Spanish by Choice/SpanishPod grammar
These are the grammar notes for the SpanishPod newbie lessons. They explain several grammar terms and concepts that are used in the lessons. You can read these notes as an introduction to Spanish grammar or to review the grammar discussed in the lessons. Either way, it's useful to read at least the table of contents so that you'll know where to find each particular explanation when you need it.
About the Green Alien
As we discuss Spanish grammar, we are joined by a curious little alien, who wants to know everything about humans — including Spanish grammar. Many thanks to LadyofHats for establishing this contact!
All the examples are lines from the dialogues in the SpanishPod newbie lessons. The original MP3 lesson content for these SpanishPod lessons is licensed by PraxisLanguage Ltd. under a Creative Commons 3.0 Unported license.
The good news is that the pronunciation of Spanish words is a lot easier than the pronunciation of English words because you don't have to learn the pronunciation for each word individually. The not so good news is that you still have to learn the pronunciation of the individual letters and a few common rules which are summarized in the following table (adapted from the wikibook “Spanish”). The most important rules are about the different pronunciation of c, g, and u. The words for the English approximation were specifically chosen to avoid strong deviations between British and American pronunciation. If the difference is important, the relevant variant is specified.
|letter||names||English approximation of the pronunciation||discussed in|
|A a||a||Like a in father|
|B b||be, be alta, be grande, be larga, be de burro||Like b in bad. A much softer sound when it appears between vowels.||lesson A0011|
|C c||ce||Before the vowels e and i, like th in thin (in most of Spain) or like c in center (in Southern Spain and the Americas). Everywhere else (i.e. not before e or i), like c in coffee.|
|Ch ch||che||Like ch in church.|
|D d||de||Softer than the d in day, you pronounce it with your tongue between your teeth. Even softer between two vowels, when it becomes similar to the th in the.||lessons A0008, A0037, A0102|
|E e||e||Like e in ten.|
|F f||efe||Like f in four.|
|G g||ge||Before the vowels e and i, like a Spanish j (see below), i.e. like ch in loch. Everywhere else, like g in get. Softer between vowels.||lessons A0037, A0096|
|H h||hache||Silent, unless combined with c (see above).||lessons A0016, A0106|
|I i||i, i latina||Like e in he.|
|J j||jota||Like ch in the Scottish pronunciation of loch (i.e. not like the ck in lock) or in the German word Achtung.|
|K k||ka||Like k in ask. Used only in words of foreign origin.|
|L l||ele||Similar to l in line.|
|Ll ll||doble ele, elle||Similar to lli in million. In some parts of Spain and in Latin America, similar to English y, but more vibrating. In Argentina and Uruguay, similar to sh in flash.||lessons A0030, A0131|
|M m||eme||Like m in more.|
|N n||ene||Like n in no.|
|Ñ ñ||eñe||Like the ny in the English word canyon, also like that gn in the Italian word lasagna or in the French word champagne.|
|O o||o||Like the British pronunciation of o in lot or not.||lessons A0016, A0047|
|P p||pe||Like p in port.|
|Q q||cu||Spanish q is always followed by a u. Spanish qu is pronounced like qu in quit, unless the qu is followed by an e or an i, in which case qu is pronounced like k in kangaroo.|
|R r||ere, erre||Similar to the Scottish rolled r. Rolled with the tip of the tongue; multiple vibrations at the start of a word or when written rr.|
|S s||ese||Like s in say.|
|T t||te||Similar to t in ten, but softer.|
|U u||u||Like oo in pool, but shorter. Before another vowel (especially after c), like w in twig. In the combinations gue, gui, que, and qui, it is silent unless it has a diaresis (güe, güi), in which case it is as above: w.|
|V v||uve, ve, ve baja, ve chica, ve corta, ve de vaca||Identical to Spanish b (see above).||lesson A0011|
|W w||doble uve, doble ve, doble u, uve doble, ve doble||Used only in words of foreign origin. Pronunciation varies from word to word.|
|X x||equis||Like x in extra. In some cases it may be pronounced like gs, s, or the Spanish j (see above). In words of Amerindian origin, it's pronounced like sh in she.|
|Y y||i griega, ye||Like the Spanish vowel i or the English consonant y but with more vibration. In Argentina and Uruguay y is pronounced similarly to the English sh in she.|
|Z z||zeta, ceta, zeda, ceda||Always the same sound as a soft c (see above); i.e. either like th in thin (most of Spain) or s (elsewhere).|
The following names are used in the recording to the right: a, be, ce, che, de, e, efe, ge, hache, i, jota, ka, ele, elle, eme, ene, eñe, o, pe, cu, ere, ese, te, u, ve, doble ve, equis, i griega, zeta. As this is a recording by a Mexican speaker, the z and the c before e and i are both pronounced as s.
