2.1 Gender of Nouns and Definite and Indefinite Articles

All nouns in Spanish are masculine or feminine in gender. * (A very small number can be both.) Masculine nouns are generally preceded by the masculine definite article corresponding to English “the” or indefinite article corresponding to English “a” or “an” in the singular, “some” or “a few” in the plural. Feminine nouns follow the same pattern.

Masculine Feminine
definite article el libro – the book la clase – the class
indefinite article un libro – a book una clase – a class
Plural
definite article los libros – the books las clases – the classes
indefinite article unos libros – some (a few) books unas clases – some (a few) classes

Most nouns ending in -o are masculine, and most ending in -a are feminine, though exceptions exist. Gender of nouns, in any case, does not present comprehension problems or translation difficulties.

*Some nouns and pronouns are neuter in gender. You will see these later in the text.

Last revised on June 16, 2021.

2.2 Negation

To render a sentence negative, the word no is placed before the verb.

Isabel no está aquí. Isabel is not here.

Be aware that no means “no” as well as “not”:

No, Isabel no está aquí. No, Isabel is not here.

Vocabulario básico (Basic Vocabulary) 

a- to, at
ahora- now
allí- there
aquí- here
con- with
de- of, from, about
e- and (before words beginning in -i, hi)
en- in, on
entre- between, among
es- (he, she, it) is/(you) are*
está- (he, she, it) is/(you) are*
muy- very
o- or
pero- but
y- and

*The difference between these forms will be studied in Section 3.4.

Last revised on June 16, 2021.

2.3 Plurals

Words ending in a vowel add an -s to make them plural; those ending in a consonant add -es. Words that end with a -z change the to c, then add -es:

Singular Plural
la ciudad – the city las ciudades – the cities
el día – the day los días – the days
el pez – the fish  los peces – the fish
Last revised on June 16, 2021.

2.4 Use of the Definite Article

Use of the definite article, as well as the indefinite article, corresponds to English usage and omission in the majority of cases. In a minority of cases Spanish employs the definite article in circumstances in which English speakers would not expect to find it. Nouns denoting an abstract concept, used in a general sense or referring to a general class, titles, the names of a few countries and cities, languages, and nationalities are routinely preceded by a definite article, which is not translated into English:

El fútbol es un pasatiempo nacional para los hispanos, brasileños, españoles y portugueses. Soccer is a national pastime for Hispanics, Brazilians, Spaniards, and Portuguese.
La libertad es necesaria. Liberty is necessary.
El señor Villareal no está aquí. Mr. Villareal isn’t here.
La India es una nación grande.* India is a large country.
La Habana es la capital de Cuba. Havana is the capital of Cuba.
El ruso es difícil, pero el español es fácil, Russian is difficult, but Spanish is easy.
¿Son religiosos los españoles? Are Spaniards religious?

*India is the only country before which it is considered mandatory to use the definite article, not translated into English. Other countries that use it in Spanish also employ it in English:  La República Dominicana, El Salvador, El Reino Unido (The United Kingdom). There are some countries that use the definite article in English (The United States, The Philippines) that may not be seen with it in Spanish, in which case you will want to add it. While the definite article has traditionally been used to precede a number of countries (el Perú, la Argentina, el Brasil, el Uruguay, el Japón, el Canadá), the tendency is for it to be used less and less frequently.

The definite article is, however, usually used when the country or city is modified by an adjective or phrase: la España del siglo XV (“Spain of the 15th century”) or la Roma del pasado (“Rome of the past”).

In a sentence such as Los brasileños aman la música, there are four possible translations. One translation could be the generalization “Brazilians love music.” The sentence could also mean “The Brazilians love the music,” referring to specific Brazilians and specific music. The other two combinations mix specific and general meanings: “The Brazilians [those specific Brazilians there] love music [in general]” or “Brazilians [in general] love the music [a specific kind].” Depending on the overall context in which this sentence appears, you should be able to clarify the meaning.

