In Spanish, as in English, we have different kinds of pronouns. The Spanish subject pronouns are: yo, tú, él, ella, usted, nosotros, nosotras, ustedes, ellos, ellas. They are used to identify the subject of a verb. They also enable us to make our speech sound more fluent by turning long sentences into short ones. In this post you’ll learn how and when to use these Spanish pronouns.
Spanish Subject Pronouns: The Basics
Let’s define the meaning of Spanish subject pronouns. They are the elements in the sentence that are in charge of carrying out the action indicated by the verb. Subject pronouns replace the subject of a sentence, which may refer to people, animals, or objects. For example,
- My mother is not at home. She’ll be back in an hour. – Mi mamá no está en casa. Ella regresará en una hora.
- Batuque and Pepe are my dogs. They are lovable pets. – Batuque y Pepe son mis perros. Ellos son unas mascotas adorables.
- My laptop is brand new. It’s really fast. – Mi computadora es nueva. Es muy rápida. (Sometimes, the subject pronoun may be omitted. We’ll dive into that usage later on.)
As a beginner, you need to have a clear picture of how subject pronouns work because they will determine:
1. The conjugation of the verbs.
2. The gender of the nearby adjectives.
Subject pronouns: Spanish
Now that we know the meaning and function of the subject pronouns in Spanish, let’s learn them all, compared with their English counterparts:
|Subject pronoun||Pronombre personal|
Subject pronouns: Differences between English and Spanish
As you can see in the table above, some of the subject pronouns have straight translations between English and Spanish, while a few differ in Spanish based on gender and formality
1. Whereas English has the neutral gender pronoun it, in Spanish every noun is either masculine or feminine: él or ella.
2. Spanish acknowledges gender not only for he and she like in English, but also in plural for we : nosotros and nosotras, and they: ellos and ellas.
3. Spanish has a formal you: usted , as well as a plural pronoun form of you: ustedes. We’ll go into even more details in the next section to explain you in Spanish.
Many Meanings for “You” in Spanish
In English, there is only one pronoun for you, whereas in Spanish the pronouns differ depending on the number of people you’re talking to and the kind of relationship you have with that person. And even between these, there are important regional differences.
- If you are in conversation with someone you know well, such as a friend, a relative, or even someone your age, use tú.
- In some countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and some regions in Colombia, Venezuela, and Chile, speakers use a different pronoun: vos. They use this pronoun in place of tú, which is equally informal. This is a linguistic phenomenon called “voseo”. Most of the Spanish tenses and moods have the same verb conjugation for tú and for vos. Nevertheless, in some tenses there’s a special conjugation for the pronoun vos: simple present tense, imperative affirmative mood, and some subjunctive forms.
- If you are talking to someone you do not know so well, is older than you or is a superior, such as a teacher or your boss, then use usted. It is a way of showing respect or being polite.
- If you are in Latin America, you always use ustedes as the plural form of you, no matter how well you know the people.
- If you speak to more than one person in Spain and know them well, use vosotros or vosotras (feminine). Speakers from Spain use ustedes to sound polite or formal.
Conjugating usted and ustedes: Third-person
We’ve just seen the various ways to say you in Spanish, both in singular and in plural. Spanish has a particularity with usted and ustedes: they are both conjugated in the third-person.
What do we mean by this? Well, we normally conjugate verbs in six forms: first-, second-, and third-person, in both singular and plural. From a grammatical perspective, you is considered to be the second-person, referring to the person or people being spoken to. Compare this to first-person: the person or people speaking, or third-person: someone outside of the conversation being spoken about. In Spanish, usted and ustedes are instead conjugated in the third-person.
Compare the conjugations for the singular personal using the verb estar, and note how usted uses the same third-person forms as él and ella:
- Yo soy, tú eres, usted es, él es, ella es – I am, you are, you are, he is, she is
This is always the case for usted and ustedes, so when you see conjugation tables they’ll always be grouped with the third-person forms.
To Use or Not to Use Spanish Subject Pronouns: That is the Question
How often have you asked why Spanish verb conjugations are so different from English? We can know who or what the subject of a sentence is through that conjugation. Then, we can quickly drop the pronoun and still have all the information we need about the subject at the verb’s ending. For example, the meaning of the following sentence does not change whether the subject pronoun is present or omitted:
- I will travel by plane next week. – Yo voy a viajar en avión la semana próxima.
- I will travel by plane next week. – Voy a viajar en avión la semana próxima.
When can subject pronouns be omitted?
1. When the sentence’s subject is clear thanks to the context or form of the verb:
- My cat is beautiful. It has long hair. – Mi gato es hermoso. Tiene pelo largo.