By default, the stress is on the last syllable. The stressed vowels are underlined in the following examples:
¡Salud! Cheers! A0041: Cheers! (line 6)
However, if a word has more than one syllable and ends in a vowel (-a, -e, -i, -o or -u) or in the consonant -n or -s, by default the stress is put on the second-last syllable:
Tengo una pregunta. I have a question. A0019: How do you spell beige? (line 1) Muchas gracias. Thanks a lot. A0092: How old are you? (line 4)
One more example with both types of word:
¿Me da una botella de agua, por favor? Will you give me a bottle of water, please? A0066: Bottle of Water (line 2)
However, sometimes the stress does not follow these default rules. When this is the case Spanish indicates the stressed syllable by putting an accent on its vowel. For example:
Está ocupado. It's busy. A0035: Is anyone in there? (line 1) Tienes razón. You're right. A0033: It's expensive (line 4)
Sometimes an accent mark is used even though the stress follows the default rules:
Bien, bien. ¿Y tú? ¿Qué tal? Good, good. And you, how are you? A0006: How's it going? (line 2)
Spanish uses these additional accent marks to differentiate different words that are pronounced the same way. For example: tú means you but tu means your. Also, question words always have an accent, for example: ¿qué? , which means what? or how?.
Typing Spanish CharactersEdit
Spanish uses several characters not used in English. Not only can it have marks on its vowels and a tilde on ñ, but Spanish also uses an inverted question mark ¿ to start questions and an inverted exclamation mark ¡ to start exclamations (in addition to the normal question mark and exclamation mark at the end). For example:
¡Hola! ¿Vas a la fiesta? Hello! Are you going to the party? A0002: Birthday party (line 1)
Typing these special Spanish characters can be a bit of a problem if you do not have a Spanish keyboard. If you have a US keyboard, the first step is to switch to a US international keyboard layout if possible; see the wikibook “Spanish” for instructions. The following table summarizes some key combinations that are useful on various platforms. It also shows the codes for HTML and RSS files. The + means that you have to hold down the first key while pressing the following key. If there is no key on your keyboard, it should be the key on the right. If there is no key on your keyboard, it should be labeled . On some keyboards you have to use the number pad to type the numbers (on notebooks sometimes the number pad is part of the normal keyboard and is accessed by pressing the key).
Windows PC keyboards MacOS in HTML in RSS á , + + + ,
é , + + + ,
í , + + + ,
ñ , + + + ,
ó , + + + ,
ú , + + + ,
ü , + + + ,
Á , + + + + + , +
É , + + + + + , +
Í , + + + + + , +
Ñ , + + + + + , +
Ó , + + + + + , +
Ú , + + + + + , +
¿ / + + + + +
¡ / + + + +
Nouns are naming words. They denote things, people, places and abstract concepts, e.g., beer, party, birthday, internet, Seattle, man or Javier (a person's name):
Quiero una cerveza. I'd like a beer. A0003: At the bar (line 2) La fiesta de cumpleaños de Javier. Javier's birthday party. A0002: Birthday party (line 3)
Gender (Masculine and Feminine)Edit
Spanish divides its nouns into two genders — masculine and feminine. All words in Spanish are either masculine or feminine, even if the noun has no natural gender (and in English would therefore be neuter). For instance in Spanish, the word for hamburger is feminine and the word for moment is masculine. The gender of a noun is important because the endings of Spanish articles and adjectives that belong with the nouns change depending on the noun's gender. If you don't know the gender of the noun, you have a 50:50 chance of using the wrong ending for its article or adjective.
The good news is that most nouns that end in -a are feminine, e.g. hamburguesa – hamburger:
Quiero una hamburguesa. I want a hamburger. A0106: Room service (line 3)
And most nouns that end in -o are masculine, e.g., momento – moment:
¡Espera un momento! Wait a moment! A0001: Are you ready yet? (line 2)
And the best news of all is that most Spanish nouns actually end either in -a or -o.
As you learn more nouns, you will see that there are also other endings that tell you whether a noun is masculine or feminine. For example, nouns ending in -ción are always feminine:
¿Tiene servicio a la habitación? Do you have room service? A0106: Room service (line 1)
Probably the best way to learn the gender of Spanish nouns is to learn masculine nouns with the article el; for example: el momento – the moment; el servicio – the service. For feminine nouns the article is la; for example, la cerveza – the beer; la hamburguesa – the hamburger; la habitación – the room.
Number (Singular and Plural)Edit
Most nouns come in two flavors: singular or plural. This is called their number. In the singular form a noun denotes a single thing or person; for example, galleta – cookie. In the plural form the noun denotes multiple things or persons; for example, galletas – cookies:
Sí, son mis galletas. Yes, they are my cookies. A0052: Smells good (line 2)
In most cases you will learn the singular form of a noun. Spanish forms the plural by adding an -s on the end, just like in English.
