7 Capítulo 1: Sección 6: Artículos definidos e indefinidos

Section Goal

In this section, students will learn how to identify the definite and indefinite articles for nouns.

Definite and indefinite articles (gender & number)

In Spanish, all nouns have grammatical “gender.” Nouns may be “masculine” or “feminine” but, unless it is a living, breathing creature, grammatical gender is totally arbitrary. When we refer to “number,” we are talking about whether the noun is singular or plural.

Los artículos definidos

Definite articles are used when you have a specific item in mind.

The English equivalent is “the.”

In Spanish, there is a “the” for each gender/number combination:

  • El – el profesor (masculine & singular)
  • La – la profesora (feminine & singular)
  • Los – los animales (masculine & plural)
  • Las – las manzanas  (feminine & plural)

In plural formation, el becomes los and la becomes las

  • La comunicación becomes las comunicaciones
  • El salón becomes los salones

Los artículos indefinidos

Indefinite articles are used when you do not have a specific item in mind.

The English equivalent is “a” for singular nouns and “some” for plural nouns.

In Spanish, there is an indefinite article or each gender/number combination.

  • Un – un libro (masculine & singular)
  • Una – una chica (feminine & singular)
  • Unos – unos amigos (masculine & plural)
  • Unas – unas galletas (feminine & plural)
“Bookshelf” by Stewart Butterfield is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Voy a la biblioteca porque quiero encontrar un buen libro.

I am going to the library because I want to find a good book.

“Apples” by Marco Roosink is in the Public Domain, CC0

Voy a la frutería porque necesito unas manzanas.

I am going to the fruit stand because I need some apples.

Los patrones. Patterns.

A language is a system of patterns, and once we recognize a pattern, we can use it to our advantage. Using patterns to help determine the gender of nouns is a good example of this.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the “rule,” so when you encounter a word that deviates from the pattern, spend extra time studying it.

Since we do not have gendered nouns in English, it is easy to underestimate the importance of this concept in Spanish. When learning new nouns, always practice them with their gender.

Watch the video for a more detailed grammar explanation.

“60-Second Spanish Grammar: Nouns – Basics via The LEAF Project” by LEAF Languages is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

All nouns in Spanish are either masculine or feminine and singular or plural in number. The gender of a noun can usually be determined by its ending; however, there are always exceptions to any rule that you will have to memorize. Some of the most common exceptions appear at the bottom of this page.

Describing People and Pets

Females

La señora, la mujer, la chica, la estudiante, la perra*, la gata*

*People who know that their pet is female will use the feminine form. If the sex of a pet or animal is unknown, the masculine form is typically used.

Males

El señor, el hombre, el chico, el estudiante, el perro, el gato

Transgender and Nonbinary Individuals

For individuals who identify as male or female, always use the grammatical gender that corresponds to a person’s identity. To ask someone what their pronouns are, ask: “¿Cuál es su pronombre?”  To respond, answer: “Mi pronombre es.”  Fill in the blank with él (he), ella (she), or another pronoun such as elle (nongendered, singular). With that said, nonbinary pronouns such as elle are newly emergent and may not be widely used or understood.

Spanish, as a highly gendered language, has not yet adapted systematically to account for nonbinary identities. There is a movement to use terms such as Latinx, although the “x” is not currently used in sentence structure and is not yet widely used outside of the United States. The use of -e endings instead of -o or -a endings on gendered nouns, articles, and adjectives has also emerged from Spanish-speaking communities. While there currently is not a unanimously accepted solution for how to approach gender agreement for nonbinary individuals, language evolves alongside the communities that use it to express their life experiences, and this is an ongoing conversation. If you are nonbinary, you may choose to initiate a conversation with your instructor to discuss ways that you can use the language to best describe yourself.

Nouns that end in “o”, “l”, “n” and “r” are typically masculine.

  • el archivo (the archive)
  • el mecánico (the mechanic)
  • el pingüino (the penguin)
  • el terreno (the terrain)
  • el papel (the paper)
  • el hotel (the hotel)
  • el canal (the channel)
  • el cañón (the canyon)
  • el jabón (the soap)
  • el televisor (the television set)

Nouns that end in “a”, “d”, and “ión” are generally feminine.

  • la quebradura (the fissure)
  • la biología (the biology)
  • la cueva (the cave, grotto)
  • la cadena (the chain)
  • la fresa (the strawberry)
  • la radiación (the radiation)
  • la operación (the operation)
  • la profesión (the profession)
  • la libertad (the liberty)
  • la adaptabilidad (the adaptability)

Nouns that refer to males are masculine and nouns that refer to females are feminine.

