Good question. Before we start to talk about how to use it, we had better clear up just what on earth it is.
Actually, when you think about what it’s called, for once the grammatical name that they’ve given it actually makes sense.
The definite article in English is THE. The definite article in Spanish is EL, LA, LOS, LAS.
The name makes sense for once!
If you think about it, when we say: ‘The cat next door.’ we are referring to a definite, actual, real, existing cat. For that reason the word THE is called the definite article.
To help you better understand this, let’s look at what the Indefinite article is. In English this is: A, or SOME as in a cat, a dog, a house, some cats, some dogs, some houses. In Spanish, the indefinite articles are: UN, UNA, UNOS, UNAS.
Can you see why these might be called indefinite? Basically, it’s because we are not talking about a specific thing, but rather something in general.
So what’s the problem?
The real problem is that the rules are not very clear about when you should use the definite article in Spanish and when you shouldn’t (nor are they in English for that matter).
This makes it difficult for the student of the Spanish language to know if they should say: ‘Aprendo Español’ or, ‘Aprendo el español’.
It seems that sometimes the definite article in Spanish is used just like it is in English, yet at other times it isn’t.
Gustar for example.
With Gustar and other impersonal verbs, most times the definite article in Spanish is used. So we see sentences like:
Me gustan los animales. = I like the animales.
Clearly, in English we would only use the definite article if we were talking about some specific animals, for example:
I like the animals at that farm.
Whatever the case in English, the definite article in Spanish is used with these kind of verbs as a matter of course.
Sometimes it’s even an abbreviation.
What throws more confusion into the pot is when Spanish speakers use the definite article as a shortened version of a longer sentence.
La Elena llega un poco más tarde. = The sister, Elena is arriving a little later.
In this sentence, the word, hermana or hija, sobrina, nieta, prima, for that matter is omitted. Instead, they just use the definite article in Spanish and the listeners fill in the gap.
Listen in as we help you with this.
We cover this tricky subject in our podcast and also offer much more detailed information in our helpsheets which will offer you lots of exercises this time to help you perfect your use of the definite article in Spanish.
Esperamos que os guste.
Gordon y Cynthia.:)