Indefinite Articles in Spanish: Un, Una, Unos, Unas

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Geary

Danielle teaches at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She holds a Doctor of Education with research concentration in Study Abroad and Foreign Language Acquisition.

'A' dog? 'The' dog? Why are they called 'definite' and 'indefinite' articles, and why do they matter? Find out the answers to these questions when you add un, una, unos, and unas to your Spanish language vocabulary in this lesson.

The Difference Between Definite and Indefinite Articles

So, I get home from work one day, and I don't see the dog. Where is the dog? I go through the living room. I go upstairs. No dog. How odd, I think to myself. Usually I come home and the dog is looking through the window, waiting for me. Hmmm. Where is he? Finally, I go to the kitchen for something to eat, and there's the dog - eating an entire loaf of bread he stole from the kitchen counter! 'Boomer,' I say, 'You little stinker!'

Okay, I just told a true story that happened in my own house with my own dog, Boomer, and used the phrase 'the dog' several times. You see, 'the' is a definite article, and it's called a definite article because it modifies a definite, specific noun. So, what does that mean? It means that my references to 'the dog' correspond to a definite, specific, already-known canine companion; hence, the term 'definite article.' En español, there are four: el, la, los, and las, all of which mean 'the.'

But let's look at a different scenario:

Today is a big day. My family's in the market for a new dog, so we're going down to the shelter. I want a big dog. My husband wants a small dog. Jenny wants any dog, as long as he's a dog, and Joey wants a dog with spots. Only one thing rings true for all of us: we all want a dog, and we're getting a dog today!

Okay, this story uses the phrase 'a dog' instead of 'the dog,' right? Of course it does, because, at least for now, this dog is unspecified, unknown, and unspecific. We want a dog, and we might sort of know what we're looking for, but until we choose one, any dog in the shelter is a candidate for potential family membership - which brings us to the lesson for today: indefinite articles en español.

Indefinite Articles: Explanation

In English, 'a,' 'an,' and 'some' are indefinite articles. En español, though, it's a little more complicated because of gender and number. En español, there are four indefinite articles: un, una, unos, and unas. Un and una mean 'a,' and unos and unas mean 'some.' Let's break it down:

Un is 'a,' masculine.

Una is 'a,' feminine.

Unos means 'some' or 'a few, ' masculine.

Unas means 'some' or 'a few, ' feminine.

Perro is a masculine, singular noun, so un matches perro. Un perro means 'a dog.'

Cebra is a feminine, singular noun, so una matches cebra. Una cebra means 'a zebra.'

Note that un and una can also mean 'one' when put right before a noun, so the context of the sentence will tell you whether the meaning is 'a dog' or 'one dog,' for instance.

Going on:

Perros is a masculine, plural noun. Unos perros means 'some dogs' or 'a few dogs.'

Cebras is a feminine, plural noun. Unas cebras means 'some zebras' or 'a few zebras.'

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