An Overview of Determiners
A determiner is a word that allows us to "zero in" on the particular nouns we are referring to. For example, is it specific? (el libro), not specific? (un libro), possessive? (mi libro), in front of you? (este libro), is there more than one? (dos libros). The main types we consider in this guide are articles (el, la, los, las, un, una, unos, unas, dos, muchos, etc.), possessives (mi, tus, su, nuestro, nuestra, vuestro, vuestras, etc.) and demonstratives (esta, este, esos). All determiners vary according to the gender and number of the noun they precede.
Articles allow us to indicate how definite (or specific) something is. In general, the definite Spanish articles (el, la, los, las) are equivalent to "the" in English, while the indefinite Spanish articles (un, una, unos, unas) are equivalent to "a/some" in English.
Some examples are given here:
- Él es un hombre. "He is a man."
- Vi a una mujer. "I saw a woman."
- Los animales tienen hambre. "The animals are hungry."
- No me gustan las clases del profesor García. "I don't like the classes of (the) profesor García."
- unos/unas is usually translated as "some" or nothing (e.g.: yo tengo unos libros "I have (some) books.")
- Don't use un/una before professions/occupations unless there is an adjective following the noun, e.g.: Ella es profesora, ella es una profesora buena. Yo soy estudiante, yo soy un estudiante dedicado (yes, "student" is an occupation!).
- de + el becomes del, e.g: El libro es del niño.
- a + el becomes al, e.g.: Vamos al parque.
As their name suggests, possessive determiners are placed before nouns to show who they belong to. These are illustrated in the following table:
- Allí en la mesa está mi libro. "There on the table is my book."
- Vuestros pantalones están sucios. "Your pants are dirty."
- ¿Por qué no les gustan sus clases? "Why don't you/they like your/their classes?
* Don't confuse possessive determiners shown here that appear before nouns with possessive pronouns (e.g.: Es mío, no es tuyo = "It's mine, not yours.") Some of these are the same as the possessive determiners (nuestro/vuestro forms), but not all so be careful.
* Only the first and second person plural possessive determiners have masculine and feminine forms (nuestro/a and vuestro/a). All other possessive determiners have the same form for both masculine and feminine nouns.
Demonstrative determiners in Spanish are used to refer to nouns in relation to the speaker. Demonstrative determiners correspond to the English words this, these, that and those. Spanish uses the following demonstratives:
| English translation (approx.)
|this/these (here, close to speaker)
|that/those (there, far from speaker)
|that/those (over there, even farther from speaker)
- Esos niños no se portan bien. "Those children do not behave well."
- Esta comida está muy rica. "This food is very good."
- Él quiere comprar aquel carro. "He wants that car (over there)." (pointing)
* Be careful not to confuse the demonstrative determiners with demonstrative pronouns like éste, ésa, and aquél which ARE written with an accent and CANNOT be used in front of a noun. Demonstrative pronouns stand on their own as nouns because they are pronouns, a kind of noun.
* Be careful not to confuse the present tense singular form of the verb estar, está, with the demonstratives. There is no accent on the demonstrative determiner esta, the accent is on the é for the demonstrative pronoun ésta, and the accent is on the á for the verb está.
* Remember that all kinds of determiners (articles, possessives and demonstratives) in Spanish need to agree in gender and number with the nouns they modify.