Masculine

  • el hombre (the man)
  • el estudiante (the student – male)
  • el ingeniero (the engineer – male)
  • el padre (the father)
  • el muchacho (the boy)

Feminine

  • la mujer (the woman)
  • la estudiante (the student – female)
  • la ingeniera (the engineer – female)
  • la madre (the mother)
  • la muchacha (the girl)

Greek origins

There are however exceptions to the above rules which will have to be memorized individually. Some consistent exceptions are nouns of Greek origin ending in “-ma”, “-pa” and “-ta”, which are masculine.

  • el cometa (the comet)
  • el dogma (the dogma)
  • el drama (the drama)
  • el mapa (the map)
  • el monograma (the monogram)
  • el planeta (the planet)
  • el problema (the problem)
  • el programa (the program)

Letters of the alphabet are feminine.

  • la be (the letter b)
  • la efe (the letter f)
  • la equis (the letter x)
  • la zeta (the letter z)

Days of the week and months are all masculine.

  • el lunes (Monday)
  • los miércoles (Wednesdays)
  • el sábado (Saturday)
  • los domingos (Sundays)
  • el enero (January)
  • el mayo (May)
  • el julio (July)
  • el septiembre (September)

Rivers, oceans, and mountains are masculine when discussed by their proper names.

  • el Orinoco (the Orinoco)
  • el Río Grande (the Rio Grande)
  • el Pacífico (the Pacific)
  • el Atlántico (the Atlantic)
  • el Aconcagua (the [peak] Aconcagua)
  • el Everest (the [peak] Everest)

Some commonly used exceptions are:

  • el día (the day)
  • el agua (the water)
  • la foto(grafía) (the photo[graph])
  • la moto(cicleta) (the motorcycle)

¡A escribir!

Actividad 26. Identifica.

Step 1: Identify the definite and indefinite articles for each noun below.

Definite Article

Indefinite Article

Noun

1. libro

2. universidades

3. exámenes

4. pizarra

5. lápiz

6. salas

7. bolígrafos

8. estudiante

9. mapa

10. lecciones

11. marcadores

12. mochilas

Step 2: Identify ten masculine objects/people and ten feminine objects/people from the vocabulary words.

Masculine Objects/People

Feminine Objects/People

Actividad 27: Artículos definidos

Instructions: Fill in the blank with the correct definite article.

  • _____ programa
  • _____ estacionamiento
  • _____ bandera
  • _____ computación
  • _____ inglés
  • _____ diccionario
  • _____pluma
  • _____ problema
  • _____ mapa
  • _____ lápiz

La pluralización

Before putting this new vocabulary to use, let’s look at how to make words plural in Spanish. In addition to pluralizing the noun itself, the article must also match in gender and number.

  • “El” or “La” becomes “Los” or “Las”
  • “Un” or “Una” becomes “Unos” or “Unas”

If a word ends in a vowel, add -s

  1. El libro becomes
  2. La manzana becomes
  3. Un pupitre becomes
  4. Una mesa becomes

If a word ends in a consonant, add -es

  1. El reloj becomes
  2. Un marcador becomes
  3. La universidad becomes
  4. Una comunidad becomes

If a word referring to a person ends in -dor or a nationality that ends in a consonant, add -a, -es, or -as depending on the gender/number of the person or people.

  1. Mi padre es trabajador = My dad is hardworking.
  2. Mi madre es = My mom is hardworking.
  3. Mis padres son = My parents are hardworking.
  4. Antonio Banderas es español = Antonio Banderas is Spanish.
  5. Penélope Cruz es = Penelope Cruz is Spanish.
  6. Pablo Picasso y Salvador Dalí son = Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí are Spanish.

Special Pluralization Rules

If a word ends in -z, the z changes to c when pluralized.

Try it out for these words:

  • El lápiz becomes:
  • El pez becomes:

If a word has an accent on the final syllable, the accent goes away when pluralized.

Try it out for these words:

  • La comunicación becomes:
  • El salón becomes:

Actividad 28. ¿Singular o Plural?

Instructions: Write the singular or plural forms.

  1. Profesoras ______________
  2. Reloj ______________
  3. Comunidades ______________
  4. Piscina ______________
  5. Pupitres ______________
  6. Silla ______________
  7. Estudiantes ______________
  8. Sillon ______________
  9. Maestros ______________
  10. Pizarrón ______________

 Actividad 29. ¿Definido o indefinido?

