For many learners, knowing when to use Spanish articles can be confusing since these words don’t always follow the same rules in the ways you would use them in English. Applying these words incorrectly will affect your fluency. As a result, you should learn when not to use articles in Spanish.
In Spanish, articles precede a noun. However, these words are not required in the following situations:
- Before ordinal numbers
- Talking about professions
- Before proper names
- Using the word ‘hay’
- Referring to months and years
- Talking about unspecified amounts
- Referring to school subjects or languages
Articles are among the most common words that you will encounter in Spanish conversations. For that reason, it’s important that you know when you need to use them. In order to help you understand these rules easily, I’ve compiled a list of 7 different situations when you do not need to use articles in Spanish.
Additionally, we’ll provide you with examples and phrase structures that will allow you to understand these rules better. By the end of this, you should be able to know when and when not to use articles in Spanish.
1. Before proper names
As you may already know, Spanish articles work with nouns and their purpose is to define if that noun is something specific or unspecific. However, one of the most common situations, where we don’t use articles, is when that noun is with proper nouns. In other words, we don’t use articles if the noun is referring to the name of a person or place.
[Name] + [verb conjugated]
Daisy vive en Guadalajara Daisy lives in Guadalajara
México es un país con mucha riqueza cultura Mexico is a country rich in culture
Harvard es una de las mejores universidades de Estados Unidos Harvard is one of the best universities in the United States
Keep in mind that in some cases the article might be part of the name. This is very common when naming mountains, rivers, lakes, oceans, cities, countries and organizations. Below are some examples of this case.
El océano Pacífico es el océano más grande
The Pacific ocean is the largest ocean
Mi hermano fue de vacaciones a la India
My brother went on vacation to India
Se dice que hay un monstruo en el Lago Ness
People say there’s a monster in the Loch Ness
Some cities and countries that use an article in their name are:
- La Habana
- La India
- El Cairo
- El Paso
- La Haya
- El Salvador
Take Note: In formal Spanish, we don’t use articles before a person’s name. However, this rule might be omitted in some South American Spanish-speaking countries. In these places, this use is very common in casual conversations.
La Dulce me dijo que no venía hoy
Dulce told me that she’s not coming today
2. When Talking about Months and Years
In Spanish, the days of the week are always preceded by articles. For that reason, many students assume that these words will also be applied when referring to months and years. However, in Spanish, you don’t need to use articles when talking about months or dates.
Below there are some phrase structures and examples of this situation:
[Name of the month] + [complement]
Diciembre es mi mes favorito
December is my favorite month
Vamos a ir a Argentina en octubre
We’re going to Argentina in October
En México, mayo es uno de los meses más calurosos
In Mexico, May is one of the most hottest months
When it comes to talking about years and dates, you can follow this basic phrase structure:
[Preposition] + [year/date] + [complement]
Yo nací en 1991
I was born in 1991
Hace 10 años que vivo aquí
I have lived here for 10 years
En 2020, Paco y Lucas se mudaron a Madrid
In 2020, Paco and Lucas moved to Madrid
Take Note: In informal Spanish, people may use articles before dates. However, this use is not appropriate for formal Spanish. If the word año is before a date, you should use the article el (see example below).
[El] + año + [date]
Mi hermano nació en el año 1995
My brother was born in 1995
3. When Talking about Professions
Just like in English, in Spanish, we don’t use articles when talking about a person’s profession. In this context, you only need to use the following phrase structure:
[Ser conjugated] + [profession]
Mary es doctora
Mary is a doctor
Mis vecinos son reposteros
My neighbors are pastry chefs
¿Ustedes son abogados?
Are you guys lawyers?
