Un, Uno & Unos – Uses, Meanings & Differences in Spanish

Although we use them in similar situations, there’s a slight difference between un and uno. Since these words follow different grammatical rules, ‘un’ and ‘uno’ are not interchangeable and, on top of this, each of these words has different uses in Spanish that the other one doesn’t have. 

So what’s the difference between ‘un’ and ‘uno’? Un is the direct translation of ‘a’ or ‘an’ and it’s used in front of a masculine, singular noun. Uno can work as a pronoun and it replaces a masculine, singular noun. As a result, it’s translated as ‘one’. This also applies with ‘una’ and feminine nouns.

As you may imagine, uno and un may work together in a sentence: ‘un’ will be introducing the singular and masculine noun that you’re talking about and, if needed, ‘uno’ will be used to replace it. So even though these words are similar, they are not interchangeable. In the following sections, we’ll provide you some examples on how to use these words properly. Here is a quick overview of the topics we’ll cover:

– It comes before a singular, masculine noun
– It means ‘a’ or ‘an’.
– It’s a pronoun: replaces a singular, masculine noun.
– In this context, it’s translated as ‘one’.
Quiero un libro de español
I want a Spanish book

¿Tienes un amigo que hable español?
Do you have a friend that speaks Spanish?
Yo también quiero uno.
I want one too.

No, pero Laura tiene uno.
No, but Laura has one.

What’s the difference between ‘un’ and ‘uno’ in Spanish?

As mentioned above, un is the direct translation of ‘a’ and ‘an’. Just as ‘a’ and ‘an’, un is used to talk about indefinite things (non-specific). Here are some examples:

Un + [singular masculine noun]

Quiero comprar un boleto de avión a Madrid
I want to buy a plane ticket to Madrid

Un niño me dijo que el museo está cerrado
A kid told me that the museum is closed

No sé estoy segura, pero creo que hay un animal en tu mochila
I’m not sure but I think there’s an animal in your backpack

When the context is clear enough we can replace the noun with a pronoun in order to make our sentence shorter. Uno is the pronoun that we use to replace ‘un + singular masculine nouns’

¿Necesitas un lápiz? Creo que yo tengo uno.
Do you need a pencil? I think I have one

¿Quiere un boleto a Madrid? Tengo uno en primera class
Do you want a ticket to Madrid? I have one in first class

Something that you need to keep in mind is that when dealing with singular feminine nouns these words are going to change. As a result, you will need to use una before the noun. This word also means ‘a’ or ‘an’. However, una is also used as a pronoun and in this case means one. 

¿Quieres una pizza? Yo quiero una hawaina
Do you want a pizza? I want a Hawaiian

Remember that the purpose of using ‘uno’ and ‘una’ as pronouns is to avoid being repetitive and to speed up our conversations. Additionally, un and uno also have other meanings that we will discuss in the following sections. 

Additional Uses of Un, Uno and Una in Spanish

As established before, un and uno as well as their feminine form ‘una’ are used to talk about indefinite things. However, these words are also used in other situations by Spanish speakers. Although it’s possible that you won’t learn these uses in a grammar class, you should be aware that they are very common and applying them correctly will help you improve your conversations. 

Un and Una: describing or intensifying a behaviour or personality

Even though it’s very common in Spanish conversations, many new speakers don’t know that ‘un’ and ‘una’ can be used to describe someone’s personality or behavior. As you may see in the following examples, some of these phrases are so popular that they have become idiomatic expressions. 

Mis amigas son un amor My friends are very sweet

Andrea y Gustavo son un encanto de niños Andrea and Gustavo are very charming kids

As you have noticed, this is the phrase structure that we use in these cases:

[Person] + [verb ser] + un/una + [adjective]

¡Eres una dulzura! You’re so sweet!

Mario es una belleza de persona Mario is such a beautiful person

Notice that in this case uno and una match the gender and plurality of the noun they’re preceding. You can also use this structure to talk about negative qualities. Here is how you do it. 

[Person] + [ser conjugated] + un + poco + [adjective]

Fernando es una arrogante Fernanda is arrogant

Joaquín es un poco tonto, pero es agradable Joaquin is a little dumb, but he’s nice

Be aware that adding ‘poco’ is optional and we only do it with the purpose of softening the negative quality we’re talking about. These types of phrases are meant to intensify a quality or behavior in a person and we mainly use them in conversations. 

Uno and Una: Expressing generalizations

Something that we can do in Spanish with ‘uno’ and ‘una’ is building impersonal expressions to generalize some facts. With this type of phrase, we pay more attention to the action or fact than the person who performed it. In this case, uno and una can be translated as ‘one’ or ‘a person’. Here are some examples:

 Hoy en día, uno necesita trabajar más duro para conseguir sus objetivos
Nowadays, a person needs to work harder to accomplish their objectives 

Al tener problemas, uno puede descubrir a sus verdaderos amigos
When having troubles, a person can find their true friends

As mentioned before, these phrases are very common when we rather emphasize the action or information we’re talking about than the person who did it. In informal Spanish, it’s also very common to hear a person applying these sentences to themselves. 

Una tiene que encontrar la manera de divertirse
One must find the way to have fun

Uno ya no está para salir de fiesta todos los fines de semana
One cannot be partying every weekend 

In this context, the gender of the person saying the expression determines whether you use ‘uno’ or ‘una. Remember that when you’re applying these sentences to yourself, you’re placing emphasis on the action or fact that you’re talking about. 