To form the plural of nouns that end in a vowel (-a, -e, -i, -o, or -u), you just add an -s on the end. For example, galleta – cookie and galletas – cookies; año – year and años – years:
Tengo treinta años. I'm thirty years old. A0092: How old are you? (line 2)
For nouns that end in a consonant, i.e. not in -a, -e, -i, -o or -u, you add the ending -es to form the plural. For example, singular: dólar – dollar and plural: dólares – dollars.
Mi renta es de mil dólares. My rent is at a thousand dollars. A0033: It's expensive (line 1)
Plural of Masculine NounsEdit
Several Spanish nouns have a masculine and a feminine form, for example, hijo – son and hija – daughter. Another example is médico – male doctor and médica – female doctor.
In contrast to English, the Spanish plural of the masculine forms of these words refers to “not-all-feminine” groups, i.e. either to a group of male persons or a group of male and female persons. For example, the plural of hijo – son is hijos – sons/children, which can either refer to a group of sons only or to a group of sons and daughters. On the other hand, the plural of the feminine form is never ambiguous, i.e. it always refers to “all-feminine” groups. For example, hija – daughter has the plural form hijas – daughters.
Other masculine plurals that are ambiguous in English are: niños – boys/kids, chicos – boys/kids, padres – fathers/parents, abuelos – grandfathers/grandparents, etc.
In English, the definite article is the. The English definite article is always the, whatever sort of noun it precedes. In Spanish, however, the definite article takes one of four forms depending on the gender and number of the corresponding noun. The four forms are:
- el for masculine, singular nouns:
Me duele el estómago. My stomach hurts. A0016: I feel sick (line 4) Quiero el pastel de chocolate. I want the chocolate cake. A0096: I am allergic (line 1)
- los for masculine, plural nouns; e.g., los pasteles – the cakes.
- la for feminine, singular nouns:
¡Hola! ¿Vas a la fiesta? Hello! Are you going to the party? A0002: Birthday party (line 1) La segunda puerta a la derecha. The second door on the right. A0102: Where is the restroom? (line 2)
- las for feminine, plural nouns; e.g., las puertas – the doors.
As always, there are exceptions to these rules. Firstly, you use el instead of la as the feminine singular definite article whenever the definite article comes immediately before a feminine, singular noun that starts with a stressed a- or ha-. For instance el agua – the water, el hambre – the hunger (both these Spanish nouns are feminine). This exception is discussed in lesson A0066.
Secondly, the combination de el – of the is shortened to del and the combination a el – to the is shortened to al. For example, al cine – to the cinema/movies, see lesson A0013, or al agua – to the water.
- un for masculine, singular nouns:
¡Espera un momento! Wait a moment! A0001: Are you ready yet? (line 2) Sí, quiero ir a un restaurante italiano. Yes, I want to go to a Italian restaurant. A0010: I'm hungry (line 3)
- unos for masculine, plural nouns; e.g., unos restaurantes – some restaurants.
- una for feminine, singular nouns:
¿Me da una botella de agua, por favor? Will you give me a bottle of water, please? A0066: Bottle of Water (line 2) ¿Quieres una menta? Do you want a mint? A0116: Do you want a mint? (line 1)
- unas for feminine, plural nouns; e.g., unas mentas – some mints.
The exception to this rule is similar to the exception for definite articles: if you have an indefinite article right before a feminine, singular noun that starts with a stressed a- or ha-, then the indefinite article is un (instead of una).
Adjectives are words that modify nouns or describe what the noun is referring to, for example:
Sí, quiero ir a un restaurante italiano. Yes, I want to go to a Italian restaurant. A0010: I'm hungry (line 3)
In this example, the adjective italiano – Italian describes the noun restaurante – restaurant.
Agreement with NounsEdit
Similarly to articles, Spanish adjectives have different endings depending on the gender and number of the noun that they describe. If you look up an adjective in a dictionary, the dictionary will give you the masculine, singular form of the adjective, for example italiano – Italian, mexicano – Mexican, rojo – red, mucho – much.
To form the feminine, singular form, the last letter -o is replaced by an -a; for example, masculine: mexicano – Mexican becomes feminine: mexicana – Mexican.
¿Cómo se llama tu amiga mexicana? What is your (female) Mexican friend called? A0004: She's not Mexican (line 1)
Sometimes the masculine form does not end in an -o. These adjectives usually have the same ending for masculine and feminine, singular nouns; e.g., igual – equal or verde – green:
¿Manzana verde o roja? Green apples or red? (literally: green apple or red?) A0023: Going to the market (line 2)
However, there are also exceptions. In particular, many adjectives related to nationalities which don't end in an -o in the masculine nevertheless add an -a on the end to form the feminine; for example, masculine: español – Spanish becomes feminine: española – Spanish.
