August 2, 2020

EL, LA, LOS, LAS

Is it correct to say "el noche"? Or is it "la noche"? Do we say "la día"? Or "el día"?

If you are learning Spanish, it is very likely that at one point or another these little words will confuse you. Maybe you remember that they go before a noun, but when it comes to using the word car, tomorrow or children, you say the first one that comes to mind. Do not despair. Although the definite articles (el, la, los, las) are very important, they are also very easy to use. Here we will teach you how to use them and when.

The first thing you should know is what a definite article is.

As their name implies, these articles define, identify, specify. They talk about something that we know or can identify instantly, either because it was mentioned in the past or because we are familiar with what accompanies the article.

If we take the sentences as an example:

El presidente habló ayer.

Las vecinas son muy amables.

El ascensor no funciona.  

It is understood that the other person already knows who or what we are talking about and the article is sufficient to refer to it.

Ayer vi a una chica. La chica era muy linda.

Me compré unos zapatos. Los zapatos son azules.

Un señor preguntó por ti esta mañana. El señor vestía ropa muy elegante.

In these examples we see how the noun is presented with the indefinite articles "una", "unos" and "un", but in the next sentence, once already mentioned and clear what we are referring to, we can use “la”, “los” and “el”.

El árbol al frente de mi casa es amarillo.

El carro rojo en el estacionamiento está dañado.

La mujer que vive en el apartamento de al lado hace mucho ruido.

We can also use the articles to be very specific. We usually add more context with these examples to make it clearer, as the other person may not be familiar with what we are talking about.

Now, unlike English, where the article is used with any noun without any distinction, in Spanish we have to worry about two details: number and gender. With number we wonder if what we refer to is singular (1) or plural (2 or more). With gender we will think if the noun is masculine (carro) or feminine (mañana).

El is accompanied by singular and masculine nouns: the dog, the building, the doctor.

Los are followed by plural and masculine nouns: the dogs, the buildings, the doctors.

La followed by singular feminine nouns: the cow, the house, the nurse.

Las comes before plural feminine nouns: the cows, the houses, the nurses.

It's pretty straightforward, right?

However, you must remember that not all nouns that end in "o" are masculine, and not all nouns that end in "a" are feminine.

If when you think of the noun "día" you immediately think of "la día", you are wrong. It is "el día". The same happens if when you hear "mano" you say "el mano", which is wrong instead of "la mano", which is the correct.

Other examples are "el mapa”", "el idioma", "el poema". Or in its plural versions: "los mapas", "los idiomas", "los poemas". We also have examples of feminine nouns, such as “la moto”, “la foto”, or “las motos” and “las fotos”.

It is good to remember that there are many nouns that do not end in "o" or "a", and these are the ones that confuse many when thinking about which article to use.

Here we will give you some examples of the most common endings:

Nouns ending in "e" can be both masculine and feminine. We find masculine nouns like “el hombre”, “el aire”, “el puente”. Some feminine ones are “the night”, “the street” and “the series”.

Nouns ending in “n” are mostly masculine. "The heart", "the truck" and "the pants" are male examples. As feminine we have “la noche”, “la calle” y “la serie”.

Those nouns ending in "d" are mostly feminine: “la pared”, “la salud” y “la amistad”. But we also have: “el césped” y “el ataúd”.

Those nouns that end in "s" are mostly masculine. “El mes”, “el gas” y “el virus” are some examples. “La crisis” y “la tesis” are feminine.

The nouns that end in "r" are almost entirely masculine, such as “el color”, “el cambur” y “el amor”. “La mujer” y “la flor” are feminine.

So remember, when deciding which article is appropriate, you must take into account its various uses, if you are identifying something in particular, if the other person knows what you mean or if you are talking about something mentioned before, in addition to gender of the noun that the article accompanies, which you can identify according to its ending. Once you have this clear, you can use the definitive articles without problems.

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About the author 

Jaimi Saunders

J’aimi has worked in the education industry for over 20 years, gaining experience in teaching, mentoring, and coaching. As a seasoned educator he is passionate about advancing teaching excellence and student motivation. In addition to working in the education industry, he is also involved in continuing his personal education and improvement. Outside of the office, J’aimi enjoys, antique vehicles, motorcycles, and travelling to new destinations.

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