Nouns and articles (Spanish Language)

The plural forms unos and unas are commonly omitted without any significant change of meaning (as they are in English). When used, they often have the meaning of ‘a few’ or ‘some’:


e.g.          Hay galletas en la caja.


There are biscuits in the box.


Hay unos niños en la calle.


There are some children in the street.


Another way of saying ‘some’ will be seen later.


Un(o) and una are also used to mean ‘one’:


e.g.               Sólo tengo un hermano.


I only have one brother.


But note that the form uno/una is used to mean ‘one’ when referring to a masculine singular noun when the noun itself is not mentioned:


e.g.                   ¿Tienes un perro?


Do you have a dog?


Si, tengo uno.


Yes, I have one.


¿Tienes una casa?


Do you have a house?


Si, tengo una.


Yes, I have one.


Although the use of the definite and indefinite articles in Spanish is generally similar to their use in English, there are a number of important cases when this is not so. Here are some common ones.


When referring to nouns in general


Nouns that refer to all the members of the relevant class usually require the use of the definite article, although in English the article is omitted in such cases:


Me gusta el café.


I like coffee – i.e. all coffee in general.


La violencia es inaceptable.


Violence is unacceptable – i.e. all violence.





El ruido me molesta.


Noise irritates me – i.e. all noise in general.


With nouns in apposition


When the noun refers back to the one just mentioned, the definite article is omitted:


Juan Carlos, rey de España


Juan Carlos, the King of Spain


Madrid, capital de España


Madrid, the capital of Spain


Before professions and status


Nouns that refer to professions, occupations and status, do not normally require an indefinite article, unless they are qualified by an adjective or other expression:


Es médico.


He’s a doctor.


Es un buen médico.


He’s a good doctor.


Soy soltero.


I’m a bachelor.


Soy un soltero muy feliz.


I’m a very happy bachelor.

Articles (Spanish Language)

The gender of the noun will be shown by the article that is used before it. There are two types of articles – definite and indefinite. Definite articles (English ‘the’) tend to be used with nouns that have already been mentioned while indefinite articles (English ‘a/an’) introduce a previously unmentioned noun. Compare:


The dog ran across the road.


I saw a dog in the park.


In the first sentence, the speaker is referring to a dog which both s/he and the person to whom s/he is speaking already know about – i.e. a specific (definite) dog; while in the second sentence the speaker is introducing a new topic.


In Spanish the form of the article changes according to both the number and gender of the noun with which it is used.


The definite article


The equivalent of English ‘the’ has four forms in Spanish:














Note: Feminine nouns beginning with a stressed a or ha are preceded by el and not la, but this does not make them masculine nouns, it is just for ease of pronunciation. If another word comes between the article and the noun, la is used because pronunciation is no longer a problem. Also, las is used in the plural.


e.g.       el agua (water), el hacha (axe), el águila (eagle)


but       la gran águila, las hachas



The indefinite article


The equivalents of English ‘a’, ‘an’ and, in the plural ‘some’, are:


Masculine                               Feminine










What has been said with regard to feminine nouns beginning in stressed a or ha is also true for the indefinite article:




un hacha,

un águila



unas hachas,

unas águilas


Rules of natural stress (Spanish Language)

STRESS Apart from a very few cases where the diaresis (e.g. ü) is used, there is only one written accent in Spanish (á) and this is used in the following circumstances:


  • to show that a word does not follow the rules of natural stress;
  • to differentiate between words which are spelt the same;
  • in interrogatives and exclamations.



Rules of natural stress (Spanish Language)


If a word ends in an -n, -s or a vowel, the stress naturally falls on the penultimate (last but one) syllable:


palabra                                   word

juguetes                                  toys

compran                                 they buy


If a word ends in any other sound, the stress naturally falls on the last syllable:


pared                                      wall

feliz                                        happy


Words that follow these rules of natural stress do not require a written accent (or stress mark), but if the word is pronounced in a way that does not follow these natural rules then a stress mark must be put on the vowel in the stressed syllable:


lápiz                                       pencil

inglés                                     English


Some words require a stress mark in the singular but not in the plural, since by making the word plural it now ends in an -s, resulting in the natural stress now falling on the appropriate syllable:


inglés – ingleses


The situation outlined above is fairly straightforward, but when two or more vowels occur together in a word you will need to understand the rules about diphthongs in order to work out the stress.

Vowels are divided into strong and weak vowels – a, e and o are ‘strong’ vowels and u and i are ‘weak’ vowels. When a weak vowel occurs together with another vowel, they form a diphthong, which counts as only one syllable. If the weak vowel is next to a strong vowel, the stress falls on the strong vowel:


piedra (stone) – two syllables pie-dra


If both vowels are weak, the stress falls on the second vowel in the diph-thong:


viuda (widow)


If, however, two strong vowels occur together they form two separate syllables:


ateo (atheist) – three syllables a-te-o


Differentiating between words


Sometimes stress marks are used to differentiate between two words that are spelt and pronounced in exactly the same way:


el (the)                                    él (he)

si (if)                                      sí (yes)

tu (your)                                 tú (you)



Interrogatives and exclamations When certain words are used as interrogatives (questions) or exclamations they require a stress mark, whereas they do not require a stress mark in other circumstances:


¿Qué?                                     What?

¿Dónde?                                 Where?

¿Cuándo?                               When?

¿Cómo?                                  How?

¿Quién?                                  Who?

¡Qué hermoso!                       How lovely!


Spanish Alphabet Pronunciation

The English equivalents given are a rough guide to pronunciation and they will enable you to understand spoken Spanish and to be understood, but you should be aware that in some cases they are not exactly the same sounds as used in English.

A  [a] as in English ‘bag’.


B  [b] as in ‘big’ at the beginning of a phrase or after n or m. Otherwise [β]. The lips are shaped as for [b] but slightly apart.


C   [k] as in ‘cat’ when before a, o, u or a consonant. [θ] as in ‘think’ before e or i in standard peninsular Spanish, but [s] in Latin America and southern Spain. ch [č] as in ‘church’.


D  [d] as in ‘dog’ at the beginning of a phrase or after n or l. Otherwise as in ‘this’. e [e] as in ‘bed’.


F  [f] as in ‘feather’.


G  [g] as in ‘game’ when before a, o or u. But before e or i, [x] as in Scottish ‘loch’.


H  always silent.


I  [i] as in ‘meet’.


J  [x] as in Scottish ‘loch’.


K  [k] as in ‘car’.


L  [l] as in ‘flat’.


Ll  [j] as in ‘yet’ (this is the most commonly heard pronunciation in standard Spanish, although strictly speaking it should be pronounced as in ‘million’).


M  [m] as in ‘mother’.


N  [n] as in number’.


O  [o] as in ‘opera’.


P  [p] as in ‘pear’.


Q  This is always followed by u and qu is pronounced [k] as in ‘corner’.


R  [r] this is a rolled ‘r’ as in Scottish pronunciation of ‘car’, i.e. with a slight flick or vibration of the tongue.


R r  this requires a more pronounced rolling of the ‘r’, or vibration of the tongue.


S  [s] as in ‘single’.


T  [t] as in ‘take’.

U  [u] as in ‘soon’.


V  This is pronounced the same as b.


W  This only occurs in borrowed words in Spanish and its pronunciation varies. The most common variations are [β], [b] and [w].


X  [ks] as in ‘extra’, but more commonly in spoken peninsular Spanish it is simplified to [s].


Y  [j] as in ‘yellow’ when on its own, but when it is used in combination with a vowel it is weakened to [i].


Z  [θ] as in ‘think’.


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