Muchas gracias. Many thanks. A0092: How old are you? (line 4)
The exception to this rule is the same as with the plural form of nouns: if a singular adjective ends in a consonant (i.e. not in -a, -e, -i, -o, or -u) then the ending -es is added, for example, singular: internacional – international, plural: internacionales – international:
¿Para llamadas nacionales o internacionales? For domestic or international calls? A0122: Telephone card (line 2)
Note that the ending of an adjective has to agree with the gender and number of the corresponding noun even if the noun does not appear in the same sentence, for example, the adjective caro/cara – expensive and the feminine, singular noun renta – rent in this dialogue:
Mi renta es de mil dólares. My rent is at a thousand dollars. A0033: It's expensive (line 1) ¿En serio? Es muy cara. Seriously? It's very expensive. A0033: It's expensive (line 2)
When you use adjectives about yourself, if you are male you use masculine endings and if you are female you use feminine endings. When you talk to others and use adjectives about them, if you are talking to a man you use a masculine ending and if you are talking to a woman you use a feminine one.
In the following question, a man is talking to a woman. The adjective seguro – sure is used in the feminine form because it describes the woman who is being asked the question. The adjective alérgico – allergic is used in the masculine form because the man is describing himself:
¿Segura? Porque soy alérgico. Are you sure? Because I am allergic. A0096: I am allergic (line 5)
One last exception: sometimes an adjective doesn't describe a specific noun. In this case, the masculine, singular form of the adjective is used, for example, in impersonal expression such as está claro – it's clear or in these examples:
¡Perfecto! Voy a hablar con ella. Perfect! I'm going to talk to her. A0127: Flirting (line 4) ¡Qué rico! How delicious! A0052: Smells good (line 3)
Spanish adjectives usually follow the noun they describe, for example:
Sí, quiero ir a un restaurante italiano. Yes, I want to go to an Italian restaurant. A0010: I'm hungry (line 3)
However, some adjectives are always placed before the nouns they describe, e.g., mucho – much:
Mucho gusto. It's been my pleasure. (Literally: much pleasure) A0072: Here is my card (line 1)
Other adjectives can be placed either before or after the noun, e.g. nuevo – new:
Por mi nuevo trabajo. To my new job. A0041: Cheers! (line 3)
The meanings of these adjectives often depend on their position: nuevo before a noun means that a thing is new to the speaker (subjectively new) while nuevo after a noun means that the thing itself is new (objectively new).
Some adjectives change their endings (and also their meanings) when they come before nouns, e.g. grande means big when it comes after a noun, but alters its ending and means great when it comes before one, e.g. una gran mujer – a great woman.
Other adjectives change their endings only when they come before masculine nouns, e.g. bueno – good: un buen trabajo – a good job, but: buena idea – good idea.
Finally, adjectives can also appear in other positions, e.g. after qué – how or after certain verbs:
¡Qué rico! How delicious! A0052: Smells good (line 3) ¡Cuidado, están calientes! Careful, they're hot! (literally: Careful, are hot!) A0052: Smells good (line 4)
Comparisons (with or without adjectives) are constructed with más – more, más ... que ... – more ... than ... or más de + number – more than + number. For example:
Pareces más joven. You seem younger (more young). A0092: How old are you? (line 3)
To say less or fewer, you use menos – less/fewer or menos ... que ... – less/fewer ... than ... or menos de + number – less/fewer than + number, e.g.:
Menos mal. Less bad. A0001: Are you ready yet? (line 4)
Possessive adjectives are words like my and your and are also sometimes called possessive pronouns or possessive determiners. Let's start with an example of the possessive adjective: mi – my:
Mi número de móvil es el seis, cinco, dos, doce, cincuenta y seis, cincuenta y seis. My cell phone number is six-five-two, twelve, fifty-six, fifty-six. A0112: What is your telephone number? (line 2)
Possessive adjectives specify that the noun which follows them (in the example: número – number) belongs to someone. Here it belongs to the speaker, who used mi – my.
There are several possessive adjectives in English, for example, my, your, his, her, its, our, etc. Analogously, there are several possessive adjectives in Spanish:
possessive adjectives before singular nouns mi my tu your (informal, singular) su
your (formal, singular)
nuestro/nuestra our vuestro/vuestra your (informal, plural) su
your (formal, plural)
Note that only nuestro/nuestra and vuestro/vuestra have different forms for masculine and feminine nouns. Also note that the English word your has four different translations: The informal form for a single person is tu, but the formal form is su. If you are talking to a group of people, the informal form is vuestro/vuestra, and the formal form is su.
