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.
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.'
So how do we say 'a house?' Una casa. How do we say 'a few houses?' Unas casas.
'A horse?' Un caballo. 'A few horses?' Unos caballos.
'A professor?' Un profesor. 'Some professors?' Unos profesores.
Indefinite Article Practice
Your turn! You're about to see various pictures. I'll say a word and show it in a picture. Then there will be a pause. You say the singular indefinite article phrase, using un or una. Then I'll say it. Then I'll show a picture of the plural of the word, which is when you'll say the plural definite article phrase, using unos or unas. No worries! I'll be right behind you with this one, too!
|| un ojo
|| unos ojos
|| un pie
|| unos pies
|| una persona
|| unas personas
|| un papel
|| unos papeles
|| un país
|| unos países
|| una nube
|| unas nubes
|| un chico
|| unos chicos
|| un pez
|| unos peces
|| una mesa
|| unas mesas
|| una fracción
|| unas fracciones
Now, to review.
1. Indefinite articles modify nouns that are unspecified or unspecific. A dog - could be any dog. A few potato chips - any I grab out of the bag. A house - any of many. Some ice cream - ice cream in general, no specific kind.
2. There are four indefinite articles in Spanish: un, una, unos, and unas.
Un - 'a,' masculine.
Una - 'a,' feminine.
Unos - 'some' or 'a few,' masculine.
Unas - 'some or a few,' feminine.
3. Un and una can also mean 'one' when put right before a noun. Context will denote whether the meaning is 'a' or 'one.'
Fantástico, now you know about indefinite articles! Sometimes parts of speech can be hard to remember, so memorize the articles as vocabulary words if that's easier for you, and then use them the same way you would in English. Until next time, hasta luego.
Once you have finished this lesson, you should be able to:
- Differentiate between definite and indefinite articles
- Name the four indefinite articles in Spanish and use them correctly