There are so many grammar rules in Spanish that entire books are dedicated to the details, but don’t worry. Even most native speakers do not know all the Spanish rules!
What about the basics, though, to quickly understand how the language works? For a beginner, you need to know some fundamental Spanish grammar rules. Let’s take a look at our top ten!
Spanish Rules for Nouns
Subject pronouns are optional
As you probably know, subject pronouns are grammatical elements that replace the subject in a sentence, whether it’s a person, an animal, or a thing. These elements come in handy when making our speech smoother, turning long sentences into shorter and natural sentences.
According to both English and Spanish grammar rules, they are assigned to three grammatical person groups, in both singular and plural:
|Grammatical person||Spanish singular||English singular||Spanish plural||English plural|
|Primera persona – First person||Yo||I||Nosotros/as||We|
|Segunda persona – Second person||Tú, Usted||You||Ustedes, Vosotros/as||You|
|Tercera persona – Third person||Él, Ella||He, She, It||Ellos, Ellas||They|
- Teresa is my Spanish teacher. She is from Costa Rica. – Teresa es mi profesora de español. Ella es de Costa Rica.
- He wants to have coffee, but I don’t. – Él quiere beber café, pero yo no.
However, unlike their English counterparts, Spanish subject pronouns are generally omitted. Part of the reason is that conjugated verbs are enough to convey which person is participating in the sentence.
This is a typical pattern used by Spanish speakers. Even though there are no fixed and strict rules, we can give some general guidelines on dropping subject pronouns from any sentence. What are the rules for omitting the Spanish subject pronoun?
1. When the subject of a sentence is obvious due to the conjugation of the main verb.
- Are you going to the New Year’s Eve party? – ¿Irás a la fiesta de fin de año?
- I bought tickets for the Adele concert. – Compré entradas para el concierto de Adele.
2. When the subject is understood thanks to previous information in the sentence.
- Javier loves baseball. He works hard to be the best player. – Javier adora el béisbol. Se esfuerza para ser el mejor jugador.
- The kids could not go to school because they were sick. They both had a fever and a cough. – Los niños no pudieron ir a la escuela porque estaban enfermos. Tenían fiebre y tos.
3. When there is a weather-related Spanish verb in the sentence (to rain, to snow, to thunder, etc.)
- I hope it doesn’t rain because I have to go to the supermarket. – Ojalá que no llueva porque tengo que ir al súper.
- It has been thundering all day. How scary! – Ha tronado todo el día. ¡Qué miedo!
Nouns are masculine or feminine
Spanish nouns are always either masculine or feminine. This is best known as gender or género in Spanish, and it is noteworthy because it distinguishes them from how nouns are treated in other languages. There is no neutral gender in Spanish.
The easiest way to recognize the gender of a word is by its article, since the spanish words for a and the are specific to the gender of their nouns: Un and el are masculine, while una and la are feminine. We’ll go into more detail on these in our next Spanish grammar rule on articles.
What are some of the fundamental Spanish rules to recognize the gender of nouns? Let’s review the basics here:
Frequently, masculine nouns end with -E or -O. Other endings are also pretty common. Masculine adjectives and articles will always accompany masculine nouns.
|-E||– El carruaje
– El norte
|-O||– El adorno
– El bolígrafo
|-L||– El automóvil
– El pincel
– Paint brush
|-N||– El gorrión
– El pantalón
|-R||– El amanecer
– El mar
|-S||– El miércoles
– El país
Usually, nouns ending with the syllables -MA, -PA, and -TA, are also masculine. Be careful though, since some feminine nouns also end in these syllables.
|-MA||– El alma
– El idioma
|-PA||– El mapa
– El papa
|-TA||– El cometa
– El planeta
Feminine nouns most commonly end with -A, but they also have other endings. Feminine adjectives and articles will always accompany feminine nouns.
|-A||– La camilla
– La doctora
|-D||– La edad
– La juventud
|-CIÓN||– La adaptación
– La canción
|-SIÓN||– La conversión
– La dimensión
|-Z||– La actriz
– La perdiz
|-IS||– La crisis
– La epidermis
|-IE||– La barbarie
– La calvicie
Articles are ubiquitous
When we talk about articles, we’re referring to words like the, a, or some. While in a lot of situations we apply the same rules to the use of articles in both English and Spanish, you’ll notice that the use of articles is much more widespread in Spanish than in English.
Let’s take a look at a few of the most common situations where you’ll need an article in Spanish, where it would be omitted in English:
1. Days of the week and dates:
- See you next Sunday, buddy!. – ¡Te veo el próximo domingo, compadre!
- Your medical appointment is on April 17th. – El 17 de abril es tu cita médica.
2. Time of day:
- My wife is arriving at three in the afternoon. – Mi esposa llegará a las tres de la tarde.