Some more examples:
Extraño a mi familia. I miss my family. A0131: I miss them (line 2) ¿Cuál es tu número de teléfono? What's your phone number? A0112: What is your telephone number? (line 1) ¿Me presta su pluma? Will you lend me your pen? (formal) A0062: At the Bank (line 3) ¿A qué hora sale nuestro tren? What time does our train leave? (literally: At what time ...?) A0056: What time is the train? (line 1)
Just like other Spanish adjectives, Spanish possessive adjectives change their ending when they relate to a plural noun. But the change is easy — it's just the standard plural -s:
possessive adjectives before plural nouns mis my tus your (informal, singular) sus
your (formal, singular)
nuestros/nuestras our vuestros/vuestras your (informal, plural) sus
your (formal, plural)
Here is an example:
Sí, son mis galletas. Yes, they are my cookies. A0052: Smells good (line 2)
The numbers from 0 to 100 are:
There is some good news — most of these number never change their form. For example:
Mi número de móvil es el seis, cinco, dos, doce, cincuenta y seis, cincuenta y seis. My cell phone number is 6-5-2-12-56-56. A0112: What is your telephone number? (line 2) Se la llevo en diez minutos. I'll bring it to you in 10 minutes. A0106: Room service (line 4)
In the latter example, diez – ten is an adjective to the plural noun minutos – minutes but it does not change its ending.
Of course, there is an exception. The number one changes its ending wherever it appears as the final digit of a number describing a noun, except when it appears as part of the number eleven. This means that once – 11 stays the same whatever noun it's describing, but uno – one, veintiuno – 21, treinta y uno – 31, etc. change their endings to match the noun, like the indefinite article un/una – a does. Before masculine nouns (singular and plural), you get un, veintiún, treinta y un, etc. Before and when refering to feminine nouns (singular and plural) you get una, veintiúna, treinta y una, etc. Here is an example for a masculine noun:
Buenas tardes. ¿Me da un kilo de manzana? Good afternoon. Will you give me one kilo of apples? A0023: Going to the market (line 1)
When you want to mention the number one without it relating to any particular noun (for instance when counting or when doing math), then you use uno.
The following table shows the ordinal numbers 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, ... to 10th in Spanish in the form used before singular nouns or with no noun at all. Watch out for 1st and 3rd, where the ordinal number before masculine nouns is different from the ordinal number for when there isn't a related noun.
ordinal number before masculine/feminine nouns primero 1st primer / primera segundo 2nd segundo / segunda tercero 3rd tercer / tercera cuarto 4th cuarto / cuarta quinto 5th quinto / quinta sexto 6th sexto / sexta séptimo 7th séptimo / séptima octavo 8th octavo / octava noveno 9th noveno / novena décimo 10th décimo / décima
For the plural forms an additional -s is added to the end of the masculine or feminine form.
If one of these ordinal numbers describes a noun, its ending has to agree with the gender and number of the noun; e.g.:
La segunda puerta a la derecha. The second door on the right. A0102: Where is the restroom? (line 2)
Participles as AdjectivesEdit
Pronouns are little words that stand in for nouns, such as I, it and him. Spanish uses pronouns slightly differently from English — particularly when pronouns are the subject of the verb in the sentence (for instance the I in I ate an apple).
Pronouns that act as the subject of a sentence are known as subjective pronouns or subject pronouns. (The subject of a sentence is the person or thing that does the action described by the verb.) For example yo – I:
Yo soy de Colombia. I'm from Colombia. A0007: Where are you from? (line 3)
Here is a table of the Spanish subject pronouns:
person subject pronoun 1st person singular yo I 2nd person singular tú you (informal, singular) 3rd person singular él/ella
you (formal, singular)
1st person plural nosotros/nosotras we 2nd person plural vosotros/vosotras you (informal, plural) 3rd person plural ellos/ellas
you (formal, plural)
Pronouns can be categorised according to their grammatical person. In English and Spanish the categories are first person, second person and third person, and each of these persons is in turn divided into singular and plural, depending on whether the pronoun refers to one person (singular) or more than one person (plural). The categories into which each Spanish pronoun falls have been shown in the table above. This is slightly different from the categorisation for English because of the way the formal form of the pronoun you works in Spanish.
In Spanish, the 3rd person forms of verbs are not only used to talk about a 3rd person (someone who is neither the speaker/writer nor the listener/reader) but also for the formal versions of the you pronoun. A good way to imagine it in English, is to imagine that instead of saying Are you ready?, the formal way of addressing others in Spanish is more similar to saying Is sir ready? Thus, the formal subject pronoun usted – you and its plural form ustedes – you are labeled as 3rd person forms in the table.
Spanish is a pro-drop language which means that Spanish subject pronouns can be and often are dropped from sentences. For example:
Tengo una pregunta. I have a question. (Literally: have a question.) A0019: How do you spell beige? (line 1)
Unlike non-pro-drop languages such as English, dropping the subject pronoun in Spanish is not considered non-standard or colloquial.
In contrast to English where you need the pronoun to tell who or what the subject of the sentence is, in Spanish the form of the conjugated verb already indicates the person and number of the subject. In other words, in Spanish the form of the verb used with I is different from the one used with they, and both are different from the one used with we etc.