The masculine singular and plural definite article, el and los, are used before days of the week to translate “on.” The singular is used, for example, to translate “on Monday” and the plural “on Mondays”:

Elena está aquí el lunes. Elena is here on Monday. (one specific Monday)
La señora Lozano no está allí los sábados. Mrs. Lozano is not there on Saturdays. (all Saturdays implied)

Vocabulario básico

Verbos (Verbs):

están-(you, they) are*
hay-there is, there are
son-(they, you) are*

Sustantivos (Nouns):

el campo-country, countryside, rural area, field
la chica-girl
el chico-boy
los chicos-boys and girls (or “boys”)**
la ciudad-city
el/la estadounidense-American, U.S. native
el fútbol-soccer
el fútbol americano-football
el hombre-man
la muchacha-girl
la muchacho-boy
los muchachos-boys and girls (or “boys”)**
la mujer-woman, wife
el país- country, nation
el pasatiempo-pastime

Días de la semana (Days of the Week):

el lunes-Monday
el martes-Tuesday
el miércoles-Wednesday
el jueves-Thursday
el viernes-Friday
el sábado-Saturday
el domingo-Sunday

Números (Numbers):

uno-one
dos-two
tres-three
cuatro-four
cinco-five
seis-six
siete-seven
ocho-eight
nueve-nine
diez-ten

Otros adjetivos (Other Adjectives):

estadounidense-of or pertaining to the United States
mucho-many, much, a lot
pobre-poor, unfortunate
poco-few, a little
rico-rich, delicious

Otras palabras (Other Words):

casi-almost (cognate:quasi)
hoy-today
mañana-tomorrow
para-for***
por-for***
si-if
sí-yes
también-also, too

*The difference between these forms will be studied in Section 3.4.

**The masculine gender dominates in Spanish if the group is mixed, that is, of boys and girls. Chicos could also refer to a group made up of boys only. If it is important to know which of the two translations is the correct one, the situation should clarify the meaning.

***The difference between these two prepositions will be studied in Section 5.5.

Last revised on June 16, 2021.

2.5 Possession

Ownership or possession is expressed by the verb ser + de + owner. You will never see an apostrophe +s in Spanish.

El libro es de Jorge. The book is George’s.
Los libros son de las chicas. The books are the girls’.
Cien años de soledad es una de las novelas de García Márquez.  One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of García Márquez’s novels.   

 

 

Last revised on December 9, 2020.

2.6 Contractions

There are two contractions that must happen in Spanish. Whenever el appear (unless the latter is part of a proper name, e.g., El Salvador), they contract to form al. When de + el appear, they contract to form del. Note in the last example that the contraction del may also indicate possession.

Estoy al punto de volverme loco. I’m at the point of going crazy.
Estamos a diez minutos del hotel. We are ten minutes from the hotel.
Los periódicos son del vendedor. The newspapers are the vendor’s.

 

Last revised on December 9, 2020.

2.7 Interrogation

Spanish usually inverts the order of the subject and verb when forming a question. (In addition, as you have seen, a question is both preceded and followed by a question mark.)

In colloquial speech -and, on occasion, in writing- subject and verb are not always inverted, though punctuation will always indicate that the sentence is indeed a question.

¿Están los muchachos en la ciudad? Are the boys and girls in town (in the city)?
¿Cecilia está allí? Is Cecilia there?

¡Ojo! (This literally means “eye,” but used here means “watch out” or “pay close attention” and is used like the Italian Nota bene [N.B. or “note well”].) In many cases, when someone is asking whether someone is “here,” “there,” or “at home,” the words aquí, allí and en casa are understood and not expressed:

¿Está Mamá? Is Mom here (there, at home)?
¿Están los señores Alférez? Are Mr. and Mrs. Alférez home (here, there)?