3. Simple possession: This simple form of expressing possession in Spanish using de always uses a definite article.
- José Luis’ shoes are very expensive. – Los zapatos de José Luis son muy costosos.
- Miguel and I will go to grandma’s house. – Miguel y yo iremos a casa de la abuela.
4. To generalize about people, animals or objects: When groups like this are introduced in the subject of a sentence, the Spanish definite article is necessary.
- Colombians are friendly and talkative people. – Los colombianos son personas amigables y conversadoras.
4. Abstract nouns or qualities: Here we’re talking about abstracts like time, hope, or happiness, where direct articles are necessary in Spanish. When the abstract noun is modified by an adjective, an indefinite article is used.
- My dad used to tell me that honesty was the most important thing. – Mi papá me decía que la honestidad era lo más importante.
- My granny has great charisma and humility. – Mi abuelita tiene un gran carisma y humildad.
6. To talk about someone’s title: When we mention people’s titles in Spanish such as Mr. or Dr., we need to use a definite article before them in Spanish.
- Mrs. González is not coming today. Would you like to leave a message? – La señora González no vendrá hoy. ¿Desea dejarle un recado?
7. To talk about body parts:
- I don’t think I’ll go to the theater, I have a tummy ache. – No creo que vaya al teatro, me duele la barriga.
- Vanessa has blue eyes and is tall. – Vanessa tiene los ojos azules y es alta.
8. To talk about languages: If the language is the subject of a sentence, a Spanish definite article must be used.
- Italian is a very beautiful and interesting language. El italiano es un idioma muy bonito e interesante.
9. Names of rivers, lakes or mountains:
- We would love to climb Mount Everest. – Nos encantaría escalar el Everest.
Spanish Rules for Verbs
The verb form reflects the subject of the sentence
Subject-verb agreement is one of the most fundamental rules of Spanish grammar. Especially compared with English verb conjugations, every verb conjugated in Spanish shows significantly more agreement with the subject. To put it another way, each subject has its own conjugation.
Let’s see this in action with an example comparing English and Spanish subject-verb agreement:
|I played||Yo jugué|
|You played||Tú jugaste|
|He played||Él jugó|
|She played||Ella jugó|
|You played (formal)||Usted jugó|
|We played||Nosotros/as jugamos|
|They played||Ellos/as jugaron|
|You (all) played||Ustedes jugaron|
The subjunctive mood is very common
The Spanish subjunctive has many practical uses as it allows us to express probability, doubts, emotions, or subjectivity. In short, it’s used to describe things related to the speaker’s feelings. And in Spanish, the subjunctive is used all the time, by everybody!
One of the most common forms for using the subjunctive in Spanish is in subordinate clauses triggered by a word expressing the speaker’s attitude. You’ll often recognize this type of phrase because the two clauses are connected by the conjunction que. Here is its simple formula:
Trigger verb (indicative) + que + verb (subjunctive)
- We want you to go to the cinema with us, I have already bought tickets. – Queremos que vayas al cine con nosotros, ya compré las entradas.
- I would love you all to learn another language. – Me encantaría que aprendieran otro idioma.
The Spanish subjunctive is also called for when using a variety of common impersonal expressions. With all of these everyday phrases you’ll need to use the subjunctive:
|Ojalá (que)…||If only…, I hope…, Hopefully…|
|Es necesario que..||It is necessary that…|
|Es importante que…||It is important that…|
|Es raro que…||It is unusual that…, It is strange that…|
|Es imposible que…||It is impossible that…|
|Es posible que…||It is possible that…|
|Es poco probable que…||It is unlikely that…|
|Es una lástima que…||It is a pity that…|
- I hope it doesn’t rain because I have a lot of things to do. – Ojalá que no llueva porque tengo muchas cosas que hacer.
- It is strange that Raquel has not yet arrived. – Es raro que Raquel no haya llegado todavía.
There are more reflexives than in English
Reflexives are verbs where the action is done on oneself. These exist to some degree in English where there’s an obvious action like I wash myself or he looks at himself in the mirror. There are way more reflexives in Spanish, where the English translation won’t call for any reference to the self.
This basic Spanish rule obliges learners to get used to using reflexives more often. We’ll leave you with a list of common reflexives to illustrate this. Note that for a few you can see how you might say myself in the English translation, though for the rest you just need to accept that in Spanish these concepts are expressed with reflexive verbs.
