Using the definite article or not with titles

señor/señora/señorita

In Spanish, if we are referring to someone using their title, i.e. señor, señora, señorita, we must use the definite article el/la/los/las.

Here are some examples:

El señor Ramírez está en la sala de espera.Mr. Ramírez is in the waiting room.

La señora Sánchez debe firmar los documentos.Mrs. Sánchez must sign the documents.

Diga a los señores Moreno y Ruiz que pueden pasar a mi despacho.Tell Mr. Moreno and Mr. Ruiz to come to my office.

La señorita Mirelles ya no trabaja aquí.Miss Mirelles doesn't work here anymore.

Although it's more common to use just the surname/surnames when we use these titles, sometimes both name and surname are used. For example:

El señor Miguel Ramos lo ha llamado dos veces.Mr. Miguel Ramos called you twice.

Tiene una reunión con la señora Patricia Moreno Hidalgo a las 4 en punto.You have a meeting with Mrs. Patricia Moreno Hidalgo at exactly 4 o'clock.

But,

if we speak directly to the person, we omit the article:

Señor Ramírez, pase usted a mi oficina.Mr. Ramírez, come to my office.
Remember that in Spain everyone has two surnames, not just one.

don/doña

We use "don" and "doña" in a very similar way to the titles señor/señora. In English these are also the equivalent of Mr. or Mrs. but with the difference that we use them followed by the person's first name or followed by both first name and surname, but never just their surname. For example:

Me he parado a saludar a doña María en la calle.I stopped to greet Mrs. María in the street.

Doña Cristina me ha dicho que me va a subir el sueldo.Mrs. Cristina has told me that she is going to give me a pay rise.

Hemos otorgado el premio a don Javier Cuevas.We awarded the prize to Mr. Javier Cuevas.

¡Doña María! ¿cómo está?Mrs. María! how are you?

Notice how with don and doña we omit the article both when referring to them and when speaking directly to them. 

These would be incorrect:

La doña Cristina me ha dicho...

Hemos otorgado el premio al don Javier Cuevas.

¡La doña María! ¿cómo está?

Note: the titles don and doña were initially titles linked to nobility, which with time disappeared but were kept as a sign of respect and used with wealthy people and certain respected professions. Nowadays don and doña are used as a general sign of respect, especially towards elderly people and also young people sometimes in a formal setting, for example to refer to a client in a bank or in companies in general.

doctor/doctora

When referring to a doctor (doctor = male doctor and doctora = female doctor) the same rule as for señor/señora/señorita applies: we use the article unless we speak to the doctor directly, in which case we omit it. 

For example:

El doctor García le atenderá en cinco minutos.Dr. García will be with you in five minutes.

La doctora Prieto le hará la radiografía.Doctor (female) Prieto will do your x-ray.

But,

if we speak directly to the doctor, we drop the article:

Doctor García, tengo un dolor terrible en la espalda.Doctor García, I have terrible back pain.

 

san/santa

When we refer to a "saint" we use the words San and Santa followed by their name; san = male saint and santa = female saint. 

For example:

Ayer visité la iglesia de san Miguel. Es muy bonita.Yesterday I visited Saint Miguel's church. It is very pretty.

Mi abuela siempre pone velas a santa Catalina.My grandmother always light candles for Saint Catalina.

Look how in the examples above we do not use the article el/la.

When religious people speak to saints directly there is still no article:

San Antonio, ayúdame en estos momentos tan difíciles.Saint Anthony, help me in these very difficult times.

There are some exceptions when referring to male saints whose names begin with To- and Do-, in which case it would be "santo... "  (not San), for example: santo Domingo or  santo Tomás

The same way as in English, we have abbreviations for titles. These are:

  • Sr.  (señor)
  • Sra.  (señora)
  • Srta.  (señorita)
  • D. (don)
  • Dña.  (doña)
  • Dr.  (doctor)
  • Dra.  (doctora)
  • S. (san)
  • Sta.  (santa)
  • Sto.  (santo)

Capitalisation

It is important to note that if you use the abbreviations they start with a capital letter (D., Sta., Dña., ... ) but if you write the whole word they use lower case (señor, doña, doctor, san...) unless they are at the very beginning of a sentence. 

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Examples and resources

El doctor García le atenderá en cinco minutos.Dr. García will be with you in five minutes.
¡Doña María! ¿cómo está?Mrs. María! how are you?
Hemos otorgado el premio a don Javier Cuevas.We awarded the prize to Mr. Javier Cuevas.
Diga a los señores Moreno y Ruiz que pueden pasar a mi despacho.Tell Mr. Moreno and Mr. Ruiz to come to my office.
La señora Sánchez debe firmar los documentos.Mrs. Sánchez must sign the documents.
La señorita Mirelles ya no trabaja aquí.Miss Mirelles doesn't work here anymore.
Doctor García, tengo un dolor terrible en la espalda.Doctor García, I have terrible back pain.
El señor Miguel Ramos lo ha llamado dos veces.Mr. Miguel Ramos called you twice.
El señor Ramírez está en la sala de espera.Mr. Ramírez is in the waiting room.
Ayer visité la iglesia de san Miguel. Es muy bonita.Yesterday I visited Saint Miguel's church. It is very pretty.
Señor Ramírez, pase usted a mi oficina.Mr. Ramírez, come to my office.
San Antonio, ayúdame en estos momentos tan difíciles.Saint Anthony, help me in these very difficult times.
Me he parado a saludar a doña María en la calle.I stopped to greet Mrs. María in the street.
Doña Cristina me ha dicho que me va a subir el sueldo.Mrs. Cristina has told me that she is going to give me a pay rise.
La doctora Prieto le hará la radiografía.Doctor (female) Prieto will do your x-ray.
Mi abuela siempre pone velas a santa Catalina.My grandmother always light candles for Saint Catalina.
Tiene una reunión con la señora Patricia Moreno Hidalgo a las 4 en punto.You have a meeting with Mrs. Patricia Moreno Hidalgo at exactly 4 o'clock.
Getting that for you now.