The exceptions to this are él – he(/it), ella – she(/it) and usted – you (formal, singular), as these subject pronouns all take the same form of the verb, so you can't tell which one is meant from the verb alone. For this reason, these pronouns are usually used to avoid ambiguity.
In addition, subject pronouns can also be included in the sentence for emphasis.
There is no subject pronoun for it in Spanish because all Spanish nouns have a gender, i.e. they are all either masculine or feminine. Thus, either él – he(/it) or ella – ella(/it) is used to refer to them.
Except for ustedes (you formal plural), all the plural subject pronouns have a masculine form (ending in -os) and a feminine form (ending in -as). The feminine form is used to refer to “all-feminine” groups (groups of which all the members are described by feminine nouns) while the masculine form refers to “not-all-feminine” groups (groups in which at least one member is specified by a masculine noun). For example, mis hermanas y la bici – my sisters and the bike is an “all-feminine” group and therefore requires the feminine plural form. On the other hand, mis hermanas y el coche – my sisters and the car is a group, which includes one member that is specified by a masculine noun (el coche – the car); therefore, this “not-all-feminine” group requires the masculine plural form. Note that only the grammatical gender is relevant. For example, las personas – the persons is an “all-feminine” group because la persona – the person is a feminine noun even if the person is male.
Formal and Informal YouEdit
Unlike English, which has just one pronoun for addressing other people — you — Spanish uses different words for you depending on the speaker or writer's relationship with the listener/reader and on how many listeners/readers the speaker or writer is addressing.
The formal way to address someone (singular) uses the subject pronoun usted – you. The plural form is ustedes.
The informal way to address someone (singular) uses the subject pronoun tú – you. In Spain, the plural form of tú (for addressing more than one person) is vosotros or vosotras, depending on whether you are addressing men or women. Vosotros is used for addressing groups which include at least one man (even if it's a group of thousands of women and just one man). Whereas vosotras is used for all-female groups. In Latin America, however, there is no separate informal plural form of tú, and you always use ustedes for the plural.
The difference between tú and usted is discussed in several lessons, for example in lesson A0023. It is not always obvious when to use which form, and in fact it is often a personal decision.
Direct Object PronounsEdit
Not all pronouns act as the subject of a verb. Pronouns can also play a different role in the sentence, for instance the direct object. Direct object pronouns are pronouns which act as the direct object of a verb, i.e. the person or thing that is directly affected by the action specified by the verb, for example:
¿Lo conoces? Do you know him? A0027: The Neighbor (line 2)
In this example, lo – him/it is the direct object. Note that this Spanish sentence does not include the subject pronoun tú – you, because Spanish is a pro-drop language, which means it can and often does drop subject pronouns from sentences. Instead the subject pronoun tú – you is implied by the form of the verb used.
Like most (but not all) direct object pronouns in English, Spanish direct object pronouns are different from their subject pronoun equivalents. Here is a table with the Spanish direct object pronouns:
person direct object pronoun 1st person singular me me 2nd person singular te you (informal, singular) 3rd person singular lo/la
you (formal, singular)
1st person plural nos us 2nd person plural os you (informal, plural) 3rd person plural los/las
you (formal, plural)
The feminine plural form las is used to refer to groups where all the members of the group are described by feminine nouns — “all-feminine” groups — while the masculine plural form los refers to any group which contains at least one member which is described by a masculine noun — “not-all-feminine” groups. Lo – you and la – you are the direct object pronoun equivalent of the subject pronoun usted. Lo is used to address a man and la is used to address a woman.
Direct object pronouns usually come immediately before the verb:
No, no lo conozco. ¿Y tú? No, I don't know him. How about you? A0027: The Neighbor (line 3)
However, sometimes instead of appearing as a separate word in front of the verb, direct object pronouns are appended to the end of the verb, forming a single word with the verb. This can happen whenever the verb is an affirmative imperative, an infinitive or a gerund. For example, it is correct to say ¡Lo busca! – Look for it! but it is much more common to append the object pronoun directly to the verb in the imperative:
No sé. ¡Búscalo! I don't know. Look for it. A0013: Doing the laundry (line 4)
Indirect Object PronounsEdit
Indirect object pronouns substitute for the indirect object of a sentence, i.e., the person or thing that is affected only indirectly by the verb. Here is an example:
¡Disculpe! ¿Nos podría tomar una foto por favor? Excuse me, could you please take a picture for us? A0005: Take a picture (line 3)
In this example, nos – (to/for) us is the indirect object pronoun. The thing that is taken, una foto – a picture, is the direct object. This answers the question what is taken?. On the other hand, nos – (to/for) us is only indirectly affected by the action. Instead of answering the question what is taken, nos answers the question to or for whom is it taken?. Another example:
Mejor te doy mi tarjeta de presentación. I'd better give you my business card. A0072: Here is my card (line 4)
The thing that is given, mi tarjeta de presentación – my business card, is the direct object. It answers the question what is given?. The indirect object pronoun is te – (to) you is only indirectly related to the verb. It answers the question to or for whom is it given?.
