When Not to Use Articles in Spanish – 7 Rules to Know

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

Wrapping Up

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

Daniela Sanchez

¡Hola! Soy Daniela Sanchez, I’ve taught Spanish in Mexico to a wide array of foreigners. From students and tourists to doctors and soldiers who’ve moved and visited here over the years. During the day I’m a freelancer and marketer, while at night I’m here writing for students of the world wide web looking to learn Spanish. I hope you find what you’re looking here during your journey into Español 🙂 Read More About Me

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