your sentences will sound more natural and more like those of a native speaker. Ready to use them in your everyday speech? What are you waiting for?

Keep in mind that there are still many topics for us to explore together. Would you like to take your Spanish to the next level? Ready to speak like a native speaker? Why don’t you try our online courses? Hispanissimo will help you accomplish your goals! 

If you enjoyed reading this post, don’t forget to share it!

Written by: Anna Roca Regué

Try it out FREE for 7 days