In Spanish sentences, I have seen that most times an article is used before the noun. But sometimes an article is not used.

I am referring to articles such as el,la,los,las,un,una,unos,unas (those are all the articles I know)

When do we need to use an article before a noun and when is it not necessary?


5 Answers 5


You are right, most of the times an article is used before the noun with the exception of personal pronouns and a few more things:

"La chica" or "El país" are right.

"La María" or "El México" are definitely wrong; they even sound wrong.

For personal pronouns you only use the proper noun: "María" or "México"

When the noun is used in definite/indefinite sense:

  • "Las mujeres vanidosas" (definite)
  • "Hay mujeres vanidosas y mujeres descuidadas" (indefinite)

When you refer to something specific/unspecific:

  • "Dame el papel" (you need a specific piece of paper)
  • "Dame papel" (unspecific, any paper will work)

When you have a possessive determiner:

  • "Mi casa"

Here http://es.wikisource.org/wiki/Gram%C3%A1tica_de_la_Lengua_Castellana:_1.05 you can get MORE information.

  • 3
    +1 but there are country names which have been historically used with an article (el Perú, la Argentina, el Brasil, el Líbano, la India, el Japón...), though nowadays it is less used. Also, there are places, at least here in Spain, where the article before people's names is quite common. There are even "rules" about it in some of those areas (e.g. all female names can have an article, but only male names starting with a vowel sound can)
    – MikMik
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 8:35
  • El before a place name seems to be in common use for football teams. e.g El Valencia, El Dénia. Probably shorthand for El club Valencia etc.
    – BrianA
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 17:06
  • 2
    There are many speech communities that colloquially use 'la' and 'el' articles before proper names in very specific instances: "Ya viene la Josefa con sus idioteces"; "Este es mi hermano favorito...el Alberto"... Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 23:06
  • La antigua moneda de mi país tenía el lema "REPUBLICA DE EL SALVADOR EN LA AMERICA CENTRAL". Una edición de la moneda leía "REPUBLICA DEL SALVADOR...". Todavía la tengo. Esto fue un error porque el nombre correcto es El Salvador, donde El no es un articulo que puede contractarse como de el = del, sino parte del nombre propio. Esta sería una excepción a lo que se está discutiendo. Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 18:14

One case where Spanish differs from English is in the case of abstractions, like love, justice,or liberty. These almost always require a definite article in Spanish: el amor, la justicia, y la libertad.

The use of an indefinite plural article (unos, unas) is often used where "some" might specify and indefinite quantity more than one in English.

There are lots more specific rules.


I believe I have found the answer to this after going through several other lessons and some practice.

Looks like it was an easy one. But Spanish experts please correct me if I am wrong.

Seems like it's quite similar to English.

Quantifiable Nouns: If a noun is something quantifiable, then we use the article in front of the noun. Example: apples are quantifiable.

In English: It is similar to having 'a' or 'an' in front of a noun. We would say an apple. In Spanish: We use the appropriate article in front of the noun (based on gender and plurality). We would say una manzana.

Unquantifiable Nouns: If a noun is something unquantifiable, then we do not use the article in front of the noun. Example: milk is not quantifiable.

In English: It is similar to using the noun without a or an in front of it. We would say milk. In Spanish: An article will not be used before the noun. We would say leche.

I believe the exceptions would be:

  1. With countries as mentioned in the link shared by @Flimzy
  2. With abstractions as mentioned by @Walter Mitty

Let me know if there are other exceptions to this.

  • 1
    We definitely say "la leche": la leche es blanca, la leche tiene calcio, me gusta la leche... I would say that almost always nouns go with an article. In fact, we often have problems knowing when not to use an article in English.
    – MikMik
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 7:23
  • 1
    @MikMik and yet we say "tengo que comprar leche", not "tengo que comprar la leche". Other examples: "una dieta rica en leche minimiza el riesgo de osteoporosis", "los intolerantes a la lactosa no beben leche", "los yogures contienen leche como ingrediente principal." It's really hard to tell when to use articles and when not to. What is for sure is that it has nothing to do with quantifiable vs unquantifiable nouns: if you substitute "leche" with "manzanas" you don't need articles there either.
    – Yay
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 19:49
  • This has more to do with generic use and the grammatical function of the noun. You would be hard pressed to find an example where a common name working as subject would not use article, but sometimes it does not need it when it works as an object in a generic sense. When used in a generic sense, quantifieable nouns tend to be used in plural.
    – Gorpik
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 10:40

Definite vs Indefinite Articles (& Specificity)

Definite (El / La)

When you use a definite article, you are literally defining the object. You are referring to a specific object and not a group of that object. I don't usually like to say it's just as in English, but it is. So I'll provide some examples.

  • The water is in the cup

To say this means that you are referring to a particular water source. Suppose it is raining and you want to talk about it. Not only did we define the particular water source, but we also defined its container. -- The cup. It is a very particular, very specific cup.

Indefinite (Un / Una)

  • The water is in a cup

Now we have unspecified the cup. This could be any cup. It is an undefined cup now.


If you know what the spanish articles mean. Read them in the sentence using English, then think about if the article makes sense to put there. Most of the time doing this easier way if you don't know all the specific rules makes the use of the articles correct, but not in all cases.

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