In English definite articles are generally used to refer to a specific instance of the noun that both the speaker and listener are familiar with. Spanish works the same, but often uses the definite article to refer to the entire class. For example the English Mangoes taste good could be translated El mango sabe bueno.
English has only one definite article: the.
Spanish has four distinct definite articles. The choice of article depends on at least two, and sometimes three, distinct factors:
- the gender of the noun
- the number of the noun
- the first sound of feminine singular nouns
|Feminine||Before most feminine nouns||la||las|
|Before nouns starting with stressed /a/ (Note 1)||el|
Note 1: Stressed /a/ may be spelled a-, á-, ha- or há-.
Here are some examples:
- masculine: el amigo, los amigos; el lápiz, los lápices; el bueno, los buenos; el gato, los gatos; el sapo (macho/hembra), los sapos (macho/hembra)
- feminine: la amiga, las amigas, la pluma, las plumas; la buena, las buenas; la gata, las gatas; la rana (macho/hembra), las ranas (macho/hembra)
- but: el agua (fría), las aguas (frías); el hacha (aguda), las hachas (agudas); el águila (macho/hembra), las águilas (macho/hembra)
The choice of la or el before a feminine singular noun is determined entirely by the sound that starts the noun. If another word stands between the article and its feminine singular noun, the article is la: el agua fría, but las frías aguas. (English has a similar rule for choosing the correct singular indefinite article, a before words that start with a consonant sound, and an before words that start with a vowel sound.)
The indefinite article is used to refer to an unspecified instance of the noun.
|Feminine||Most feminine nouns||una||unas|
|Nouns starting with stressed /a/ (Note 2)||un|
Note 2: Stressed /a/ may be spelled a-, á-, ha- or há-.
The feminine singular nouns that require the definite article el also require the indefinite article un.
Other types of articles
Some languages have what is called a partitive article. Some linguists insist on the existence of the zero article, as proposed in the X-bar theory.
Repetition of articles
When a noun phrase includes two or more nouns, each noun has its own article unless the nouns refer to the same thing. el gato y el perro = the dog and (the) cat, but el poeta y filósofo = the poet and philosopher (same man). If the nouns that refer to the same thing have different genders and/or numbers, the article agrees in gender and number with the first noun.