Here is a table with the Spanish indirect object pronouns:
person indirect object pronoun 1st person singular me (to/for) me 2nd person singular te (to/for) you (informal, singular) 3rd person singular le
(to/for) you (formal, singular)
1st person plural nos (to/for) us 2nd person plural os (to/for) you (informal, plural) 3rd person plural les
(to/for) you (formal, plural)
The difference between the more formal form le – you and the more familiar form te – you is the same as between the subject pronouns usted and tú.
¿Me puedes dar tu e-mail? Can you give me your e-mail? A0072: Here is my card (line 3)
Note that the pronoun me – (to/for) me comes before the conjugated verb puedes – (you) can even though it is an indirect object of the verb dar – to give.
Just like direct object pronouns, instead of appearing as a separate word in front of the verb, indirect object pronouns can be appended to the end of the verb, forming a single word with the verb if the verb is an affirmative imperative, infinitive or gerund.
If there is an indirect object pronoun and a direct object pronoun, the indirect object pronoun comes first and is followed directly by the direct object pronoun, for example, ¿Me lo puedes dar? – Can you give me it? In this example, lo – him/it is the direct object because it is what is being given and me – (to/for) me is the indirect object pronoun, because it is who the verb is being done to or for.
Le(s) before la(s) and lo(s)Edit
If the indirect object pronoun is le or les and the following direct object pronoun is la, lo, las, or los then the indirect object pronoun is changed to se. For example:
Se la llevo en diez minutos. I'll bring you it in 10 minutes. A0106: Room service (line 4)
Here, the direct object pronoun is la – her/it. The indirect object pronoun would usually be le – (to) you (formal). To avoid the combination le la, the indirect object pronoun is changed to se. A very similar example is:
Enseguida se la doy. I'll give you it right away. A0066: Bottle of Water (line 5)
If the subject and object of a verb are the same, then the verb is called a reflexive verb. An example is tú te llamas – your name is (literally: you yourself call). However, the subject pronoun is often dropped; thus, a more realistic example is:
¡Hola! ¿Cómo te llamas? Hi! What's your name? (literally: how yourself call?)) A0082: My name is... (line 1)
The answer could be yo me llamo – my name is (literally: I myself call), or without the subject pronoun:
Me llamo Antonia. ¿Y tú? My name's Antonia. And you? (literally: myself call Antonia. And you?) A0082: My name is... (line 2)
As these examples show, reflexive verbs usually require a reflexive pronoun; for example, me – myself or te – yourself. Here is a list of all reflexive pronouns:
person reflexive pronoun 1st person singular me myself 2nd person singular te yourself (informal, singular) 3rd person singular se
yourself (formal, singular)
1st person plural nos ourselves, each other 2nd person plural os yourselves, each other (informal, plural) 3rd person plural se
themselves, each other
youselves, each other (formal, plural)
Note that the plural forms of the reflexive pronouns can also mean each other. (In this case, these pronouns are called reciprocal pronouns.) For example:
Nos vemos mañana, ¿no? We'll see each other tomorrow, right? A0011: Call me (line 1)
Reflexive pronouns usually come before the verb and before any other object pronouns, for example:
¡No te preocupes! Don't worry (yourself). A0037: The baby is sleeping (line 4)
Similarly to direct object pronouns and indirect object pronouns, sometimes instead of appearing as a separate word in front of the verb, reflexive object pronouns are appended to the end of the verb, forming a single word with the verb. This can happen whenever the verb is an affirmative imperative, an infinitive or a gerund. For example:
¡Apúrate! ¡Corre! Hurry (yourself) up! Run! A0056: What time is the train? (line 5) No, prefiero quedarme en casa. No, I prefer to stay at home. A0021: I'm sleepy (line 2)
In the dictionary, reflexive verbs are shown in the infinitive with the 3rd person reflexive pronoun se – oneself appended to the verb. For example, the infinitive of the reflexive variant of llamar – to call is llamarse – to call oneself/to be called.
Interrogative pronouns are the question words which are used to ask about someone or something, e.g. to ask about a direct object:
¿Qué tienes? What do you have? / What's wrong with you? A0016: I feel sick (line 3)
Note the accent mark in ¿qué? – what?, which is characteristic for Spanish question words.
Another interrogative pronoun is ¿cuál? – which?, what?:
¿Cuál fiesta? What party? A0002: Birthday party (line 2)
As a rule of thumb, ¿qué? corresponds to what? and ¿cuál? to which? (one out of two or more). However, there are exceptions, e.g.:
¿Cuál es tu número de teléfono? What's your phone number? A0112: What is your telephone number? (line 1)
Further interrogative pronouns are ¿quién? – who? and its plural form ¿quiénes? – who?.
