El and La in Spanish

El and La in Spanish

How Do You Use El and La in Spanish?

El and La in Spanish

When to use el and la in Spanish?. El is the singular, masculine definite article, meaning “the,” in Spanish and is used to define masculine nouns, while la is the feminine version. But there are a few instances where el is used with feminine nouns.


Gender in Words

An interesting thing about Spanish is the fact that words have gender. A word is considered male or female, depending on what the word refers to and how it ends. A general rule of thumb is if a word ends in -o, it is most likely masculine, and if a word ends in -a, it is most likely feminine. If the word is describing a female person, then the word is feminine and vice versa.


Definite Articles for Nouns

In most cases, el is used for masculine nouns and la is used for feminine nouns. Another rule supersedes this, and that is when the feminine noun is singular and starts with a stressed a- or ha- sound, like the words aguameaning
water, or 
hambremeaning hunger. The reason the definite article becomes el is mostly a matter of how it sounds to say la gua and la hambre and the clunkiness of the “double-a” sounds repeating. It sounds more definitive to say el agua and el hambre.


There is a similar grammar rule in English about the use of the “an” versus”a.” An English speaker would say, “an apple” instead of ” a apple.” The two repeating “double-a” sounds are too close to each other and sound too repetitive. The English rule states that “an,” which is an indefinite article modifying the noun, comes before nouns that have a vowel sound at the beginning of the word and “a” comes before consonant-starting nouns.


Feminine Words that Use the Masculine Article

Notice the substitution of el for la takes place when it comes immediately before words starting with an “a” sound.

 

Feminine Nouns – English Translation

el agua the water

el ama de
casa 
the housewife

el asma asthma

el arca the ark

el hambre hunger

el hampa the underworld

el arpa the harp

el águila the eagle

 

If the feminine noun is modified by adjectives that follow the noun in the sentence, the feminine noun retains the masculine article.

 

Feminine Nouns – English Translation

el agua purificada purified water

el arpa paraguaya the Paraguayan harp

el hambre excesiva excessive hunger

 

Reverting Back to the Feminine Article

The thing to remember is that words that are feminine remain feminine. The reason why this matters is if the word becomes plural, the word goes back to using the feminine definite article.
In this case, the definite article becomes 
las. It sounds fine to say las arcas since the “s” in las breaks up the “double a” sound.

Another example is las amas de casa.

If a word intervenes between the definite article and the noun, la is used.

 

Feminine Nouns English Translation

la pura agua pure water

la insoportable hambre the unbearable hunger

la feliz ama de casa the happy housewife

la gran águila the great eagle

 

If the accent of the noun is not on the first syllable, the definite article la is used with singular feminine nouns when they begin with a- or ha-.

 

Feminine Nouns English Translation

la habilidad the skill

la audiencia the audience

la asamblea the meeting

 

The substitution of el for la does not occur before adjectives that begin with a stressed a- or ha-, the rule only applies to nouns, despite the “double-a” sound. 

 

Feminine Nouns English Translation

la alta muchacha the tall girl

la agria experiencia the bitter experience

Exceptions to the Rule 

There a few exceptions to the rule that el substitutes for la immediately before a noun that begins with a stressed a- or ha-.
Note, the letters of the alphabet, called 
letras in Spanish, which is a feminine noun, are all feminine.

Feminine Nouns English Translation

la árabe the Arabic woman

La Haya The Hague

la a the letter A

la hache the letter H

la haz uncommon word for face, not to be confused with el haz, meaning shaft or beam

Feminine Words Can Use the Masculine Indefinite Article

Most grammarians consider it correct for feminine words to take the masculine indefinite article un instead
of 
una under the same conditions where la is changed to el. It is for the same reason la is changed to el, to eliminate the “double-a” sound of the two words together. 

 

Feminine Nouns English Translation

un águila an eagle

un ama de casa a housewife

 

Although this is widely considered correct grammar, this usage is not universal. In everyday spoken language, this rule is irrelevant, due to elision, which is the omission of sounds, especially as words flow together. In pronunciation, there is no difference between un águila and una águila.

More about ‘when to use’

Sentences with the article el in Spanish

Me gustó mucho el concierto.I really liked the concert.
El hombre llevaba la cabeza vendada.The man had his head bandaged.
Recuerda que el piso está sucio..Remember that the floor is dirty..
Me gusta el arroz.I like rice.
El perro es el mejor amigo del hombre.The dog is man’s best friend.
Yo prefiero el Picasso de la primera época.I prefer the Picasso of the first period.
Entre los métodos de separación de una mezcla podemos señalar el cribar.Among the methods of separation of a mixture we can point out the screening.
Para nosotros es un honor el que haya aceptado nuestra invitación a este acto.It is an honor for us that you have accepted our invitation to this event.
Escoge el que más te guste.Choose the one you like the most.
Mañana viene a cenar con el abrigo que le regalé.Tomorrow he comes to dinner with the coat I gave him.
No sabemos como va a ser con el tema de la mudanza.We don’t know how she is going to be with the subject of the move.
Utiliza el mármol en la construcción.She uses marble in construction.
Ya sabes el objetivo de la conferencia.You already know the purpose of the conference.
Debes tener terminado el pavo de la cena para las 9 pm.You must have finished the turkey for dinner by 9 pm.
El día de tu cumpleaños se acerca.The day of your birthday is approaching.
Prepara el buffet del cumpleaños.Prepare the birthday buffet.
No te imaginas el espectáculo bailable que se realizó anoche.You can’t imagine the dance show that took place last night.
Vas por el camino correcto.You are on the right path.
Léster tiene el carro roto.Lester has a broken car.
Necesitas más imágenes que ver para el próximo fin de semana.You need more images to see for next weekend.
Por fin, el domingo tú vienes.Finally, on Sunday you come.
El traje gris está en el armario.The gray suit is in the closet.
¿No tienes el televisor roto?Don’t you have a broken TV?
¿Dónde está el dinero del mercado?Where is the money in the market?
El día de hoy fue maravilloso.Today was wonderful.
Tómate el helado, ahora mismo.Have the ice cream, right now.
Hoy el sol hoy está caliente.Today the sun is hot today.
Las estrellas y el cielo confluyen de verás.The stars and the sky really come together.
¡Recuerda el paraguas!Remember the umbrella!
No te olvides de llevar el gorro.Don’t forget to wear the hat.

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