Él vs el – Difference & Uses in Spanish

When new Spanish learners see el and él, many may think that these words are and mean the same. However, this is far from the truth. Even though they seem very similar, el and él don’t share the same meaning and, therefore, you’ll end up using them in very different situations. 

What’s the difference between ‘el’ and ‘él’ in Spanish? El without an accent means ‘the’, and it always comes before an adjective, adverb, or a singular, masculine noun. Él with an accent is the direct translation of ‘he’ or ‘him’. Él is a pronoun, so it doesn’t precede a noun, it replaces it. 

At first sight, the only difference between these words is the presence of an accent. However, as established above, el and él are entirely different. These words are fundamental and very common in Spanish. In fact, we use them all the time. For that reason, you need to understand when and how to use them.

In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between these words and the contexts where you can use them. We’ll also provide you with examples and structures that will help you identify how to apply these words in Spanish. Hopefully, by the end of it, you’ll be able to decide when to use el or él in Spanish.  

What’s the difference between el and él in Spanish

In the case of él vs. el, accents matter. In Spanish, the presence or absence of an accent not only indicates a different pronunciation but it also marks a difference in meaning between two words. El and él may look and even sound the same, but make no mistake, these words are completely different. 
Grammatically speaking, el (without an accent) is called a definite article, whereas él (with an accent) is called a personal pronoun. This means that el is a word that goes before a singular, masculine noun. As a result, it’s the Spanish translation of ‘the’.

Juan es el maestro de español
Juan is the Spanish teacher

El hospital está a dos cuadras
The hospital is two blocks away

Unlike él with an accent, ‘el’  can also precede an adjective or an adverb. 

Quiero el más barato, por favor
I want the cheapest one, please

Carlos nos trajo dulces mexicanos, yo quiero el picante
Carlos brought us Mexican candies, I want the spicy one

Él has an accent when working as a masculine personal pronoun for the singular, third person. In this case, ‘él’ is translated as he. As established before, unlike ‘el’, él does not precede a noun. 

Él fue a México el sábado
He went to Mexico on Saturday

Ricardo me dijo que él no vendría
Ricardo told me that he wouldn’t come

In Spanish, we also use ‘él’ with an accent as a synonym of ‘him’.

Dile a tu hermano que este paquete es para él
Tell your brother that this package is for him

No te preocupes, Gabriela va a ir con él 
Don’t worry Gabriela is going with him

In the following sections, we’ll provide you with more examples and structures that will help you identify when you need to use él or el. 

‘El’ as a Definite Article in Spanish – ‘The’

As established before, el and él can be easily confused by new and experienced Spanish speakers. And even though these words can work together in a sentence, they are not interchangeable, since they have different meanings. Here are the situations where you need to use el in Spanish. Keep in mind that these meanings and uses are just appropriate for this word and cannot be applied to él.  

Using ‘el’ before a singular, masculine

El without an accent is a Spanish article that always comes before a singular, masculine noun. This is one of the main differences between el and él. In this case, ‘el’ is translated as ‘the’. Here are some structures that will help you understand how to apply ‘el’ in this context:

El + [singular, masculine noun] 

El muchacho de azul me dio esto para ti
The boy in blue brought this for you

Linda y Rocío quieren ver el Amazonas
Linda and Rocío want to see the Amazon River 

Claudia me dijo que el avión a Perú sale mañana a las 8
Claudia told me that the plane to Peru leaves tomorrow at 8

In Spanish, we also use el before the days of the week. In this case, el means ‘on’.

El viernes tengo una cita con el doctor
On Friday I have an appointment with the doctor  

At some point in your Spanish learning experience, you’ll hear that ‘el’ without an accent is being used in situations where you wouldn’t use ‘the’. However, in Spanish, the rule remains the same: we use ‘el’ in front of a singular, masculine noun. 

El Barcelona es el equipo favorito de mi hermano Barcelona is my brothers favorite team

El 80% de mis amigos hablan otro idioma 80% of my friends speak another language

One way to think about this is that there is only one, definite and unique Barcelona. While in English, we don’t say ‘the’, it is the one and only Barcelona. For ‘El 80%…’, we’re discussing a unique group that defines this 80% portion of students. The 80% is unique from the other 20%.

