Omitting Articles in Spanish - dummies

By Gail Stein

In the Spanish language, articles are often useful to indicate a subject’s number and gender. However, in some cases, dropping Spanish articles is more efficient, which can make knowing when to leave them out or keep them a little confusing at times. Following are four general rules to help set you straight.

A definite article refers to a specific place or thing. El, la, los, and las are all Spanish definite articles. An indefinite article refers to persons or objects not specifically identified. Un, una, unos, and unas are all Spanish indefinite articles.

1Drop definite and indefinite articles before nouns in apposition.

Nouns are in apposition when one noun explains another. In this case, the definite article is unnecessary. For example, Madrid, capital de España, es una ciudad popular. (Madrid, the capital of Spain, is a popular city.)

If you’re referring to a family or business relationship, don’t drop the indefinite article, even if the unmodified nouns are in apposition.

2Leave out definite articles before numerals that express the titles of rulers.

So instead of saying Charles the Fifth, Spanish speakers say Carlos Quinto.

3Omit indefinite articles before unmodified nouns that express specific conditions.

These conditions are nationality, profession, and religious or political affiliation. To state Mr. Robles is a teacher in Spanish, you’d say El señor Robles es professor. However, when the noun is modified, be sure to use the indefinite article, as in the sentence, El señor Robles es un profesor liberal. (Mr. Robles is a liberal teacher.)

4Cut indefinite articles before nouns modified by specific words.

Don’t include an indefinite article when these words modify a noun: cien (seeehn; one hundred), cierto (seeehr-toh; certain), mil (meel; one thousand), otro (oh-troh; other), qué (keh; what a), semejante (seh-meh-Hahn-teh; similar), or tal (tahl; such a). For example, if you want to express the phrase a similar problem or what a pity in Spanish, you’d say problema semejante (proh-bvleh-mah seh-meh-Hahn-teh) or qué lástima (keh lahs-tee-mah), respectively. Note that the indefinite article a in the English phrases is missing in the Spanish translations.