Indefinite Determiners in Spanish

Subset of adjectives refers to nouns lacking specificity

Skyscraper in Madrid
Cada día voy a la oficina en Madrid. (I go to the office in Madrid every day.).

Jose Luis Cernadas Iglesias / Creative Commons.

When they come before nouns, words such as "some" and "any" part of a vaguely defined class of words known as indefinite determiners. (A determiner is often classified as a type of adjective.) Such determiners usually function much the same in Spanish as they do in English, coming before the nouns they refer to. More precisely, indefinite determiners are defined as nondescriptive words that refer to, or specify the quantity of, nouns without a specific identity.

How Indefinite Determiners Are Used in Spanish

Like most other adjectives and determiners, in Spanish the indefinite determiners match the nouns they refer to in both number and gender. The one exception is cada, meaning "each" or "every," which is invariable, keeping the same form whether the accompanying noun is singular or plural, masculine or feminine.

Again with the exception of cada, which is always a determiner, the indefinite determiners sometimes function as pronouns. For example, while ninguna persona is the equivalent of "no person," ninguno standing alone is a pronoun typically translated as "nobody."

List of Common Indefinite Determiners

Here are the most common indefinite adjectives along with their common translations and sample sentences:

Algún, Alguna, Algunos, Algunas

The base form of alguno, typically meaning "some" or "one" (although not as a number), is shortened to algún with it precedes a singular masculine noun through apocopation and thus is listed that way here. The equivalent pronoun, usually translated as "someone," retains the form of alguno. In plural form, the translation "some" is usually used.

  • Algún día voy a España. (One day, I'm going to Spain.)
  • Tiene algunos libros. (He has some books.)
  • Algunas canciones ya no están disponibles. (Some songs still aren't available.)

Cada

Cada can be translated as either of the synonyms "each" or "every." A common phrase, cada uno, abbreviated as c/u, is used for "apiece."

  • Cada día voy a la oficina. (I go to the office every day.)
  • Tenemos un libro por cada tres estudiantes. (We have one book for every three students.)
  • Puedes comprar boletos por 25 pesos cada uno. (You can buy tickets for 25 pesos apiece.)

Cierto, Cierta, Ciertos, Ciertas

Although the singular cierto and cierta translates the English "a certain," they are not preceded by un or una. In plural form, they are the equivalent of "certain" as an determiner.

  • Quiero comprar cierto libro. (I want to buy a certain book.)
  • El problema ocurre cuando cierta persona me cree. (The problem happens when a certain person believes me.)
  • Ciertas estudiantes fueron a la biblioteca. (Certain students went to the library.)

Cierto and its variations can also be used as a regular adjective after nouns. It then typically means "true" or "accurate." Estar cierto is used for "to be certain.")

Cualquier, Cualquiera

Translations for cualquier and cualquiera before a noun include "any," "whatever," "whichever," "whoever," and "whomever."

  • Cualquier estudiante puede aprobar el examen. (Any student can pass the test.)
  • Estudia a cualquier hora. (He studies at whatever time.)

As a pronoun, cualquiera is used for either masculine or feminine: Prefiero cualquiera de ellos a Pedro. (I prefer whichever one of them to Pedro.)

A plural form, cualesquiera, which is both masculine and feminine, exists but is seldom used.

When cualquiera is used after the noun, it emphasizes that the specific identity of the noun is unimportant, somewhat like "any old" in English: Podemos viajar a una ciudad cualquiera. (We can travel to any old city.)

Ningún, Ninguna

Ningún and ninguna, meaning "no" or "not any," can be thought of as the opposite of alguno and its forms. Although these words are singular, a plural is often used in translation to English.

  • No quiero ningún libro. (I don't want any books. Note how Spanish requires a double negative here.)
  • Ninguna mujer puede salir. (No women can leave.)

The plural forms, ningunos and ningunas, exist but are seldom used.

Otro, Otra, Otros, Otras

Otra and its other forms almost always mean "other." A common mistake of Spanish students is to copy "another" by preceding otro or otra with un or una, but no un or una is needed.

  • Quiero otro lápiz. (I want another pencil.)
  • Otra persona lo haría. (Another person would do it.)
  • Quiero comprar los otros libros. (I want to buy the other books.)

Todo, Toda, Todos, Todas

Todo and its related forms are the equivalent of "each," "every," "all," or "all of."

  • Todo estudiante conoce al señor Smith. (Every student knows Mr. Smith.)
  • Corrieron a toda velocidad. (They ran at full speed.)
  • Todos los estudiantes conocen al señor Smith. (All of the students know Mr. Smith.)
  • Durmió toda la noche. (She slept all night.)

Varios, Varias

When placed before a noun, varios and varias mean "several" or "a few."

  • Compró varios libros. (She bought several books.)
  • Hay varias soluciones. (There are several solutions.)

As a regular adjective after the noun, varios/varias can mean "varied," "different" or "various.")

Translating ‘Any’ to Spanish

Note that some of these determiners can be translated as "any." However, it also is common that when an English sentence is translated to Spanish, no equivalent of "any" is needed.

  • ¿Tienen ustedes libros? (Do you have any books?)
  • No tenemos dificultades. (We aren't having any difficulties.)

Key Takeaways

  • A determiner a type of adjective placed before a noun to indicate that the noun doesn't refer to a specific person or thing.
  • Most Spanish determiners are variable for number and gender.
  • Most of the Spanish determiners can also function as pronouns.