Instructions: Decide whether the sentences in the paragraphs below would be best completed by definite or indefinite articles. Then complete them accordingly.

Javier Bardem es ______ actor muy bueno. Él es ______ actor favorito de mi madre (my mother). Mi madre tiene ______ foto de Javier en la nevera (fridge). Es ______ única (only) foto que ella tiene en la nevera. ¡Ni siquiera tiene (she doesn’t even have) _____ foto de su familia! _____ mejor amiga (best friend) de mi madre me dice (tells me) que no comprende por qué (why) ella insiste en mirar (look at) _____ cara (face) de Javier todos los días.

Actividad 30. Conversaciones.

Instructions: With a partner, complete the conversations using an appropriate definite or indefinite article.

¡Ojo! In some cases, no article is necessary. Keep the differences between Spanish and English mentioned above in mind as you talk with your partner.

  • Juan: Buenos días, _____ Profesora Martínez.
    • Profesora: Buenos días, Juan. ¿Tienes _____ libro de texto para clase?
    • Juan: Sí, ¡por supuesto!
  • Alejandro: Hola, Flora, quiero presentarte a Pablo.
    • Flora: Mucho gusto, Pablo. ¿Dónde vives?
    • Pablo: Vivo en _____ calle Rubén. ¿Y tú?
    • Flora: Vivo en _____ avenida Ortega.
  • Tomás: ¿Quién es tu profesora de español?
    • Sara: Es _____ profesora Martínez.
    • Tomás: Ah, ella es muy buena.
  • Señora Sacerio: Hola, buenos días, yo soy _____ Señora Sacerio.
    • Doctora Serrano: Buenos días, _____ Señora Sacerio. ¿Cómo está?
    • Señora Sacerio: Muy bien, gracias. Encantada de conocerla.
    • Doctora Serrano: Igualmente.

¡A comunicar! ¡A escribir! y ¡A leer!

Actividad 31. Una Carta.

Step 1: Read the letter from Manuel and answer the following questions below.

La fecha: Hoy es el 11 de febrero

¡Hola! Me llamo Manuel y soy de Perú. Mi familia no es muy grande. Mi mamá se llama Teresa y ella es de Lima, la capital de Perú y una ciudad grande. Mi papá se llama Roberto y es de Chiclayo, una ciudad pequeña al norte de Lima. Mi mamá es amable y mi papá es generoso. Mis hermanos son Lucas y Marisol, ellos son inteligentes. Somos una familia muy unida (close-knit). Mis mejores amigos son Juan y Rodolfo, ellos son chicos tontos. Ellos son de Cuzco, cerca de Machu Picchu. Pero ahora, nosotros somos estudiantes en la Universidad de Lima. Las clases son difíciles. ¿Cómo es tu familia? ¿De dónde son tus amigos? ¿Eres estudiante también? ¿Cómo son tus clases?

As you are reading his letter, write down some notes:

  • How does he introduce himself?
  • What information does he include about himself?
  • What type of questions did he ask you?
  • What verb did he use to
    • describe something/someone
    • identify someone/something
    • ask or say where someone is from
    • ask and say his or someone’s profession

Step 2. Manuel wrote you a letter introducing himself. Now you are going to write a paragraph-length (60–75 words) letter back to him. Be sure to include the date at the top of your letter (¿Qué día es hoy?). Write an introduction sentence similar to Manuel’s (¿Cómo te llamas?). Develop information about yourself and your friends and classmates (¿De dónde eres? ¿Cómo eres tú? ¿Y tus amigos?). Lastly, your conclusion sentences should have new questions for Manuel.

¡A editar!

  1. Did you properly introduce yourself?
  2. Did you use the correct form of the verb “ser” with its respective subjects?
  3. Do your adjectives and articles coordinate with your nouns (masculine and feminine)?
  4. Have you looked at combining short sentences together with “y” (and) or “pero” (but)?
  5. Did you check your punctuation and accent marks?
  6. Did you write a paragraph with 60–75 words?

¡A hablar!

Actividad 32. Los hispanos en los Estados Unidos

Instructions: With a classmate, answer the following questions about Hispanics in the United States based on the text we read and discussed in class.

  1. Approximately how many Hispanics are there in the United States?
  2. In which states are there many Hispanics?
  3. Many Hispanics in the United States are from where?
  4. What famous people are Hispanics?

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