Spanish Pronouns: How to Talk About Yourself and Others
Within the Spanish language, pronouns play a major role in letting us talk about ourselves and others as well when speaking, reading, and writing. Grammatically speaking, Spanish pronouns are a vital part of the language as we can communicate who is performing the action and who the subject of the sentence is.
What are the types of Spanish pronouns?
In Spanish, there are a variety of different pronouns. These include subject pronouns, direct and indirect object pronouns, possessive pronouns, reflexive pronouns, relative pronouns, indefinite pronouns, prepositional object pronouns, and demonstrative pronouns. Below are some examples of the different pronoun types along with English examples:
|Spanish Pronoun Type||Example in English|
|Subject pronouns||He eats the soup.|
|Direct object pronouns||Mary read it yesterday.|
|Indirect object pronouns||Mark wrote the letter to her.|
|Possessive pronouns||Those are mine.|
|Reflexive pronouns||Jacob cleans himself.|
|Relative pronouns||The cars that I’ve seen so far are superb.|
|Indefinite pronouns||There is nothing to do today.|
|Interrogative pronouns||Who is coming to the party?|
|Prepositional object pronouns||Go with me!|
|Demonstrative pronouns||This food is very tasty.|
In this article, we will focus on the first type of pronoun used in our table above: the personal subject pronouns, and how they’re used in sentences in Spanish.
Spanish pronouns as personal subjects
In English, subject pronouns are words like “you,” “he,” “she,” “it,” and “they.” They are pretty standard and do not require any form of modification, also known as conjugation. However, in Spanish, subject pronouns are a lot more defined as they require modification depending on the gender of the subject and also if there is one or more than one subject doing the action (singular form versus plural form).
Spanish subject pronouns are as follows:
|Pronoun in Spanish||Pronoun in English|
|vosotros/vosotras||you all (informal, masculine/feminine)|
|ustedes||you all (formal)|
Notice how there are many more subject pronouns in comparison to their English counterparts, and also notice how the ends vary from -o (the masculine form implying a masculine subject) to -a (the feminine form implying a feminine subject) for the gender of the subject(s), and also from -os (implying multiple masculine subjects) to -as (implying multiple feminine subjects). Like with Spanish adjectives, we modify subject pronouns in Spanish to communicate not only who the subject is, but the gender and number of the subject as well.
Formal vs informal pronouns
You may have noticed how some Spanish subject pronouns are either formal or informal. This concept of formality and informality when it comes to personal subject pronouns is something that we don’t really have as much in English grammar. However, in Spanish, depending on the subject you are referring to, you must use certain pronouns.
For example, if you are addressing an older person or someone you are not close or familiar with, you should use the “usted” subject pronoun instead of “tú” because “usted” is the formal version of “you” while “tú” is the informal version. “Tú” is usually used when referring to other people that you are familiar with, such as close relatives and friends.
Another important thing to know is that, outside of Spain, speakers don’t use the “vosotros/vosotras” pronouns for “you all.” Instead, “ustedes” is appropriate in both formal and informal situations. This is one of the most noticeable differences between Spain and Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America. Nonetheless, both of these pronouns are correct within their regions.
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How to use personal subject pronouns in Spanish
Now that we know what the Spanish subject pronouns are and what they mean on their own, it is time to learn how to use them within sentences in Spanish. The Spanish language uses the subject-verb-noun word order, so this means that subject pronouns, the performer of the action (verb), come first, followed by the action (verb) itself, and then the noun that is receiving the action (which can be another person, place, or thing).
Let’s use this equation to write a grammatically correct sentence in Spanish using a subject pronoun:
Ella come la sopa.
She eats the soup.
As shown in the example above, we can see how the subject pronoun comes first, followed by a verb, and then the noun. And just like this, we have written a grammatically sound sentence that also tells us who the performer of the action in this sentence is.
Of course, you don’t have to only use personal subject pronouns in Spanish; much like in English, you can also use proper nouns to describe who the subject is, such as capitalized names like Jennifer, Joe, Martin, and so forth.
Understanding Spanish pronouns in number
Additionally, I mentioned earlier that Spanish pronouns change depending on the number of subjects; we can see this in some of the Spanish pronouns that we’ve covered. By definition, some pronouns are inherently plural, such as “nosotros/nosotras” and “ellos/ellas”, which translate to “we” and “they” in English. Now that we’ve covered what subject pronouns are masculine or feminine, this time, let’s take a look at which are singular or plural:
|Pronoun in Spanish||Pronoun in English|
|vosotros/vosotras||you all (plural)|
|ustedes||you all (plural)|
Notice how all of the plural subject pronouns have a letter -s ending? This is because, much like in English, a word becomes plural in Spanish when it has the letter -s at the end. Pronouns are no exception to this. So, since we know that the -o and -a endings each imply a singular masculine and feminine subject, then we should now know that the -os and -as endings each imply multiple masculine and multiple feminine subjects.
Therefore, if you see a Spanish pronoun with an -s ending, this means that the subject is plural in number. If you do not, then the subject is singular, or one in number.
Sentences without personal subject pronouns in Spanish
Another interesting fact about how subject pronouns work in Spanish compared to English is that, unlike in English, subject pronouns are not mandatory to include in a sentence. Yes, they’re optional! This is because, thanks to detailed verb conjugation rules in Spanish, subject pronouns are not necessary to include because the conjugated verb in a sentence is enough to let us know who the subject is. Let’s take a look at two examples of this concept below:
Yo quiero el libro.
Quiero el libro.
I want the book.
As we can see in the examples above, the first sentence includes the personal subject pronoun “yo” (I) whereas the second sentence does not. Despite this, we can still tell who the subject is in the second sentence by paying attention to the conjugated verb form “quiero” (want), which is the conjugation of the verb “querer” (to want) in the yo form. Therefore, if you don’t see a personal subject pronoun at the beginning of a sentence, know that this is still grammatically correct in Spanish and that you can figure out who the subject is by looking at the verb instead.
Practicing using Spanish pronouns
Now that we’ve covered some basic rules as to how personal pronouns in Spanish change depending on the subject of the sentence, let’s try to practice what we’ve learned through the exercise activity below.
Fill in the blank boxes below with the correct subject pronoun based on the other words given in order to complete the sentence. Keep in mind, the subject pronoun must always agree in gender and number with the conjugated verb (in green):
|Spanish Pronouns Exercise Activity|
Answer Key: (Él/Ella, Yo, Nosotros, Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes)
Improve your Spanish skills by learning pronouns
Using Spanish pronouns as personal subject pronouns is just one of many different ways that we can use pronouns in the Spanish language. As such, pronouns are very important to know because they are flexible and used often when speaking, reading, and writing in Spanish.
But personal pronouns are just the beginning of Spanish grammar. For more information on this topic, I recommend checking out my Learn Spanish Now: All-in-One Knowledge Course.