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Published on: Grammar Bites

Usos de los artículos

1) The morphology of articles in Spanish:

The article is a type of determiner which accompanies a noun so as to make it more precise and grounded in reality (an unknown entity such as ‘conquistadores’ becomes identifiable as ‘los conquistadores’).

There are two types of articles in Spanish. On the one hand, definite articles refer to a specific entity or to a specific set of entities (e.g., ‘el mapa’, ‘las calles’). On the other hand, indefinite articles refer to an unspecified entity or group of entities (e.g., ‘un día’, ‘una ventana’).

The full list of articles is offered in the table below:

Articles Definite Indefinite 
Masculine el, los un, unos 
Feminine la, las una, unas 
Neutro Lo  

Some observations:
(a) If the preposition ‘a’ is placed before the article ‘el’ a contraction occurs yielding the form ‘al’ (e.g., ‘Fuimos al parque’). The other contracted article is ‘del’, and it is formed by juxtaposition of ‘de’ and ‘el’ (e.g., ‘Salieron del trabajo’).

(b) Before singular feminine nouns beginning with a stressed ‘a’ or ‘ha’, it is the article ‘el’ rather than ‘la’ that must be used. The goal is to avoid the clash of two vowels ‘a’ (e.g., ‘el arte’, but ‘las artes’).

The use of definite articles in Spanish:
(a) The definite article is used with plural count nouns used in a generic sense: Adoraban a las aves y a las plantas (They worshipped birds and plants).

(b) It is also used with mass nouns denoting a substance or a general idea: Me interesa la cultura aborigen (I’m interested in aboriginal culture).

(c) They are used in reference to body parts and personal ítems instead of possessive adjectives: Dame la mano (Give me your hand).

(e) They are used before nouns denoting types of materials or substances: El vidrio fascinó a los aborígenes (Glass fascinated the aboriginal peoples).

(f) They are used before games and meals or names of food: La cena se sirve a las 21:00 (Dinner is served at 9:00).

(g) They are used before seasons and days of the week: Celebraremos el Día de Gracias el jueves próximo (We’ll celebrate Thanksgiving Day next Tuesday).

(h) They are used before titles followed by proper names: La Reina Catalina (Queen Catherine Wideman).