Uno and Una: As a synonym of One of

Uno and una are also used to list nouns, including objects or reasons for doing something. We can also use them to list people. In this context, these words are translated as ‘one of’. Here are some examples that will help you understand this better:

Uno/Una de + los/las + [noun]

Esa es una de las casas que quiero
That’s one of the houses that I want

Emmanuel es uno de los mejores amigos de Paola
Emmanuel is one of Paola’s best friends

Una de las razones por las que quiero ir a México es para practicar mi español
One of the reasons why I want to go to Mexico is to practice my Spanish

Ismel dijo que uno de los motivos por los renunció fue la falta de apoyo de parte de su jefe
Ismael said that one of the reasons he quit was the lack of support from his boss

As you may have noticed in the previous examples, uno and una are always in singular form because we’re talking about or emphasizing just one person, reason or object.

So for instance, Ismael could have many reasons to quit, but the one that I’m mentioning now is the lack of support of your boss. 

How to Use ‘unos’ and ‘unas’ in Spanish 

In previous sections, we discussed the different uses and meanings of ‘un’, ‘uno’ and ‘una’ in Spanish. Although their plural forms unos and unas have the same meanings, we also use them in different contexts. Here are some of the different uses of ‘unos’ and ‘unas’ in Spanish:

  1. Talking about indefinite things or people: some, several, a few
  2. Giving numerical approximations – about, around, approximately
  3. Intensifying a person behavior or quality – very or so 

1. To talk about indefinite things or people – ‘Some’ or ‘a few’

In some contexts, unos and unas are translated as ‘some’ or ‘a few’  and, just as in English, we use these words to talk about indefinite things or people. To put it another way, ‘unos’ and ‘unas’ are used to refer to objects or people in a non-specific way. Here are some examples to help you understand this. 

Unas amigas me invitaron a México
Some friends invited me to Mexico

Hay unos perros afuera de mi casa
There are some dogs out of my house

Karina tiene unos libros de español muy buenos
Karina has some very good Spanish books

Este fin de semana vamos a ver unas películas
This weekend we are going to watch a few movies

2. To give an approximation – ‘About’, ‘Around’ or ‘Approximately’ 

Another way that we can use unos and unas is to give an approximation of the number of things. Therefore, in this context, ‘unos’ is the direct translation of ‘about’. We use ‘unos’ and ‘unas’ as a synonym of ‘about’ when we don’t know for sure or when we don’t want to say an exact amount. 

One thing that you need to keep in mind in this context is that you must match ‘unos’ and ‘unas’ with the object’s gender. Additionally, be aware that in this context, we only use unos and unas. Here are some examples as well as the phrase structure you need to use: 

[Verb] + unos/unas + [approximated number] + [noun] 

Creemos que faltaron unas doscientas personas
We believe that about two hundred people were missing

Hay unos dos o tres pedazos de pizza en el refrigerador
There are about two or three slices of pizza in the fridge 

Tengo unos diez años trabajando en este lugar
I have about 10 years working in this place

3. To intensify a person’s behavior or quality – ‘very’ and ’so’

Even though it’s very common in Spanish conversations, many new speakers don’t know that ‘unos’ and ‘unas’ can be used to intensify someone’s behaviour or a quality. Be aware that in this context, there’s no direct translation for ‘unos’ and ‘unas’; however, they may be considered synonyms of ‘so’ or ‘very’. 

[Person] + [verb ser] + unos/unas + [adjective]

Mis amigas son unas tontas 
My friends are so silly

Tus primos son unos llorones
Your cousins are so whiny

Paola y Pablo son unos enfadosos
Paola and Pablo are so annoying

In the previous examples the characteristics that are being intensified are negative. This is due to the fact that unas and unos are very commonly used for this. However, when talking about their friends, native speakers don’t use these expressions as a way to criticise, they rather use them with some affection and as a way to have fun. 

These structures can also be used to say compliments about people, here is how you do it:

[Person] + [verb ser] + unos/unas + [noun]

Carlos y Martín son unos caballeros Carlos and Martin are gentleman

Tus papás son unos ángeles, dales las gracias de mi parte Your parents are angels, thank them for me

Wrapping Up

When learning Spanish, un and uno can be easily confused since their meanings seem very similar and they’re nearly identical. However, there are some rules and elements that we need to keep in mind in order to decide which word we need to use in a particular situation. 

In this article, we learned that: 

  • un is the Spanish word for ‘a’ and ‘an’ and we use it before singular masculine nouns. 
    • We also discussed that this word is used to talk about non-specific things. 
  • And we established that uno is used as a pronoun. 
    • In other words, when the context is clear, I can replace a singular masculine noun with uno. 

On top of this, we discussed other common meanings and uses of these words. Hopefully, now you’re able to tell the difference between these words and you apply them correctly in your conversations. 

What’s the difference between ‘unos’ and ‘algunos’? Both ‘unos’ and ‘algunos’ mean ‘some’ and even though people use them interchangeably, unos is used in context where the object is more specific than with algunos. ‘Uno’ is also used as a synonym of ‘about’. 

Hay algunas personas que quieren verte
There are some people that want to see you

Tengo unos amigos que hablan español
I have some friends that speak Spanish

Nos vamos en unos cinco minutes
We’re leaving in about five minutes

Although they look very similar, these words have different meanings and particular uses. As a result, you probably want to learn when and how to use them at some point. In this article, you’ll find more information about the difference between unos and algunos.

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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