Think of the definite article (artículos determinados in Spanish)as one pointing to a concrete noun. In English, we’ve only got one: “the.” In Spanish, you have four forms, depending on the noun’s gender and number (one or more than one).
1. DEFINITE ARTICLE (“THE”)
With the exception of proper names, Spanish articles are employed liberally with most nouns, even in places where the translation into English would drop them. And please don’t forget to keep conjugating (or matching) your articles and your nouns—they must always match in gender and number.
el tomate (tomato) la nieve (snow)
el papel (paper) la noche (night)
el lápiz (pencil) la nariz (nose)
TIP: when you learn a new noun, use the following strategy: Rather than making up mnemonic devices or memorizing complicated rules, memorize nouns with la or el before the singular form—it’s the easiest way to keep track of their grammatical gender. For example, just as long as you remember that “the house” is la casa, you will know that this noun is feminine.
Exceptions to the Rule
How a word is stressed plays a significant role in determining the article used with it, so the exception rule goes as follows: A masculine article is always used before the singular form of a word beginning with a stressed a or ha. Take a look at some examples in the following table. Here you have some examples:
Singular Plural English
el agua las aguas the water(s)
el águila las águilas the eagle(s)
el alma las almas the soul(s)
el ave las aves the bird(s)
el hacha las hachas the axe(s)
2. AN ASIDE ON PREPOSITIONS
Here is another important point to remember: When the definite article follows prepositions a or de, they form a contraction: a + el = al; de + el = del. Try pronouncing a el quickly and then switch to al; you’ll quickly see why Spanish speakers formed this contraction: It’s a lot easier and faster to pronounce. And the same goes for the transformation from de el to del. It is important to note that when you see a + él in a sentence, no contraction occurs. That is because the él (meaning “he,” third-person singular pronoun) is stressed, as can be seen by the orthographic accent, and remains a separate word.
Ayer fuimos al cine (yesterday we went to the cinema).
Este juguete es del niño (this toy belong to the boy).
Le dimos la carta a él (we give the letter to him).
Click here if you want to learn more about feminine and masculine in Spanish. Remember to contact your tutor for any question you have about definite articles and contractions in Spanish. Don’t you have a Spanish personal tutor yet?