Easy Learning Spanish

The definite article: el, la, los and las - Easy Learning Grammar Spanish

1   The basic rules

  • In English, there is only one definite article: the. In Spanish, you have to choose between four definite articles: el, la, los and las. Which one you choose depends on the noun which follows.
  • In Spanish, all nouns (including words for things) are either masculine or feminine – this is called their gender. And just as in English they can also be either singular or plural. You must bear this in mind when deciding which Spanish word to use for the.
  • For more information on Nouns, see Nouns.
  • el is used before masculine singular nouns.
el niñothe boy
el periódicothe newspaper
  • la is used before feminine singular nouns.
la niñathe girl
la revistathe magazine
TipTo help you speak and write correct Spanish, always learn the article or the gender together with the noun when learning vocabulary. A good dictionary will also give you this information.
  • los and las are used before plural nouns. los is used with masculine plural words, and las is used with feminine plural words.
los niñosthe boys
las niñasthe girls
los periódicosthe newspapers
las revistasthe magazines
  • Note that you use el instead of la immediately before a feminine singular word beginning with a or ha when the stress falls on the beginning of the word. This is because la sounds wrong before the ‘a’ sound. But if you add an adjective in front of the noun, you use la instead, since the two ‘a’ sounds do not come next to each other.
el agua heladathe icy water
el hacha afiladathe sharp axe
la misma aguathe same water
la mejor hachathe best axe

2   a and de with the definite article

  • If a is followed by el, the two words become al.
al cineto the cinema
al empleadoto the employee
al hospitalto the hospital
Vio al camareroHe saw the waiter.
  • If de is followed by el, the two words become del.
del departamentoof/from the department
del autorof/from the author
del presidenteof/from the president

3   Using the definite article

  • el, la, los and las are often used in Spanish in the same way as the is used in English. However, there are some cases where the article is used in Spanish but not in English.
  • The definite article IS used in Spanish:
  • when talking about people, animals and things in a general way
Me gustan los animales.I like animals.
Están subiendo los precios.Prices are going up.
Me gusta el chocolate.I like chocolate.
No me gusta el café.I don’t like coffee.
El azúcar es dulce.Sugar is sweet.
  • when talking about abstract qualities, for example, time, hope, darkness, violence
El tiempo es oro.Time is money.
Admiro la sinceridad en la gente.I admire honesty in people.
  • Note that the definite article is NOT used in certain set phrases consisting of tener and a noun or after certain prepositions.
tener hambreto be hungry(literally: to have hunger)
sin dudano doubt(literally: without doubt)
con cuidadocarefully(literally: with care)
  • when talking about colours
El azul es mi color favorito.Blue is my favourite colour.
  • when talking about parts of the body – you do not use my, your, his and so on as you would in English
Tiene los ojos verdes.He’s got green eyes.
No puedo mover las piernas.I can’t move my legs.
  • Note that possession is often shown by a personal pronoun in Spanish.
La cabeza me da vueltas.My head is spinning.
Lávate las manos.Wash your hands.
  • For more information on Personal pronouns, see Pronouns.
  • when using someone’s title – for example, Doctor, Mr – but talking ABOUT someone rather than to them
El doctor Vidal no está.Dr Vidal isn’t here.
El señor Pelayo vive aquí.Mr Pelayo lives here.
  • when talking about institutions, such as school or church
en el colegioat school
en la universidadat university
en la iglesiaat church
en el hospitalin hospital
en la cárcelin prison
  • when talking about meals, games or sports
La cena es a las nueve.Dinner is at nine o’clock.
Me gusta el tenis.I like tennis.
No me gusta el ajedrez.I don’t like chess.
  • when talking about days of the week and dates, where we use the preposition on in English
Te veo el lunes.I’ll see you on Monday.
Los lunes tenemos muchos deberes.We have a lot of homework on Mondays.
Nací el 17 de marzo.I was born on 17 March.
  • when talking about the time
Es la una.It’s one o’clock.
Son las tres.It’s three o’clock.
Son las cuatro y media.It’s half past four.
  • when talking about prices and rates
Cuesta dos euros el kilo.It costs two euros a kilo.
20 euros la hora20 euros an hour
  • with an adjective on its own to specify which one or ones
A él le gustan estas cortinas pero yo voy a comprar las rojas.He likes these curtains but I’m going to buy the red ones.
  • The adjective must agree with the noun it refers to.
Key points
  • Before masculine singular nouns → use el.
  • Before feminine singular nouns → use la.
  • Before feminine singular nouns starting with stressed a or ha → use el.
  • Before masculine plural nouns → use los.
  • Before feminine plural nouns → use las.
  • a + elal
  • de + eldel
  • There are some important cases when you would use a definite article in Spanish when you wouldn’t in English; for example, when talking about:
  • things in a general way
  • abstract qualities
  • colours
  • parts of the body
  • someone with a title in front of their name
  • institutions
  • meals, games or sports
  • the time, days of the week and dates (using the preposition on in English)
  • prices and rates
  • with an adjective on its own to mean the red one, the thick ones and so on

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