Let’s take a break from verbs!
In this lesson you are going to take a break from verbs and learn the Spanish word for the. Let’s talk about that for a second. Throughout all of my posts, I spend a lot of time reiterating the importance of learning Spanish verbs first. Of course, this is just my opinion. However, it is a strategy that I used. I taught myself a lot of the verbs and their conjugations BEFORE enriching the rest of my Spanish vocabulary. Now of course, I am exaggerating a little. I did know some Spanish nouns before learning verbs.
Spanish nouns are everywhere!
However, I did not focus heavily on nouns, because I knew that Spanish nouns are everywhere. Spanish nouns are easily learned from reading Spanish children books like the ones I recommend on this site. Spanish nouns are in the sentences where verb usage is shown. Also, when you learn verbs, you are going to desire to put sentences together, so you will put sentences together with the verbs you have learned, and you will naturally want to look up nouns.
Now, I personally focused on ALL of the verb tenses before digging in too deeply with other aspects of Spanish. In the lessons I have posted so far, there is solely focus on present tense verbs. Past tense verbs are to come. The reason it is time to pause is that you are now at a point where you will want to put sentences together and look up nouns. So, you need to learn about a special word in Spanish.
Spanish seems to have more words for one single word in English
As you may have noticed so far, there are a number of words that when translated to Spanish, become more than one word. For example, you noticed that ‘to know’ in English is translated to ‘saber’ when referring to knowing a concept, and ‘conocer’ when referring to knowing a person. Click on this lesson to learn more about that.
You also learned that the translation of ‘to be’ depends on whether you are describing a temporary condition or the location of someone or something, or if you are linking the subject of the sentence to a permanent description. Click here to learn more about this concept.
El, la, los and las
In Spanish, the word ‘the’ is also more than one word. The word the is translated to el, la, los and las. So let’s take a look at the context of these words to understand when to use which word.
You probably have already picked up plenty of nouns from the Story Time Videos and the side by side Spanish English sentence translations that are provided in lessons like this one: Click here.
Nouns are either masculine or feminine
Every noun in Spanish is considered feminine or masculine. Let me clear up one beginner’s myth. A lot of people think that if you are a female, that you have to say every word with an a at the end, and that if you are a male, you have to say every word with an o at the end. This is not true!!! In Spanish, the words themselves are either feminine or masculine regardless of who is speaking.
Your gender does not change the word!
So, for example, the word for door in Spanish is puerta.
Let’s say for instance, you are a male. It does not matter, door is still puerta. It does not become puerto because a male is speaking. ‘Puerto’ is obviously a different word such as in “Puerto Rico” and it means port.
Here is another example. The word book in Spanish is libro.
So, let’s say you are a female. The word book is still libro, and you, the female still say libro. You do not say libra (haha).
Now, for many people, that may already be known, but some people are under the impression that your gender affects how you say things. This is not the case.
The word the for feminine words is ‘la’
In general, the word for ‘the’ when used before Spanish nouns ending in -a, is ‘la.’ (Just for review, a noun is a person, place or thing.) When the noun becomes plural, meaning, when you are referring to more than one person, place or thing), the word for ‘the’ becomes las.
So here is an example:
la puerta the door
las puertas the doors
So you can see, that when I am talking about more than one door, the word ‘the’ changes to las.
The word the for masculine words is el
In general, the word for ‘the’ when used before Spanish nouns ending in -o, is ‘el.’ When the noun becomes plural, the word for ‘el’ becomes ‘los.’
So here is your example:
el libro the book
los libros the books
So it is clear from the example above, the word ‘the’ changes from el to los when referring to more than one thing, in this case, the book.
There are exceptions to these rules. Here are the most common exceptions:
Words that end in -ema
Words that end in -ema are not considered feminine. So, for example, the word ‘problema’ in Spanish means ‘problem.’ The correct way of expressing ‘the problem’ in Spanish is:
So then, if you are talking about more than one problem:
This goes for any word ending in -a.
A reverse exception is the word ‘mano’ which means hand.
In Spanish, it is actually correct to say ‘la mano’ instead of ‘el mano.’ So then, as you have guessed, to say the hands, you say ‘las manos.’
Another word that typically takes the masculine although it appears feminine:
El agua the water
Some people may argue that water should be ‘la agua.’ I have most commonly heard ‘el agua.’
Words that end in ‘ción are feminine
Words that end in -ción are considered feminine. Many words that end in -tion in English are translated over to Spanish by replacing the t with a c, and an accent on the o.
Information = la información
Nation = la nación
the nations = las naciones
Once, the -es is added to the end, you can remove the accent from the o.
The word ‘the’ is used more in Spanish than it is used in English!
A lot of times, words that we typically do not put the word ‘the’ in front of do include the word ‘the’ in Spanish.
For example, when one speaks of generalizations:
Dogs cost a lot of money.
Cuestan mucho dinero LOS PERROS.
‘Los perros’ means dogs. Literally, it sounds like you are saying ‘the dogs cost a lot of money.’
Are children more teachable than adults?
LOS NIÑOS son mas educables que LAS PERSONAS GRANDES?
‘Los niños’ = children
‘las personas grandes’ = adults
It is important to note here too that the word ‘persona’ in Spanish also means person. ‘La persona’ is the person. ‘Las personas’ is people. As you will learn in the next lesson, Spanish adjectives typically come after the noun rather than before.
In English, we say ‘big people.’
In Spanish, you say, ‘people big.’
The common expression for ‘adult’ in Spanish ‘la persona grande.’ (An even more common, somewhat colloquial expression is simply ‘grande’ where grande’s usage becomes more like a noun. ‘Grande’ if you have not guessed, means big. The ‘s’ is added to the end of grande because the adjective must be plural if the noun is plural. You will learn more about that in the next lesson.)
The most important thing that you need to take away from the above examples is that the word ‘the’ is used more often in Spanish than it is in English. Instead of saying dogs cost a lot of money, you must say ‘the dogs cost a lot of money.’ Instead of saying, are children more teachable than adults? You say, are the children more teachable than the adults? And so on. Typically you simply cannot put a sentence together without using some sort of modifier for the noun. The nouns do not hang out by themselves.
Got any questions? Leave them below!!!
Nouns that end in consonants are typically masculine
Nouns that end in consonants (any letter other than a, e, i, o, or u) are considered typically to be masculine.
los modales = manners (notice that the literal translation is the manners, but you cannot leave the word without some sort of modifier)
el modal = manner
el calcetín – sock
los calcetines – socks
Note: This is the common word used in Spanish grammar/Spanish lesson books and story books as well; however, in Mexican Spanish it is much more common to hear ‘la calceta’ and ‘las calcetas.’ (The cute little bilingual Spanish English dictionaries tend to use the word ‘calcetin’ as well but it is more common to say ‘calceta.’)