|Lavarse||To wash oneself|
|Bañarse||To have a bath, To shower|
|Ducharse||To take a shower|
|Maquillarse||To to put on makeup|
|Cortarse el pelo||To cut one’s hair|
|Mirarse||To look at yourself|
|Vestirse||To get dressed|
|Quitarse||To take something off, To get out of the way|
|Levantarse||To get up|
|Acostarse||To go to bed|
|Perderse||To get lost|
|Romperse||To shatter, To break|
|Enamorarse||To fall in love|
Spanish Rules for Spelling
Plurals are formed by adding -s or -es
Transforming a noun from singular to plural in Spanish is fairly straightforward, since we just add either -S or -ES to the end. The rules are based on whether the last word of the singular is a vowel or a consonant:
Add -S at the end of words ending in vowels:
The special case of -Í and -Ú
If the noun ends with -Í or -Ú, both plural forms are correct: adding -S or -ES:
|-Í||Ají||Ajís – Ajíes||Pepper|
|-Ú||Bambú||Bambús – Bambúes||Bamboo|
Add -ES at the end of words ending in most consonants, including Y:
The special case of -Z
For nouns ending in -Z, we first replace -Z with -C and then add -ES:
Vowels can be stressed: Accents are not optional
Accented letters are fundamental elements of many Spanish words. The accent, known in Spanish as a tilde, marks a word’s strongest syllable. All words have a strong syllable, although not all have a tilde. If a word has a tilde, this accent is a fundamental part of its spelling and cannot be omitted.
Let’s see a few examples of words with tildes, organized by groups depending where the strong syllable lands. The name of each group in Spanish is given here. For a more in-depth explanation on how to break words down into syllables, check out this post on syllabification.
Agudas: these words are stressed on the last syllable if they end with -N, -S, or a vowel.
Graves: these words are stressed on the second-to-last syllable. They have an accent if they do not end with -N, -S, or a vowel.
Esdrújulas: These words are stressed on the third-to-last syllable and always have an accent.
Sobreesdrújulas: These words are stressed on the fourth-to-last syllable.
Capitalization is less common than in English
A lot of the same capitalization rules apply in both Spanish and English, however there are many common situations where the Spanish rules call for lowercase in contrast to English. This may take some getting used to, but at least the rules are fairly straightforward. Here are some of the main situations you should be familiar with, where Spanish grammar rules require lowercase:
1. Days of the week and months:
- My birthday is on January 6th. – Mi cumpleaños es el 6 de enero.
- What are you going to do next Friday? – ¿Qué vas a hacer el viernes que viene?
2. Nationalities and languages:
- Many Americans would love to learn Spanish, but don’t have the time. – A muchos estadounidenses les encantaría aprender español, pero no tienen tiempo.
- Kate’s neighbors are Venezuelan. – Los vecinos de Kate son venezolanos.
3. Cardinal directions: Whereas these are often capitalized in English, in Spanish, they are capitalized only if they are part of a proper name such as América del Norte – North America. Otherwise they are always in lowercase.
- My home is in the North. – Mi casa está en el norte.
4. Headings and titles: In English, all the words in a title are often capitalized. In Spanish, only the first letter of the heading or title is capitalized.
- English Learning Tips for Teens aged 13-17. – Consejos para aprender inglés dirigidos a adolescentes de 13 a 17 años.
5. Religions: In Spanish, neither the names of religions nor of their adherents are capitalized.
- Carmen and her family are Catholic. – Carmen y su familia son católicos.
6. Names of geographical features composed of a generic noun: In Spanish, even when we talk about specific geographic features, the part of these features’ names consisting of generic nouns (mountains, rivers, oceans etc.) is usually written in lowercase.
- Venezuela has the longest coastline on the Caribbean Sea. – Venezuela tiene el litoral más extenso sobre el mar Caribe.
7. Ordinals after a proper name: We’re generally talking about historical figures here, like kings and popes.
- Henry the Eighth was King of England and Lord of Ireland. – Enrique octavo fue rey de Inglaterra y señor de Irlanda.
8. I: In English the first person personal pronoun I is always capitalized, contrary to its equivalent yo in Spanish.
- My friends and I are going to the cinema tonight. – Mis amigas y yo iremos al cine esta noche.
Spanish Rules for Negatives
Double negatives are normal
At first glance, an English speaker may wonder if such phrases as no veo nada, no conocemos a nadie, or no voy nunca a la playa are grammatically correct, since their literal translations would essentially be I don’t see nothing, we don’t know nobody, and I don’t never go to the beach.
In fact, this usage of double negatives is an essential Spanish grammar rule.
The construction of double negatives in Spanish is pretty straightforward, generally following this formula:
no + verb + adverb of negation
Here are the main adverbs of negation and their equivalents in English:
|Adverb of negation||English|
|Nadie||Anybody, Anyone, Nobody, No one|
|Ningún, Ninguno/a||None, Not one, Nobody|
|Tampoco||Neither, Nor, Either|
- Why didn’t anyone come to the meeting?. – ¿Por qué no vino nadie a la reunión?
- Marta saw lots of dresses, but didn’t buy any. – Marta vio un montón de vestidos, pero no compró ninguno.
Of course we could go on and on with more Spanish grammar rules, but we’ll leave it at that now that you’ve got the ones we consider to be most fundamental. As you progress in the language you’ll inevitably continue learning more of them, but at least with these top ten Spanish rules you’ll be able to build on a strong foundation.