We have already taken our first look at articles
here on Spectrum Monkey way back in POST #15. There we learnt that articles are the words usually accompanying a noun and describe definiteness.
There are two types of article. Definite
articles are expressed with the word the
(el / la / lo / los / las), whereas indefinite
articles are expressed with either a
(un / una) or some
(unos / unas).
Whilst we’ve already covered in some detail the various forms of article found in the Spanish language, we’re yet to fully cover when
to use them. Those of you who have been studying Spanish for a while almost certainly will have noticed there are times in Spanish where the use of articles appear to differ somewhat to English. Therefore, today we are going to take a closer look at when
articles should be included
in Spanish. Using definite articles in Spanish
By and large, definite articles appear in the Spanish language in the same way they do in English. However, there are exceptions as we are about to see.
When talking about titled people, animals, language names, abstract concepts, parts of the body, games or sports, meals, days of the week, the time or things generally
, then we tend to add a definite article in Spanish where we normally wouldn’t do so in English. This is quite a big list, so let’s see some examples:
|Spanish ||Meaning ||Reason |
|“El señor Smith es alto” ||Mr. Smith is tall ||Talking about titled people |
|“El doctor López te verá ahora” ||Doctor López will see you now ||Talking about titled people |
|“Me gustan los animales” ||I like animals ||Animals |
|“Los gatos son lindos” ||Cats are cute ||Animals |
|“El inglés es bastante fácil en comparación con el español” ||English is quite easy compared to Spanish ||Language names |
|“¿Hablas español, ya que el español es mi idioma favorito?” ||Do you speak Spanish, as Spanish is my favorite language? ||Language names |
|“El tiempo se acaba” ||Time is running out ||Abstract concepts |
|“La felicidad es un estado mental” ||Happiness is a state of mind ||Abstract concepts |
|“Me duele la cabeza” ||My head hurts ||Parts of the body |
|“Tiene los ojos avellana” ||He has hazel eyes ||Parts of the body |
|“¿Juegas al tenis?” ||Do you play tennis? ||Games or sports |
|“¿Qué hora es la cena?” ||What time is dinner? ||Meals |
|“El miércoles podemos vernos” ||On Wednesday we can meeet ||Weekdays in place of on |
|“Es la una en punto” ||It's one o'clock ||The time |
|“Nos vemos a las cuatro de la tarde” ||See you at four in the afternoon ||The time |
|“No me gusta el pastel” ||I don't like cake ||Describing things generally |
|“El fuego es caliente” ||Fire is hot ||Describing things generally |
That’s quite a list of examples and even with these additions there are exceptions. Notice that in the example “¿Hablas español, ya que el
español es mi idioma favorito?” that the first instance of español
doesn’t require an article. Names of languages tend to require an article expect when they immediately follow certain verbs such as hablar, saber, aprender
etc. Using indefinite articles in Spanish
Indefinite articles are also used in Spanish rather like we do in English. However, typically with indefinite articles any exceptions in Spanish require us to omit
the article when they would normally be used in English.
The following is a list of possible reasons why we might omit indefinite articles in Spanish:
• When following certain verbs like tener (to have),
buscar (to search),
comprar (to buy)
and llevar (to wear)
but only if the direct object in question is likely to be acted upon one at a time. This can be somewhat subjective and can take a bit of getting used to. For instance, you’re only likely to buy one car at a time. “Compré coche” (I bought a car).
However, if an adjective is used to describe the noun, then we DO NOT omit the indefinite article. “Compré un
coche azul” (I bought a blue car).
• When following the words: sin
(hundred) and mil
(thousand) we also omit indefinite articles.
• The word otro
can mean both other
, and for this reason should also NOT be accompanied by an indefinite article.
• When following ser
when describing a job title.
• In “Qué…” constructions that express exclamation.
Let’s see some examples:
Conclusion | En conclusión
|Spanish ||Meaning |
|“¿Tienes novio?” ||Do you have a boyfriend? |
|“No tengo coche” ||I don't have a car |
|“No tengo un coche azul” ||I don't have a blue car |
|“¿Llevaba abrigo?” ||Was she wearing a coat? |
|“Sin rastro” ||Without a trace |
|“Cien hombres” ||A hundred men |
|“Mil años” ||A thousand years |
|“Cierta casa” ||A certain house |
|“Otro libro” ||Another book |
|“Soy bombero” ||I'm a fireman |
|“Mi hermano es fontanero” ||My brother is a plumber |
|“¡Qué lástima!” ||What a shame! |
|“¡Qué sorpresa!” ||What a surprise! |
The inclusion or omission of articles in Spanish when differing from English can take a while to master. Certainly, there are some grey areas. For instance, “Es broma” and “Es una
broma” are both acceptable translations for “It’s a joke”.
Having a basic grasp of why we choose to include or omit articles based on the above rules will certainly make life easier. However, as with many things, there are enough exceptions to the rules that ultimately it will come down to a lot of experience before we truly master this fiddly and actually quite advanced aspect of the language.