- The kids came last night. They were exhausted. – Los chicos vinieron anoche. Estaban muy cansados.
- I go to summer school every year. – Voy a la escuela de verano cada año.
2. When there is a verb related to weather in the sentence, like rain or snow:
- It rained all morning long. – Llovió toda la mañana.
- In Canada, it snows every day. – En Canadá nieva todos los días.
3. When the English pronoun It is used as a subject or when They is used to refer to things:
- What time is it? It’s five o’clock. – ¿Qué hora es? Son las cinco en punto.
- What are they? They’re palm trees. – ¿Qué son? Son palmeras.
When do we need to include subject pronouns?
1. For clarity:
Note that if we dropped the subject pronouns, we wouldn’t know who teaches which subject:
- My mother and my father are teachers. He teaches mathematics and she teaches literature. – Mi madre y mi padre son maestros. Él enseña matemáticas y ella enseña literatura.
2. For emphasis:
- What do you think about it? – ¿Tú qué crees?
3. For contrast:
- I play the piano, but she plays the guitar. – Yo toco el piano pero ella toca la guitarra.
4. In phrases based around the verb ser (to be):
- It’s me. – Soy yo.
- It’s you. – Eres tú.
5. After “que” and “como”, in comparisons:
- María is a better speaker than you. – María es mejor oradora que tú.
- Ricky is as friendly as you are. – Ricky es tan simpático como tú.
So far, so good, if you’ve managed to pick up when to include and omit subject pronouns in Spanish! In that case, you’re beginning to master one of this language’s most fundamental grammar rules.
We’re almost done!
All the Personal Pronouns in Spanish
So far, we’ve introduced you to everything you need to know about the Spanish subject pronouns. There are nonetheless three other sets of Spanish personal pronouns which are used in different grammatical contexts, so we’ll leave you with this chart comparing all of them. Click the links for detailed explanations about each family of personal pronouns.
|Subject pronouns, Spanish||Direct object pronouns, Spanish||Indirect object pronouns, Spanish||Reflexive pronouns, Spanish|
|él, ella, usted||lo, la||le||se|
|ellos, ellas||los, las||les||se|
That’s it! You now have a clear-cut idea about subject pronouns in Spanish. You’ve learned their meaning, how they function, and when to use them or drop them. You even got a good introduction to the various forms of you in Spanish, learning how and when to use usted, tú or vos in singular, and ustedes or vosotros in plural. Nice work!
Spanish Subject Pronouns: Exercises
Are you ready to practice choosing between the right subject pronouns in Spanish? Go ahead and try these exercises, choosing the right one based on the context:
1. Mis amigos adoran viajar. _____ estuvieron en Rusia el mes pasado.
2. ¿_____ vamos a caminar por el parque esta tarde?
3. _____ estamos aprendiendo a tocar el piano pero _____ están aprendiendo a tocar la batería.
4. Marcelo y yo somos fanáticos de la literatura. _____ hemos leídos más de 100 libros en un año.
5. _____ fuimos al cine el sábado. ¿Qué hicieron _____?
6. _____ vamos a practicar guitarra cuando podamos. Ahora no tenemos tiempo.
7. Mi abuelo es español y mi abuela es inglesa. _____ habla español y _____ habla inglés.
8. _____ necesitamos estudiar mucho para aprobar el examen de física.
9. Mi tío y su esposa trabajan en una oficina. _____ es contador y _____ es secretaria.
10. Mis hijos Marcos y Sara van a la universidad. _____ estudia enfermería y _____ estudia economía.
Note that where we add [square brackets] in the answers, you have the option of omitting the subject pronouns altogether.
Also, where we offer nosotros or nosotras as answers, you could have put either one depending on the gender of the group speaking. Likewise for ellas in sentence 3, which may also be ellos.
1. Mis amigos adoran viajar. [Ellos] estuvieron en Rusia el mes pasado.
2. ¿[Nosotros] vamos a caminar por el parque esta tarde?
3. Nosotras estamos aprendiendo a tocar el piano pero ellas están aprendiendo a tocar la batería.
4. Marcelo y yo somos fanáticos de la literatura. [Nosotros] hemos leído más de 100 libros en un año.
5. [Nosotras] fuimos al cine el sábado. ¿Qué hicieron ustedes?
6. [Nosotros] vamos a practicar guitarra cuando podamos. Ahora no tenemos tiempo.
7. Mi abuelo es español y mi abuela es inglesa. Él habla español y ella habla inglés.
8. [Nosotros] necesitamos estudiar mucho para aprobar el examen de física.
9. Mi tío y su esposa trabajan en una oficina. Él es contador y ella es secretaria.
10. Mis hijos Marcos y Sara van a la universidad. Ella estudia enfermería y él estudia economía.