A definite article, called an artículo definido in Spanish, makes a noun refer to a particular item or items of its class. In English, the definite article is "the." In Spanish, there are five ways to say "the." The four most common Spanish definite articles are el, la, los and las in Spanish. A fifth, less frequently used definite article, lo, is sometimes appropriate.
Definite articles are also sometimes referred to as definite determiners. Spanish and English have different rules as to when a definite article is needed or can be omitted.
In general, Spanish often uses a definite article in cases where English does not. For example, the English sentence, "Mr. Brown is rich," does not have the definite article "the." The same sentence translated into Spanish would be, El señor Brown es rico. In Spanish, the definite article, el, is used.
Agreement in Number and Gender
In Spanish, number and gender make a difference. Is the word plural or singular? Are you referring to a male or female or masculine or feminine word? The Spanish definite article must agree with the gender and number of the noun that follows it.
Masculine Form of 'The'
The masculine form of "the" is el if referring to one item, the singular form of the word. For example, "the cat" is el gato. The masculine and plural form of "the," if referring to more than one item, would be "los libros," meaning, "the books."
Feminine Form of 'The'
To say "the" when referring to a singular item that is considered a feminine word, for example, the word "door" in Spanish is considered a feminine word, puerta. A speaker would say, la puerta, for "the door." To pluralize the word, when referring to more than one door, the proper form of the definite article is, "las" puertas.
Use of Lo to Mean 'The'
Lo can be used as a neuter, meaning not gender specific, definite article before an adjective to make an abstract noun. For example, lo importante, translates to mean, "the important thing," or "that which is important."
Contraction Using El
English has many uses of contractions, such as "isn't" for "is not" or "they're" for "they are," blending two words together to impart meaning. In Spanish there are only two official contractions in the entire language and they both involve the definite article, el.
The words "a" + "el" form the contraction al. For an example, Ella va al auto, means, "She is going to the car." A Spanish speaker would literally say, Ella va "a el" auto. The contraction al works more smoothly in this case.
The words "de" + "el" form the contraction del. An example, El libro es del profesor, which literally translates to mean, "the book is "of the" teacher," or more smoothly translated, "the book is the teacher's."
The contracted form of al usually means "to the" and del usually means "of the."