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1.5: The Indefinite Article

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    Spanish Grammar  (See webpage for complete content)


    Libro digital Herramientas de español
    Spanish Tools
     Online Grammar Book

    8. The Indefinite Article / El artículo indeterminado

    • English “a” or “an” is expressed in Spanish by un / una:    un cuaderno – una pluma
    The plural, unos/unas, is used for symmetrical objects, meaning “a set of” or “a pair of”:

    Necesito unas tijeras.
    Bajas por unas escaleras.
    I need a pair of scissors.
    You go down a stairway.

    • Spanish does not use the indefinite article before words denoting occupations, religions, political affiliation or nationality; they are treated as adjectives:

    Es inglés.
    Mi hermano es demócrata.
    No soy budista.
    ¿Eres estudiante?
    Tu vecino es abogado.
    He is English, an Englishman.
    My brother is a Democrat.
    I am not a Buddhist.
    Are you a student?
    Your neighbor is a lawyer.

    But when such words are qualified by an adjective, the article is used:

    Es un inglés muy tradicional.
    No soy una norteamericana típica.
    He is a very traditional Englishman.
    I am not a typical American woman.

    • Spanish uses the indefinite article less frequently than English. Since un / una also means one, the article is redundant for things normally encountered one at a time:

    Tengo fiebre.
    ¿Tienes familia?
    ¿Se necesita visa?
    La mujer llevaba sombrero.
    Habla con acento extranjero.
    No puedes manejar sin licencia.
    Use esto como guía.
    I have a fever.
    Do you have a family?
    Is a visa needed?
    The woman was wearing a hat.
    He speaks with a foreign accent.
    You cannot drive without a license.
    Use this as a guide.

    Pay attention to these differences as you read. Note that the indefinite article is used to emphasize the individuality of a noun modified by an adjective (as seen also in the case of professions and nationalities): Tiene una fiebre terrible.

    ~ Never use un / una before the word otro/a:
    otro ejemplo
    another example
    otra situación
    another situation
    otra vez
    another time, one more time

    Other common expressions not requiring the indefinite article in Spanish:

    ¡Qué día!
    What a day!
    ¡Qué año tan largo!
    What a long year!
    Medio kilo de patatas.
    Half a kilogram of potatoes.
    Media vida.
    Half a lifetime.
    Es para cierta persona.
    It is for a certain person.
    Cierto encanto.
    A certain charm.

    PRÁCTICA 8.   Añada el artículo indeterminado cuando sea necesario.
    Ejemplo: Hoy tengo _un_ examen difícil, y tengo _X_ otro examen mañana.

    There are four forms: el, la, los, las.

     A. USAGE OF THE DEFINITE ARTICLE. Spanish uses it more often than English:

    A1. Before nouns intended in a general sense and all abstract nouns:

    Los mexicanos adoran las fiestas.
    La gente piensa que el dinero es vital.
    La libertad es esencial en la vida
    Me gusta el pescado.
    Me interesa la política.
    Mexicans love parties.
    People think that money is vital.
    Freedom is essential in life.
    I like fish.
    I am interested in politics.

    A2. Before languages, illnesses, sports, sciences, and other fields of knowledge:

    El inglés es fácil.
    Lucha contra el cáncer.
    Me interesa el fútbol.
    Así es la biología
    English is easy.
    Fight against cancer.
    I am interested in soccer.
    Such is biology.

    BUT: The article is often omitted after de and en, and after hablar, estudiar, tener and saber:

    El libro está en español.
    The book is in Spanish.
    Hay una clase de tenis.
    There is a tennis class.
    No hablo francés.
    I don’t speak French.

    A3. Before most titles when speaking about someone:

    El escritor mexicano Octavio Paz ganó el premio Nobel en 1992.
    El señor García habla con el coronel Páez sobre la reina Isabel.

    But not when speaking to the person being addressed by their title: “Buenos días, señor García”.

    A4. Unlike English, before common words such as cama, escuela, trabajo, guerra, cárcel, ciudad, iglesia, clase:

    No piensan en el trabajo.
    Están en la cárcel.
    Leen para la clase.
    Vivo en la ciudad de México.
    They do not think about work.
    They are in jail.
    They’re reading for class.
    I live in Mexico City.

    (except in stock phrases such as “at war”: en guerra, or “in class”: en clase).

    A5. In the names of a few countries and cities such as la República Dominicana, Los Ángeles, La Paz, El Salvador, and with any country or region name when it is qualified by an adjective: La España turística, el Perú moderno. But: Vivo en España.


    The prepositions a and de contract with the masculine singular article to form the only two written, mandatory contractions in Spanish, al and delal norte (a + el)   •   del planeta (de + el)

    PRÁCTICA 9A.   Complete las oraciones con el artículo determinado cuando sea necesario.
    Ejemplo: Me gustan _los_ libros en _X_ español.


    C1. Articles, either definite or indefinite, are not used when an idea of amount or quantity is implied (if the words anyor some could be inserted in English):

    Hay gente que no come carne.
    Pedimos vino y nos dan agua.
    Viven sin libertad, pero con dinero.
    Leo libros con frecuencia.
    Quieren uvas para el desayuno.
    Tiene éxito sin esfuerzo.
    There are (some) people who do not eat (any) meat.
    We ask for (some) wine and they give us water.
    They live without (any) freedom but with (some) money.
    I read (a number of) books frequently.
    They want grapes for breakfast.
    She succeeds without (any) effort.

    ~ Note that hay (there is/are) always indicates a certain quantity, so it is never followed by the definite article:
    Hay conflictos y no hay libertadHay un problema

    C2. Occasionally, unos/as expresses some when it means “a few,” “a number of” or “about”
    (→ but algunos/as is a more common way to express “some“.

    Todavía tengo unos dólares.
    Hay unas diez personas.
    I still have some (a few) dollars.
    There are some (about) ten people.

    C3. Spanish has a neuter article, lo, used with an adjective (masculine, singular) to express abstract concepts. Its meaning is very much like the English “the + adjective + thing”:

    Eso es lo interesante.
    Lo malo es que nos gusta.
    Lo bueno, lo malo y lo feo de la vida.
    Lo difícil de los idiomas es la gramática.
    That is the interesting thing.
    The bad thing about it is that we like it.
    The good, the bad and the ugly in life.
    The difficult part of languages is grammar.

    9. The Definite Article / El artículo determinado


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