Some learners might get confused because there are some situations where you need to use an article when talking about professions. Here are two exceptions to this rule:
- You need an article if you’re describing or qualifying the person performing this profession:
[Person] + [ser conjugated] + [article] + [adjective]
Solo soy un pobre ingeniero
I’m just a poor engineer
Tu hermana es una contadora muy buena
Your sister is a very good accountant
- You need an article if you’re using the profession as a way to refer to a person:
[Article] + [profession] + [verb conjugate]
La doctora me cambió la cita
The doctor changed my appointment
El abogado me dijo que mis papeles están listos en una semana
The lawyer told me that my papers will be ready in one week
4. When Using the Word ‘Hay’
Hay is a basic Spanish word that allows you to express existence or describe the objects that are in a certain space. In order to do this, ‘hay’ works with nouns and, as a result, in this situation, you don’t need to use Spanish articles.
When working with hay, you can only use adjectives of quantity that help you express the amount of objects that you see. Examples of these words include:
- Mucho / Mucha – A lot / Many
- Algún / Alguna – Some
- Un / Una – Some / One
- Poco / Poca – Little / Few
- Más – More
- Tanta / Tanto – So much
[Hay] + [adjective] + [noun]
¿Saben si hay más sillas en la cochera?
Do you know if there are more chairs in the garage?
Erick, hay unos chicos esperándote en la calle
Erick, there are some kids waiting for you in the street
Laura, ¿por qué hay tanta basura en tu cuarto?
Laura, why is there so much garbage in your room?
Take Note: Although uno, unos, una and unas can be used in this context, keep in mind that it is not being used as an Spanish indefinite article. In fact, it’s used to imply amounts and quantities. So in this context, these words are translated as ‘some’ or ‘few’.
Related Resource: Uses of ‘Uno’ and ‘Unos’
5. When Talking About Unspecified Amounts
Another common situation where you do not need to use a Spanish article is when using nouns that either you don’t need or can’t specify their amount. Here are some examples that might help you understand this:
[Verb conjugated] + [noun]
No puedo trabajar sin cafe
I can’t work without coffee
¿La ensalada lleva huevo?
Does the salad have egg in it?
Si quieres, ponle más sal
If you want, add more salt
Notice in the previous examples that the nouns used (in bold) are used in a general sense and we don’t say how much of that noun we need. Since Spanish indefinite articles are used to refer to unspecified objects, many learners assume that these words can be used in this context.
However, keep in mind that indefinite articles imply a vague quantity while in the previous examples there are not amounts being discussed at all. Here are some examples that will help you understand this difference:
Ayer me compré un café
Yesterday I bought a coffee
Gracias, no tomo café
Thank you I don’t drink coffee
6. When Talking about School Subjects and Languages
In Spanish, you don’t need to use an article when talking about languages or school subjects. Check the examples and phrase structure below to have a better understanding of this context:
[Verb conjugated] + [school subject]
Fernanda estuda física
Fernanda studies physics
Nora y Lauren aprenden español
Nora and Lauren are learning Spanish
Marlen y yo reprobamos química
Marlen and I failed chemistry
Bart habla italiano muy mal
Bart speaks Italian very bad
Notice in the examples below that the school subjects are placed after the conjugated verb. This is because we don’t use an article if these nouns (languages and school subjects) are the object of the sentence.
Take Note: As stated above, school subjects or languages do not require an article if they’re the object of the sentence. However, if they’re the main subject of the sentence you will need to use an article.
Las matemáticas son muy difíciles
Mathematics is very difficult
7. Before Ordinal Numbers
Although in English, articles might be required when using ordinal numbers, in Spanish, you don’t need to use these words for this context. An example of this situation is when talking about titles of nobility or rulers.
Here are some examples:
[Name] + [number]
Carlos Quinto murió en 1558
Charles the Fifth died in 1558
Jorge Tercero fue rey de Gran Bretaña
George the Third was king of Great Britain
Luis XIV fue rey de Francia
Louis the 14th was king of France
Knowing when and when not to use articles in Spanish can be very challenging for new and experienced learners. For that reason, in this article, I’ve compiled 7 common situations where you do not need to use these words.
Through this article, we learned that you are not required to use articles when:
- Using a proper noun
- Talking about your profession
- Using the word ‘hay’
- Referring or using unspecified quantities
- Talking about years or months
- Using ordinal numbers
- A school subject or language is the object of a sentence
Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of when not to use articles in Spanish. Good luck!
Related Resource: What are Articles in Spanish