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Spotify just recommended me the song "Vamos a Marte" and the first thing that came into my mind was, that the article is missing.

"marte" is a masculine word (am I right?) So the proper construction would be "Vamos al marte".

But after some googling I found other exceptions as well, like:

  • "Voy a casa" - "I go home"
  • "Voy a la casa" - "I go to the house"

But applying this to the Mars example doesn't make much sense, because then it would mean: "I go Mars" instead of "I go to the Mars"

What's the rule behind dropping articles (especially in the context of directions)?

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The reason why "Marte" does not take an article is that it is a proper name, not a common noun. Proper names only take the article in certain cases, mostly when the common noun they designate is omitted. This is the case, for example, with the names of rivers and mountains:

  • El (río) Támesis / The (river) Thames
  • Los Alpes / The Alps (in this case, we can consider that the noun "montes" - i.e. "mounts" - is omitted).

Another case is that of countries which include a common noun within their names: the United Kingdom, the United States, the Russian Federation.

Although the general rule is that, except for the examples above, proper nouns don't take articles, they may take one when they are treated as common nouns, as when we say:

  • Conozco a un Juan que es profesor. (I know a John who is a teacher.) (Here "un Juan" means "a man called Juan")

  • ¿Dónde pusiste el Rembrandt? (Where did you put the Rembrandt?) (Here "el Rembrandt" means "the picture by Rembrandt")

  • La María que conoces no es la que conozco yo. (The Mary you know is not the same I know.) (Here "la María" means "the woman called María")

It is hard to think of the names of planets being used as common nouns, but they might, as could be the case if there were two or more planets with the same name in different galaxies, or to refer to different temporary features of the same planet, for example:

  • El Marte inmediatamente posterior al Big Bang no es el mismo Marte de ahora. (The Mars soon after the Big Bang is not the same as today's Mars.) (Please note that this sentence is to be considered as a linguistic specimen and not from an astronomical perspective!)

Proper names do not have a gender per se, but one that is associated with the common noun they designate: since "Marte" refers to "un planeta" (a masculine noun), in case it takes an adjective it will be masculine because "planeta" is masculine e.g. Marte es rojo.

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Decir "Voy a casa" tiene un sentido diferente a "Voy a la casa".

En el primer caso es cuando va al lugar de dónde es uno, o cuando va a la casa de sus padres, o cuando va a donde habitualmente vive.

En el segundo caso, el uso del artículo "la" es un refuerzo para indicar que va no a cualquier casa sino a una con alguna particularidad especial.

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"Voy a casa" means "I go home", but if you translate it word for word it means "I go to home". It's just idiomatic to leave out the "to" in English. (For example, in my native language, Dutch, it isn't.)

Similarly,

vamos   a   Marte

we go   to  Mars

which is the idiomatic way in English as well. The reason the article is dropped (which is a common one across languages) is that there is only one planet Mars, one home (for the person who speaks the sentence), so it does not need an article. I don't know of any other prime examples in Spanish; I'm a learner just like you.

Side note: "Marte" is masculine, but then it should be "Vamos al Marte" rather than "Vamos a la Marte" - "al" is the contraction of "a" and "el".

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  • Very well explained. German speaker here - so I'm used to keep the article as well :) So to summarize: as long as there is always one "thing", you can omit the article, right?
    – chrsi
    Oct 29 '21 at 8:51
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    No, you don't keep the article, I think: "Ich gehe nach Hause" vs. "Ich gehe ins Haus". "ins" is the contraction of "in" and "das". I found this question When should we use articles before nouns and when are articles not required? which may be of interest too.
    – Glorfindel
    Oct 29 '21 at 9:05
  • Ah yes you're right ... mistook "nach" as an article.
    – chrsi
    Oct 29 '21 at 9:21
  • We're going to Mars, because it would not be a habitual action.
    – Lambie
    Oct 31 '21 at 15:54
  • @Lambie that's probably better, yes. I'm echoing the OP's translations; in their native language (German) and mine (Dutch) we don't make that distinction :)
    – Glorfindel
    Oct 31 '21 at 17:22

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