Spanish Definite Articles
How do you say the word "the" in Spanish? There are four ways to say "the" in Spanish and they are the definite articles el, la, los, las.
Different than English, Spanish definite articles reflect the gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural) of a noun.
A definite article always has to match both the gender and number of its noun.
Read on to learn more about the Spanish definite articles and why they are so especially important when learning Spanish.
What are definite articles?
First of all, what is a definite article? In English this is the word THE. Using definite articles means we are referring to something specific rather than generic.
“The dog drooled as he stared at his food dish being filled.” … It’s not just any dog, it’s “the” dog we are talking about now.
“I have to do the homework assignment our teacher gave us.” – Not just some homework, but the specific assignment referenced.
Spanish has a few more words to say “the” than just one. And that has everything to do with nouns having gender…
In English we can say things like “the boy”, “the girl”, “the boys” and “the girls”. See how the word “the” never changed? In Spanish you will notice that we have to change definite article to match in both gender and number with the noun it is modifying. Why? English nouns do not have gender, but in Spanish (and many other languages) they do. A noun having gender has nothing to do with biological gender. Sometimes a biological inference makes sense as in the feminine words “mujer,” “chica,” and “novia” which mean “woman,” “girl,” and “girlfriend.” You would expect those words to be feminine, and they are because they are the direct identity of feminine humans. But inanimate objects and concepts all are assigned a gender of either feminine or masculine without any bearing on whether they resemble a biological gender. If you want to know the gender of a noun, look it up in a dictionary and look for (m) indicating masculine or (f) indicating feminine. A noun’s gender will never change and just… is!
Nouns also have number, in both English and Spanish. However, in Spanish the number is also reflected in the definite articles and other words that have close relationships with nouns. In the chart below, you can see that there are different ways to say “the” based on whether the noun is singular or plural, masculine or feminine. Now you know why there are more than one way to say “the” in Spanish.
|El||the (singular, masculine)|
|La||the (singular, feminine)|
|Los||the (plural, masculine)|
|Las||the (plural, feminine)|
Communicating to be understood
Being able to master correct article usage will help your Spanish sound more natural and coherent. Native speakers can understand what you are saying if you make a mistake, but there are many cases where it is appropriate to either include or leave out the definite article in Spanish when English does the opposite.
Here are some examples of when Spanish articles don’t have a direct translation in English but are still necessary to include in Spanish.
“Siempre debes lavar las manos.” –> This basically means “You should always wash your hands” but the word “the” doesn’t translate in English. We wouldn’t say “You should always wash the hands.” English uses a possessive (my, your, his) for body parts, whereas Spanish uses a definite article when referring to body parts.
“Las naranjas de Florida son deliciosas.” –> It sounds strange to give “las” the translation of “the” in English because it would be strange! This definite article is necessary in Spanish, but unecessary in English. (Florida oranges are delicious.)
There are words that we call “irregulars” that do not follow the general gender and/or number rules. For more information on this topic, see our modules regarding gender and plurality in Spanish.
Meet one or more times weekly with a dedicated Spanish instructor online at a pace and schedule that custom fits your busy life.
Join an Academy course for course content built on top of leading Spanish curriculum: includes videos, vocabulary, quizzes and certificate.
Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.