In this article we show you the difference between the article “la” and the pronoun “la” in Spanish. Our aim is to help you tell the difference between the two words, so you can identify and interpret them correctly whenever you see one of them in a sentence.

For illustration, we’ll be using a dialog between two people (Andrés and Beatriz), consisting of two sentences. Each sentence contains one of the two kinds of la. Can you guess which la is an article? And which is a pronoun?

Andrés:  ¿Has comprado la leche?
Beatriz:  Sí, la he comprado esta mañana.

Let’s begin by saying that, in the sentence Andrés says, la is an article; it’s actually equivalent to the English article “the. On the other hand, in the sentence Beatriz says, la is a pronoun; and in this case it would translate as “it”.

Things that Article “la” and Pronoun “la” Have in Common

But before looking at what makes the two words different, let’s back up and mention the things that those two la do have in common. Interestingly, the fact is they have the same form, the same spelling and pronunciation. I know that can be confusing, and you may be wondering: how can two different words be spelled and sound the same way?

Let’s not panic, though. In fact, something similar happens in English with pairs of words such as the verb form “rose” (past tense of “to rise”, as in: He rose and walked out of the room) and the noun “rose” (which is a flower, as in: He sits next to her and gives her a rose). By context (as we’ll see in a moment with the types of la), we certainly can and need to tell the two words apart, even though we spell and pronounce them in the same way! 🙂

One other thing in common I’d like to point out, is that both articles and pronouns (but in fact also nouns and adjectives!) usually have gender (and number) endings in Spanish. To put it another way, those words can be categorized as feminine or masculine (in gender), and as singular or plural (in number); and we typically signal that gender/number by adding (or simply not adding) a specific ending.

In our example, both the article la and the pronoun la are feminine (in gender) and singular (in number)—and that just makes sense, because leche (the noun they accompany or refer to) is a femenine singular noun! In fact, we also note that the -a at the end of la is the typical ending for feminine nouns. As for its singular number, we simply don’t add any ending to signal that (as opposed to plural number, which is typically signalled by adding -s).

How to Distinguish Between Article “la” and Pronoun “la”

Now, how can we distinguish between the article la and the pronoun la? How do we tell them apart? The answer is: by context, meaning the other words that are used next to la in the same sentence.

So, as far as the article la is concerned, it’s important to know this: in Spanish (as in English) articles are generally used together with a noun. More specifically, the article la (as the other articles) is typically used before a noun; in our example, it’s used just preceding the noun leche (la leche). Articles are strictly dependent on nouns, and normally they can’t be used when a noun is not present (though there are exceptions: the noun may just be implicitly understood, so we may not need to actually say it… But that’s more advanced stuff!)

As for the pronoun la (and pronouns in general), we need to note it is used replacing a noun: so, in our example, that means la is used without the noun leche. And that is because, in its meaning here, la actually stands for leche: so there’s no need to have the same idea twice!

Let me give you the whole dialog translated into English, so you can also see what the surrounding words mean:

Andrés: ¿Has comprado la leche?
> > > >  Have you bought the milk? (or Did you buy the milk?)

Beatriz: Sí, la he comprado esta mañana.
> > > >  Yes, I bought it this morning.

Another detail to note about the Spanish pronoun la is that, more specifically, it is always a direct object pronoun. That is important because, for that very reason, you can be sure of this: la will never function as the subject in a sentence—la is not a subject pronoun! So try to keep that in mind, and you’ll be more likely to get the meaning of any sentence right! (If you need some help with subjects in sentences, be sure to read our article on How to identify the subject of a sentence in Spanish.)

And that leads us to another useful fact: because la, when used as a pronoun, is always a direct object pronoun, it will typically be used before a conjugated verb. Again in our example (second sentence), we see that is indeed the case: we have he comprado (a compound verb form, where he is conjugated) after la (Sí, la he comprado esta mañana).

In summary, that gives us the most typical contexts for the two types of la: as an article, la will generally precede a noun; as a pronoun, it will normally precede a conjugated verb. I hope that makes sense!

Now, let’s do a quick test, shall we? I’ll give you another couple of sentences (also forming a dialog between the same people, Beatriz and Andrés), and your task here is this: can you decide in what sentence la is an article, and where la is a pronoun? I’ll give you the answer below—but please take your time to think of your own answer first! 🙂

Beatriz:  ¿Tienes la llave?
Andrés:  Sí, la tengo aquí.

If your conclusion was that the first sentence, ¿Tienes la llave? (in English, Do you have the key?) contains the article, you were right! The pronoun, then, is in the other sentence, Sí, la tengo aquí (Yes, I have it here).

Before we wrap up, I realize this other question may arise: are there any other cases of articles and pronouns that (just like the la article/pronoun) have the same spelling and sound but are different words? Is that a frequent phenomenon? Well, the answer is “yes”; and probably the clearest way to show this is with a table. Please see it below!

I hope this article helps clarify the way Spanish works when it comes to articles and pronouns such as la. If any questions or doubts remain, please feel free to comment below, and we’ll do our best to help!

“¡Nos vemos en clase!” (See you in class!)

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