 

Vocabulario básico 

Sustantivos:

la abuela-grandmother
el abuelo-grandfather
la esposa-wife
el esposo-husband, spouse*
los esposos-husband and wife
el hermano-brother
la hermana-sister
los hermanos- brothers and sisters, siblings, brothers
la madre-mother
el marido-husband
el padre-father, priest
los padres-parents (priests [occasionally, “fathers”])
el pariente-relative (false friend)
el periódico-newspaper
el/la primo/a-cousin
la tía-aunt
el tío-uncle
los tíos- aunt and uncle (occasionally, “uncles”)

Números:

once-eleven
doce-twelve
trece-thirteen
catorce-fourteen
quince-fifteen
dieciséis (diez y seis)**-sixteen
diecisiete (diez y siete)**-seventeen
dieciocho (diez y ocho)**-eighteen
diecinueve (diez y nueve)**-nineteen
veinte-twenty

Interrogativos***

¿cómo?-how (used alone, “what?”)
¿cuál/es?- which?, what?
¿cuándo?-when?
¿cuánto?****-how many?, how much?
¿de quién?, ¿de quiénes?-whose?
¿dónde?, ¿adónde?, ¿de dónde?-where?, where to?(to where?), where from?
¿por qué?-why?
¿qué?-what?, which?
¿quién?, ¿quiénes?-who?

Adverbios/Preposiciones

cerca (de)-near (to)
lejos (de)-far (from)

Without the de these words are adverbs of place. (La ciudad está lejos. = The city is far away.) With the de, they are prepositions and are followed by an object (Mis parientes están cerca de mí. = My relatives are near me.)

*When the first three letters of a Spanish word are e + s + consonant, it may help to recognize it by imagining the word without the initial e. As Spanish does not permit words to being in s + consonant, an e very frequently appears at the beginning. Among many other such words that that undergo the same phenomenon are : escuela, estado, español, escándalo, espinaca, etc.

**The three-word forms of these numbers are becoming outdated. In the rare case when numbers are spelled out, which form you will see will likely depend on the date of the text.

***All interrogatives in Spanish, when directly asking a question or indirectly implying one (No sé cuándo es = I don’t know when it is), take a written accent mark.

****Cuánto also has feminine, and masculine and feminine plural endings. See section 3.2.

 

Last revised on June 16, 2021.

2.8 Subject Pronouns

Subject pronouns are the most common and the first of various sets of pronouns you will see.

Note that Spanish has four different ways of expressing “you,” because like all other Romance languages (and some non-Romance languages, e.g., German) it has both familiar (informal) and formal modes of address.

  • Tú and vosotros are the familiar forms and are in general used to address children, close friends, people of one’s own age and animals.
  • Usted and ustedes are mainly used with one’s elders, people not known well, in business, and to show respect. There can, however, be substantial differences to these guidelines, depending on country, region, social, class, mental, or emotional state, and other special situations.
  • Vosotros is used only in Spain and, as those reading Spanish are most likely to see it only in fiction and poetry from there, it is not studied in this textbook, although the verb forms corresponding to it will be listed. In the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, ustedes is used as the plural form of the familiar “you” (as well as of the formal “you”).

Singular

yo I
 you (fam. s.)
él, ella he, she, it
usted (Ud., Vd.) you (form. s.)

 

Plural

nosotros/-as we
vosotros/-as you (fam.pl.)
ellos, ellas they (m. and f.)
ustedes (Uds. Vds.) you (form. pl. [fam. pl. in L.A.])

More Information on Subject Pronouns

  • For usted and ustedes, the Ud. and Uds. abbreviations are most commonly used, but you may see the Vd. and Vds. abbreviations in older texts. 
  • The forms nosotras and vosotras are only used for all-female groups.
  • As verb endings (studied in section 3.1 and after) in the first and second persons always differ from each other, subject pronouns are routinely omitted in Spanish and many times are used only for emphasis:
    • Yo soy el inocente y tú eres el culpable.
    • I’m the innocent one and you’re the guilty one.
  • In the third persons, as each verb form can refer to any one of multiple subjects, the tendency is to use subject pronouns more often for clarification. However, in the third persons, once the antecedent is known, the subject pronoun is routinely omitted:
    • María está en clase hoy. Es una estudiante muy popular y diligente. Y es de una familia pobre.
    • María is in class today. She’s very popular and diligent student. And she is from a poor family.
  • Always be sure to find or deduce what is the subject when translating. If it is not apparent, look for the previous noun antecedent, and chances are you have found it. The frequent omission of subject pronouns makes reading and translating in Spanish somewhat more challenging at times.
Last revised on June 16, 2021.