Employees must wash hands

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This week’s newsletter is about a very simple concept: in Spanish, when we are talking about nouns with an “in general” meaning, we must always use the definite article (el, la, los, las). Nouns with an “in general” meaning are often in the subject position (i.e. at the beginning of the sentence).

In every other case, the use of the article is identical in English and Spanish (I eat an apple, como una manzana; I eat the apple, como la manzana).

Let’s look at this sign:


This is correct, as it means “employees in general.” (Must should be deben, with a ‘b’, but that’s a different topic. Since ‘b’ and ‘v’ sound the same, people often make spelling mistakes with words that have either.)

And let’s now look at this other sign:


This one is incorrect. It should say “Los empleados.”

Here are some more examples:

Cats [in general] are fun. Los gatos [en general] son divertidos.
Italians [in general] cook very well. Los italianos [en general] cocinan muy bien.
New Yorkers [in general] are always busy. Los neoyorquinos [en general] están siempre ocupados.
Knives [in general] are dangerous. Los cuchillos [en general] son peligrosos.
Classical music [in general] is relaxing. La música clásica [en general] es relajante.

Practice: translate the following sentences into Spanish:

1. Chihuahuas are very cute.
2. I bought the house.
3. He peeled an orange.
4. Strawberries are red.
5. A woman called me last Saturday.
6. Companies must pay taxes.
7. The guitar that you gave me is broken.

(Find the correct answers at the bottom of the page.)





Correct answers for Practice: Translate the following sentences into Spanish:
1. Los chihuahuas son muy lindos/monos. 2. Compré la casa. 3. Él peló una naranja. 4. Las fresas son rojas. 5. Una mujer me llamó el sábado pasado. 6. Las empresas/compañías deben pagar impuestos. 7. La guitarra que me diste está rota.

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