When to use indefinite articles in Spanish?

A young woman dancing a traditional South American dance.
Indefinite articles in Spanish — un, una (a, an), unos, unas (some, a few) — can refer to:
  • one individual out of a group:
Quiero una paella, por favor.
I want a paella, please.
  • unspecified items:
¿Tienes un lápiz?
Do you have a pencil?
  • things mentioned for the first time:
Hay un perro en el jardín.
There’s a dog in the garden.
Knowing when to use them is useful, but it’s also important to know when indefinite articles are omitted. Do you want to know more? Then keep reading!

Table of Contents

For review of grammar terms used in the post, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end!

What are Spanish indefinite articles?

Indefinite articles are those that identify an item or person out of a group. Just as with Spanish definite articles they agree with the noun they precede in gender and number.
a, an
a few, some

Just like with definite articles, remember that if you have a singular, feminine noun starting with stressed a- or ha-, you need to use the masculine indefinite article. We make this change only because of phonetic reasons, to avoid having a longer vowel sound (una aula):

un aula     a classroom                            un hacha   an ax

                      ⤷ stressed                                                 ⤷ stressed

Check out this list of Spanish words that follow this rule!

When are indefinite articles used in Spanish?

  • To refer to one individual out of a group​

    Use the indefinite article to identify something or someone as part of a group:

¿Qué es eso? -Es un teléfono.
What’s that? -It’s a phone.
¿Quién es María? -Es una amiga.
Who’s María? -She’s a friend.
  • To talk about something for the first time

    Whenever we mention something for the first time, we need to introduce it with an indefinite article:

    Todas las mañanas voy a un parque. En el parque hay muchos pájaros.
    Every morning I go to a park. In the park there are many birds.

    Did you see what we did there? First we used the indefinite article to mention the park for the first time. Once it was clear what we were talking about, we used the definite article.

  • To identify a person with a noun indicating their personal qualities

    Sometimes we can use a noun to refer to a personal quality. In this case, that noun is introduced by the indefinite article:

    Tu bebé es un ángel.          Your baby is an angel.

  • To indicate quantity​

    Indefinite articles can be used to express quantity, as “one” of something:
Un boleto, por favor.
One ticket, please.
Or, to express an approximate amount:
En esta sala hay unas 20 sillas.
In this room there are about 20 chairs.
In this case, the plural forms unos/unas can be also used to mean “some” in English.

How would you say, “She has one car”? Did you think, “Ella tiene uno carro”? Close! In Spanish, when using the word uno as an equivalent of “one,” it becomes un when followed by a masculine singular noun Ella tiene un carro.

  • After the verb ‘hay’

    To indicate that there is “one,” “a person/object,” or “some” with the verb hay (there is/there are), we use the indefinite article.

Hay una estudiante en la sala.
There’s a/one student in the room. 
Hay unos perros en el parque.
There are some dogs in the park.

The use of the definite article after hay is not very common and you can learn more about it in this post about the verb hay in Spanish.

When are indefinite articles omitted?

  • After the verb ‘ser’ (to be) if the noun after it is not modified

Lina es enfermera.
Lina is a nurse.
Lina es una enfermera brillante.
Lina is an outstanding nurse.

On the left you can see we’re only using a noun after the verb ser; no article needed. Conversely, in the example on the right, the noun enfermera (nurse) is modified by the adjective brillante (outstanding); that’s why we add the indefinite article una (a/an).

This is especially applicable for nouns of professions, nationality, and ideology after the verb ser. Let’s compare a couple of examples:
Sofía es colombiana.
Sofía is Colombian.
Sofía es una colombiana orgullosa.
Sofía is a proud Colombian.
  • After the verbs ‘tener’ (to have) and ‘llevar’ (to wear/carry)​

    When the speaker refers to a specific object that they assume someone owns/has/wears or can only use one at a time:
Ya tenemos coche.
We now have a car.  
No llevaba sombrero.
She wasn’t wearing a hat.
Just like with the verb ser, if the noun is modified, then we use the article:
Llevaba un suéter feo.
He was wearing an ugly sweater.

For more on the Spanish verb tener, check out our post!

  • With the quantities “a hundred” and “a thousand”​

    The numbers cien (a hundred) and mil (a thousand) in Spanish don’t need the word uno (one) or un (a): 

    Hay cien personas en la conferencia.
    There are a hundred people in the conference.

  • With nouns designating a non-specific amount​

    ¿Tomas azúcar con tu café?
    Do you take sugar with your coffee? 

    You might have expected to use an article to express “some,” but because it isn’t clear how much sugar we’re talking about, the article is not necessary. 

  • With plural direct objects

    The indefinite article can be omitted when referring in a general sense to an item that is the direct object of a sentence, only if the direct object noun is plural.

    Julián escribe cartas para sus amigos.

    Julian writes letters to his friends.

    In this example, “Julián writes letters” is expressed as an activity that he normally does. If we wanted to say that he’s writing them for a specific reason, then we need to specify the noun by using the indefinite article:

    Julián escribe unas cartas de navidad para sus amigos.

    Julián writes some Christmas letters to his friends.

  • Before the words ‘otro’/’otra’ (other), ‘cierto’/‘cierta’ (certain), ‘medio’/‘media’ (half)

    ¿Quieres otro vaso de agua?
    Do you want another glass of water?

    En cierta ocasión conocí a una mujer de Paraguay.
    On one occasion, I met a woman from Paraguay.

    Llegaremos a casa en media hora.
    We’ll arrive home in half an hour.

  • After the prepositions ‘con’ (with) and ‘sin’ (without)​

    Por favor firme con lapicero azul.
     Please sign with a blue pen.

    No salgas sin sombrilla.

    Don’t go out without an umbrella.

  • In exclamations using ‘qué’ (what!) ​

¡Qué buena idea!
What a great idea!

In Summary

We have just learned when to use and not to use indefinite articles in Spanish. As always, there are similarities and differences with English. I’m sure that with extra practice and dedication you’ll be using indefinite articles correctly in no time!

We have prepared this short exercise on Spanish indefinite articles so you can put your knowledge to the test. And if you’re up for a challenge, here’s an exercise to practice definite and indefinite articles in Spanish. Happy learning!

Are you interested in learning more about Spanish Grammar? Check out our Spanish Grammar Homepage.
Unpacking the grammar

Definite articles in Spanish are the equivalent of the English article “the” and are words that are used to make nouns specific.

  • Definite articles in Spanish are el, la, los, and las.

The direct object receives the action of the verb directly and it usually follows the verb. In the sentence: “Ana writes letters” the direct object noun answers the question: What does she write? →  Letters (this is the direct object).

Meet The Author:
Natalia Molina
Natalia Molina Ceballos
Spanish Coach
Natalia is a Spanish coach at Mango Languages.

To embark on your next language adventure, join the Mango fam!


Indefinite articles activity 1
Indefinite articles activity 2


Indefinite articles activity 1
Indefinite articles activity 2

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