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Definite Article

In English, the definite article "the" is used to modify any noun. In Spanish, the definite article changes when the noun is plural and depending on the gender. In English, nouns like telephone and apple are genderless.  In Spanish, nouns are considered either masculine or feminine. Masculine nouns are preceded by el (singular) or los (plural). Feminine nouns are preceded by la (singular) or las (plural). For example:

Spanish

English

Singular / Plural

Singular / Plural

el teléfono /los teléfonos

the telephone / the telephones

la manzana / las manzanas

the apple / the apples

 

Definite articles are typically used:

  • To communicate an abstract concept.   For example, "La verdad es necesaria para la justicia (The truth is necessary for justice)."
  • With a series of nouns.  For example, "Mira la manzana, la naranja y el banano (Look at the apple, orange and banana)."
  • When telling the time of day, "Es la una (it is one o'clock)."
  • With the days of the week, (replacing "on" in English) except when following the verb "ser".  For example, "Tengo una lección el sabado (I have a lesson on Saturday)."
  • With the seasons.  For example, "Voy a ir a Guatemala en el verano (I am going to Guatemalain the summer)."
  • With weights and measures(replacing "per" in English).  For example, "El arroz cuesta 2 dólares lalibra (Rice costs $2 per pound)."
  • With the parts of the body or articles of clothinginstead of the possessive pronoun (i.e., yours/mine/his/etc.).  For example, "Dejé los zapatos en el cuarto (I lefty my shoes in the room)."
  • Before a proper name when it is modified by an adjective.  For example, "Mira el pequeño Ricardo (Look at little Richard)."
  • When speaking about (not speaking directly to) people with titles.  For example, "Tengo que visitar la doctor (I have to visit the woman doctor)."
  • Before the names of languagesbut not after hablar, de or en.  For example, "El español es fácil para enseñar (Spanish is easy to teach)."

Exception:The definite article "el" precedes feminine nouns that begin with an "a" when the stress is on the first syllable. This is done to avoid placing "la" before words like "agua" creating "la agua", which is difficult to pronounce. However, when the stress is not on the first syllable the definite article "la" is used: For example:

Spanish

English

Singular / Plural

Singular / Plural

el agua / las aguas

the water / the waters

la amiga / las amigas

the female friend / the female friends