Using ‘el’ before adjectives and adverbs

Although many new Spanish learners only focus on using el before a noun, this article can also be used in front of adjectives. This cannot be done with él. 

El + [adjective] 

Es el peor día de mi visa
This is the worst day of my life

No, usa el sueter rojo, el negro es de Paty
No, use the red sueter, the black one is Paty’s

In the previous examples, you can observe that the adjectives (peor, negro) are describing singular, masculine nouns. This agreement with the gender and number is also necessary when you put el before an adverb. 

When working with adverbs, something that you need to keep in mind is that ‘el’ can’t work with any adverb. In fact, you can only use it with the adverbs más, menos which, in this case, cannot be directly translated into English. Additionally, your sentence must also have an adjective. Here is the structure that you need to use in this context. 

 El + [adverb] + [adjective]

¿Trajiste cuatro chocolates? Yo quiero el más grande
Did you bring chocolates? I want the biggest one

Carlos es el más lento del equipo
Carlos is the slowest on the team

Él as a Personal Pronoun – ‘He’, ‘him’

So far, we’ve learned that el without an accent is a Spanish article that works with a singular, masculine noun. But when él has an accent, we’re no longer talking about an article. We’re talking about a personal pronoun. As a result, in this case, él means he or him depending on the grammar structures that you use. 

A mí él me dijo que no vendría
He told me that he wouldn’t come

Ayer vi a Carla y Hugo, ella sigue enojada con él
Yesterday I saw Carla and Hugo, she’s still mad at him

As you may know, the purpose of pronouns is replacing a word. In the previous examples, él is replacing a male person. However, in Spanish is also very common to use él to replace an animal as long as we know it’s male. 

Tu perro me mordió, no me quiero acercar a él
Your dog bit me, I don’t want to get close to him

In previous sections, we mentioned that it’s very common to see el and él working together in a sentence. Keep in mind the fact that, like we said before, él replaces a male. Here are some examples:

El papá y la hermana de mi novio están de viaje, él está en París y ella está en Buenos Aires
My boyfriend’s dad and sister are on a trip, he is in Paris and she is in Buenos Aires

El amigo de Ana me dijo que para él viajar en barco es más divertido
Ana’s friend told me that for him traveling on a cruise is more fun

Wrapping Up

In Spanish, there are some words whose meanings and uses can be affected by the presence or absence of an accent. This is the case of el vs él. As we learned in this article, in Spanish, el is called a definite article. This means that it always comes before another word: a singular, masculine noun. In this case, ‘el’ is translated as the. 

El niño come chocolate
The kid eats chocolate 

We also learned that ‘el’ could also come before an adjective or an adverb. 

El lápiz negro es de María, el blanco es el tuyo
The black pencil is Maria’s, the white one is yours

En el equipo de natación, Carlos es el más rápido
On the swimming team, Carlos is the fastest  

Él with accent is a personal pronoun for the third person singular. ‘Él’ replaces a proper noun or a male person. Depending on the structure, this Spanish personal pronoun can be translated as he or him. 

Para él, la mejor forma de aprender español es practicando

For him, the best way to learn Spanish is by practicing

Now, you know that él and el are not the same in Spanish, and hopefully, you’re ready to start applying them into your conversations with more confidence. 

Watch the Él vs El in Spanish Video Lesson

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At Tell Me In Spanish, all lessons are recorded separately in English and Spanish immersion to best fit the learner, their level and needs. Watch the Él vs El in Spanish immersion lesson if you’re ready to challenge your listening comprehension.

Related Questions

What’s the difference between el and la in Spanish? Both el and la are Spanish definite articles. El comes before a singular, masculine noun, whereas la works with singular, feminine nouns. Both of them are translated as the. 

El carro azul es de Paco
The blue car is Paco’s

La mesa está sucia
The table is dirty

Daniela Sanchez

¡Hola! Soy Daniela Sanchez, I've been studying Spanish professionally as well as teaching it in Mexico and online for over 10 years. I’ve taught Spanish to a wide array of foreigners from many backgrounds. Over the years, I've made it my mission to work hard on refining many challenging to understand grammar topics to make my students' learning experiences easier, faster and more enjoyable. Read More About Me

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