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.

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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.

Noun Gender

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!

Noun Number

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.

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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.

General Explanation:
Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.
Spoken Production:
I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.
Spoken Interaction:
I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.
I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues.
I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.