In Spanish, few nouns can stand alone. Most need to be introduced or determined by an article. As in English, an article is characterized as either definite (the) or indefinite (a, an). Spanish articles must match the gender and the number of the noun they determine, resulting in four forms of the definite article, as seen in the table above.
Contractions del and al
The masculine singular definite article el is abbreviated when used with the preposition de of and a to.
de + el = del
a + el = al
Me mandaron, mi primer trabajo, al fin del mundo, porque Argentina es un país bastante al sur y cerca de la Antártica.
They sent me, my first job, to the end of the earth, because Argentina in a country very in the south and close to Antarctica.
Masculine Article with A-initial Feminine Nouns
When a feminine singular noun begins with a stressed a- or ha-, the masculine article un or el is used instead the feminine una or la, for ease of pronunciation and to maintain a separation between the two words. When the same noun is plural, the feminine article unas or las is used. The following feminine nouns use the masculine article when singular.
el alma – las almas soul
el hacha – las hachas ax
el hambre – las hambres hunger
el agua – las aguas water
el águila – las águilas eagle
Spanish uses the definite article in many places where English does. However, some uses of the definite article in Spanish can be tricky for English speakers because the English equivalent does not use the, but rather just a bare noun (a noun with no determiner). Below are the uses of the definite article in Spanish, including both those similar to and different than English.
To Identify a Specific Noun
As in English, the definite article is used to identify a specific noun or to refer to a noun that has already been specified.
A mi papá le gusta poner la bandera grande mexicana afuera de la casa.
My dad likes to put the big Mexican flag outside of the house.
To Express General Truths or Concepts
Unlike English, Spanish uses the definite article to express general truths or concepts. Compare the following sentences with their English translation:
Sé que con esa carrera yo puedo, o sea, ayudar a la gente mucho más.
I know that with that career I can help people much more.
A mi mamá no le gustaban los Estados Unidos; la vida aquí era muy difícil.
My mom didn’t like the United States; life here was very difficult.
To Express Likes and Dislikes
Unlike English, Spanish uses the definite article with verbs of preference, such as gustar, preferir, encantar, odiar. Compare the following sentence with its English translation:
Me gustan mucho los animales.
I like animals a lot.
Days of the Week
Unlike English, the definite article is used in Spanish with days of the week, also to indicate habitual recurrence. Compare the following sentence with its English translation:
Los viernes nos pagaba según las horas que uno trabajaba.
Fridays he paid us according to the hours one worked.
Cities, continents, countries, states, and regions usually do not require an article in Spanish. For example:
En México hay diferentes acentos.
In Mexico, there are different accents.
Months never require an article: enero, febrero, marzo, etc. Also note that the months are not capitalized in Spanish.
Me la regalaron en diciembre y en marzo me la robaron, pero esos tres meses la disfruté al máximo.
They gave it to me in December and it was stolen in March, but in those three months I enjoyed it to the max.