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Introduction to the Definite Article ..."the( el, la, los, las)"

The word "the" occupies a unique place in the English language as the only word that grammarians classify as a definite article. It's not quite so simple in Spanish, where the English "the" has four equivalents. Like most adjectives, the definite article in Spanish varies with number and gender:
  • Singular masculine: el
  • Singular feminine: la
  • Plural masculine: los
  • Plural feminine: las
Although there are a few exceptions, as a general rule a definite article is used in Spanish whenever "the" is used in English. But Spanish also uses a definite article in many cases where English does not. Although the following list isn't exhaustive, and there are exceptions some of these rules, here are the major instances where Spanish includes a definite article absent in English:

With abstract nouns and nouns used in a general sense: In English, the article is often omitted with abstract nouns and nouns that refer more to a concept than a tangible item. But it still is needed in Spanish. A few examples might help clarify: La (Science is important.) Creo en la justicia. (I believe in justice.) Estudio la literatura. (I study literature.) La (Spring is beautiful.) primavera es bella. ciencia es importante.

With most titles of people: The definite article is used before most titles of a person being talked about. El (President Bush lives in the White House.) Voy a la oficina de la doctora González. (I'm going to the office of Dr. Gonzalez.) Mi vecina es la señora Jones. (My neighbor is Mrs. Jones.) The article is omitted, however, when directly addressing the person. ¿Cómo está usted? profesora Barrera. (How are you, Professor Barrera?) presidente Bush vive en la Casa Blanca.

Before days of the week: Days of the week are always masculine. Except in constructions where the day of the week follows a form of ser (a verb for "to be"), as in hoy es martes (today is Tuesday), the article is needed. Vamos a la escuela los lunes. (We go to school on Mondays.) El tren sale el miércoles. (The train leaves on Wednesday.)

Before verbs used as subjects: In Spanish, infinitives (the basic form of a verb) can be used as nouns. The article el is used when one is used as the subject of a sentence. El escribir es difícil. (Writing is difficult.) El (Skiing is dangerous.) No me gusta el nadar. (I don't like swimming. In Spanish, this sentence has an inverted word order that makes nadar the subject.) esquiar es peligroso.

Often before names of languages: The article generally is used before names of languages. But it can be omitted immediately following a verb that is used often with languages, such as hablar (to speak), or after the preposition en. El (English is the language of Belize.) El (German is difficult.) Hablo bien el español. (I speak Spanish well.) But, hablo español. (I speak Spanish.) No puede escribir en francés. (He can't write in French.) alemán es difícil. inglés es la lengua de Belice.

With some place names: Although the definite article is seldom mandatory with place names, it is often used with many of them.  La (Havana is pretty.) La (India has many languages.) India tiene muchas lenguas. Habana es bonita.

With nouns joined by "and": In English, it often isn't necessary to include the "the" before each noun in a series. But Spanish often requires it. La madre y el padre están felices. (The mother and father are happy.) Compré la silla y la mesa. (I bought the chair and table.) 

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Marco. A.

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