This is one of those differences between English and Spanish. Although for the most part where is definite article is not used in English, it is probably not used in Spanish, due to my lack of reading, I get unsure sometimes as to whether I should use definite article.

Like when I say

My sister does the homework for me. Mi hermana hace la tarea por mi.

5 Answers 5


Some situations in which you need to use the definite article include:

  1. The article precedes the noun, even if there is an adjetive in between.

El coche. La raqueta. El asombroso trapecista. El milagroso elixir

But never when it precedes the names of people or places

  1. It can precede the name of people or places when (and only when) it is used to qualify them,

La España de la edad media (but never La España). El general López (but never El López)

Be aware that some places have the article included in the name, such as El Salvador, La Habana, etc.

This includes titles of people

El rey. El Papa. La condesa.

and days of the week and languages

El lunes. El martes. El español. El noruego.

  1. When referring to individuals of a group.

Los niños tienen que ir al colegio. El delfín es un animal inteligente

  1. When referring to abstract beings or entities, in a general meaning.

La paciencia es una virtud.

This includes verbs used as subjects

El esperar tanto tiempo se hace pesado. El pasear es un hábito saludable (although this could be easily omitted)

  • But you can certainly use articles with names. But depending on the region, I believe it can have different connotations. For me it implies a level of familiarity between me, the person I'm speaking to, and the person I'm talking about. "Sabes que el Juan …" = I know Juan well, and so does the person I'm speaking. It can also be used to specify a particular person with a given name, as in "Juan dijo…" "¿Juan?" "El Juan de la tienda". Jan 14, 2015 at 2:30
  • @guifa, Thanks for pointing it. I had in mind that catalans do that (I actually didn't know it is the case in Asturias too). You are definitely right about that, but in Madrid saying something like that would sound really weird, so I would include it as a regional variation, not as a general rule.
    – Diego
    Jan 14, 2015 at 2:39
  • Oh I totally used it all the time in Madrid (my interest in Asturias came later). But it was mainly jocular "Sabes que el Juan ese ..." (I'm about to make fun of him). I know in some parts of LA it is relatively common. The DPD says it's even in formal registers in Chile. Jan 14, 2015 at 2:45
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    @Gorpik, you are right. Interestingly, the example I could think of was "La India" but I would not have referred to Perú or Argentina with an article (I would for China "Vete a la China").
    – Diego
    Jan 14, 2015 at 15:19
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    Indeed, India is maybe the best example: it is almost always la India, even though the article is not part of the country name. Some other countries where you can use the article are el Uruguay, el Paraguay or el Canadá. And, of course, country names which include common nouns usually take the article: los Estados Unidos, el Reino Unido, la República Checa...
    – Gorpik
    Jan 14, 2015 at 16:36

When you use a definite article (the), you are doing exactly what the article is described to do; DEFINE.

I look at the chair / Miro la silla


I look at a chair / Miro una silla

The second sentence suggests that there is more than one chair, while the first sentence defines a particular chair. Typically, when you use a definite article you will also use more adjectives to describe it.


I'm not sure I fully understood your question, but there is absolutely no difference in the definite / indefinite distinction between English and Spanish.

A policeman = Un policía

The policeman = El policía


el comaBeware some cases where the article is necessary to change the meaning.. for example

 la policía (the police - police department)
 el policía (the policeman)
 el guía (the guide)
 la guía (the driver)
 el cólera (the cholera)
 la cólera (the anger)
 el capital (the capital/money)
 la capital (the capital/city)
 el orden (things in order)
 la orden (command/order)
 el cura (priest)
 la cura (therapy)
 el coma (coma - medicine)
 la coma (comma "," punctuation mark)
 el cometa (comet)
 la cometa (kite)
 el margen (edge)
 la margen (bank of river)
  • La definición de 'el coma' que das no la había escuchado nunca, de hecho ni siquiera aparece en el diccionario de la RAE. Otro significado podría ser: "Estado patológico que se caracteriza por la pérdida de la conciencia, la sensibilidad y la capacidad motora voluntaria."
    – serfe
    Jan 14, 2015 at 17:28

There are many uses for definite article so please read this link.

One of the most important rule is that you can use definite articles when referring to objects, people, and places.

Here are some examples:

La comida de México es deliciosa. (Mexican food is delicious.)

Las películas de Almodóvar son interesantes. (Almodóvar´s movies are interesting.)

  • This rule does not exist. You can also use the indefinite article to refer to people, objects and places: Ayer vimos unas películas de Almodóvar, versus me gustan las películas de Almodóvar.
    – Rodrigo
    Jan 22, 2015 at 22:06

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