El texto que estás leyendo es un artículo sobre la lengua española en el que hablamos sobre los artículos definidos e indefinidos. ¿Cuándo utilizamos el artículo definido y cuándo el indefinido?


Articles are a frequent source of despair for Spanish learners. You not only need to memorize lots of forms (for a feminine individual, for a group of masculine subjects, etc.), but also know when to use one, a different one or none of them. And, more often than not, the rules differ from English. Even students, who have been learning and speaking Spanish for quite a while and have mastered other areas of the language, are often detected as non-native because of article mistakes.


What are articles?


Articles are little words that come before nouns and tell us a lot of information about them. By looking at an article, you're able to know if it's:


  • feminine or masculine
  • singular or plural
  • something known or unknown for the speaker


Definite articles











  • El jardín de mi vecino es grande y bonito.
  • Los niños juegan en el parque.
  • Las galletas están encima de la mesa.
  • La profesora nos explicó los artículos.


We know that jardín (garden) is a masculine noun because of the article el. I would to strongly recommend learning new nouns with their articles. This way you won't have trouble remembering if they are masculine or feminine.


Before we go on with indefinite articles, there are a few things I want you to remember about the definite articles:




When you use a definite article following the prepositions a or de and that article is el, you need to contract them. It is not something informal or optional, as it happens with contractions in English, but rather the only option. For example:

  • A + el = al
  • De + el = del
  • Los niños van a el parque becomes Los niños van al parque.
  • Los niños vienen de el parque becomes Los niños vienen del parque.


Gender exceptions


Some words are feminine and start with an a or ha which is stressed, like águila (eagle), aula (classroom) or arte (art). So one could think that they would be preceded by the article la, right? No, sir!


For a Spanish native pronouncing la águila, it would be awkward; it would sound like only one very long word, laaaaguila. So what do we do? We change the article and we say el águila, el aula, and el arte.


But they are still feminine! So, if you add an adjective, it has to be in its feminine form: El águila es muy peligrosa--and not--El águila es muy peligroso.


This happens only with feminine singular. If you use the plural form there is no pronunciation awkwardness, so it wouldn't be los águilas, but las águilas. The two as’ are separated by an s, so there is no need to change anything.


El and él are different words


This is one I even have to remind some of my Spanish-native pupils every once in a while. El is a definite article and él is the personal pronoun for he. Be careful with accents!


Now let's move on to indefinite articles.


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Indefinite articles












  • Un alumno ha hecho una pregunta.
  • Compraremos unos bocadillos para comer esta tarde.
  • Visité a unas amigas el verano pasado.


The gender exception we talked about in the previous section also applies here, so we say un aula, but unas aulas.


Indefinite articles are never contracted. Yeah!


Now, the fun part…


When are they used?


Definite articles:


We use definite articles when we:


1. Talk about something in particular


Yo soy la hermana de Belén.


We use la hermana because I am her only sister. There aren't any other sisters.


El tejado de mi casa es de color gris.


My house has only one roof.


2. Have mentioned something before, or it is present while we talk


Carlos ha comprado una mesa nueva. La mesa de Carlos es grande y de madera.


As we have previously mentioned that Carlos has bought a new table, we can now refer to it as la mesa because it is the only table we are talking about.


Indefinite articles


We use indefinite articles when:


1. There are many other things like the one we are talking about


Quiero tomar una cerveza.


There are many beers in the world and many beers in the fridge!


¿Me puedes dejar una hoja, Cristina?


Cristina has many sheets of paper. I just want one, any one of them!


2. It is the first time we talk about something


Remember the sentence we used in the previous section?


Carlos ha comprado una mesa nueva. La mesa de Carlos es grande y de madera.


The first time we talk about Carlos’ table, we use una mesa.


Mis amigos me han escrito una carta desde Alemania.


Afterwards, I will tell you something about that letter and I will use la carta. But this is the first time we talk about it, and you don't know what letter is, so I use una carta.


No article?


Yes, this gets even better!


There are some situations in which Spanish doesn't require an article before a noun. Some of them are collocations, some of them are exceptions. Let's see some of them!


  • Seasons of the year (with the preposition en): en verano, en invierno, en otoño, en primavera.
    Siempre vamos a la playa en verano
    Careful! Me gusta el invierno, pero prefiero el verano.
  • Languages: hablar español, escribir en chino, entender francés
    ¡Hablas muy bien español!
    Lo siento, no entiendo alemán, no puedo ayudarte.
  • Means of transport (when you use the preposition en)
    Voy al trabajo en coche.
    Viajaremos en otoño a Brasil e iremos en avión.
    Careful! Tomo el tren todas las mañanas.
  • On the internet. If you read en el internet, I'm sorry, but that's wrong; it's a noun from English. Although it uses the definite article in English, it takes no article in Spanish!
    María ha encontrado información en internet para su trabajo.
  • Stating your job:
    Mi madre es ingeniera.
    Miguel es profesor de español.


On the contrary, there are situations where English doesn't use articles and Spanish does:


  • Days of the week: In English we say on Monday, but days of the week in Spanish need the article (they are all masculine).
    Haré los deberes el sábado.
    Los domingos voy a comer a casa de mis padres.
  • Generic nouns: Sentences like Lions live in Africa, when we are referring to lions in general, don't need an article. They do in Spanish.
    Los leones viven en África.
    El alcohol es malo para tu salud.
  • Streets, avenues, parks:
    Vivo en la calle Gran Vía.
    Pasamos la tarde en el Parque del Retiro.


If all this still sounds difficult to you, I recommend reading more in Spanish. If you're an absolute beginner, try graded readers or read other students' notebook entries (better if they have been corrected). Try to identify all articles and the reasons for using them.


If you are already able to read authentic material without going nuts, try doing the same with newspapers or magazines that suit your interests. I swear there are magazines about virtually anything! The same applies not only to written materials but also audio, visual, or audiovisual, including podcasts, movies and TV shows.


Soon you won't have to think about all those rules, and it will come naturally. I promise!


If you know any other rules or would like to know more about this, please comment below and share it with us.


Image Sources


Hero image by J.E. Theriot (CC BY 2.0)