Interrogative pronouns usually start questions:
¿Qué le doy? What shall I give you? A0066: Bottle of Water (line 1)
However, they can be preceded by prepositions, such as de – of, from:
¿De verdad? ¿De qué parte de Guatemala? Really? From what part of Guatemala? A0004: She's not Mexican (line 3)
Verbs are doing words. They usually express some kind of action, for example:
Ahí viene el vecino. Here comes the neighbor. A0027: The Neighbor (line 1)
Here, viene – comes is the verb, which expresses the action of coming.
Verbs play a special role in sentences. In fact, when you read a new sentence, it is often a good idea to look for the verb first because that is where the action is. Most of the other parts of a sentence make much more sense once you are sure about the verb. The problem with this advice is that there is no standard word order in Spanish and also verbs often change their form, so it can be a bit tricky to find the verb.
The verb form that you find in dictionaries is called the infinitive; English examples are to be, to smile, to read, to learn etc. However, verbs often change their form depending on the subject and the tense. This change is called conjugation. You know this from English verbs, for instance to be. In the present tense, the first person singular of to be is: (I) am. The second person is: (you) are. The third person singular is: (he/she/it) is. The first person plural is: (we) are, etc. It is always the same verb to be but it appears in different conjugated forms for different subjects.
In the following sections we will have a look at the Spanish conjugation for the present tense, the (affirmative) imperative, and the negative imperative. These are the most important tenses in many everyday situations.
The Spanish present tense works very much like the English present tense: you use it to talk about things that are happening in the present.
Let us look at the Spanish conjugation of verbs in the present tense. Spanish has three slightly different conjugation patterns. Which one is used depends on the ending of the verb in the infinitive. Spanish has three different endings in the infinitive: -ar, -er, and -ir. All Spanish verbs have one of these endings in the infinitive. In the following table, there is an example verb for each of these endings representing the pattern that most verbs with that infinitive ending follow. The table also includes the relevant Spanish and English subject pronouns. The hints in the last column summarize the changes compared to the infintive.
PERSON SUBJECT PRONOUN -ar VERBS -er VERBS -ir VERBS HINT amar – to love aprender – to learn vivir – to live 1st person singular yo – I amo aprendo vivo ar/er/ir+ o 2nd person singular tú – you (informal) amas aprendes vives ar/er/ir+ as/es 3rd person singular él – he, ella – she,
usted – you (formal)
ama aprende vive ar/er/ir+ a/e 1st person plural nosotros/nosotras – we amamos aprendemos vivimos r+ mos 2nd person plural vosotros/vosotras – you (informal) amáis aprendéis vivís ar/er/ir+ áis/éis/ís 3rd person plural ellos/ellas – they,
ustedes – you (formal)
aman aprenden viven ar/er/ir+ an/en
The specific endings of the conjugated forms are set in bold. Note that the stems of the verbs (the parts before the bold endings) usually don't change. The vowels of the stressed syllables are underlined to help you with pronunciation.
The conjugated forms of many other verbs have the same endings. For example, llevar – to take/to carry/to bring which has the infinitive ending -ar is conjugated like amar. Here is an example in the first person singular (without the subject pronoun yo – I):
Se la llevo en diez minutos. I'll bring it to you in 10 minutes. A0106: Room service (line 4)
Unfortunately, that's not the end of the story. Not all verbs have a regular conjugation in the present tense (i.e. follow the above patterns). Many Spanish verbs have irregular conjugated forms. The good news is, the irregularities are usually rather minor, for example a different vowel or an additional consonant, like in this example:
Tengo una pregunta. I have a question. A0019: How do you spell beige? (line 1)
yo tengo – I have is the first person singular for the infinitive tener – to have. If tener was regular, it would have the same endings as aprender and be
teno. Since it is irregular, however, it has an additional g in the first person singular.
Many verbs have specific irregularities, but we will not discuss those groups of irregular verbs here. Instead, the vocabulary lists for the lessons include the conjugated forms of all the verbs that appear in the present tense in the dialogues.
There are two types of imperative: with and without negation, i.e., with and without no – not. The type with negation is called a negative imperative and is discussed in the next section. The type without is an affirmative or positive imperative — or just the imperative — and is discussed in this section.
In Spanish, the imperative is not only used for orders and commands but also for requests. Thus, the Spanish imperative is not considered as direct and as demanding as the imperative in English. For example, it is common to start a conversation on the phone with an imperative in Spanish:
¡Dime! Tell me! A0019: How do you spell beige? (line 2)
Similarly to the present tense, there are three regular conjugation patterns for the three infinitive endings -ar, -er, and -ir. They are summarized together with the relevant subject pronouns in the following table:
PERSON SUBJECT PRONOUN -ar VERBS -er VERBS -ir VERBS HINT amar – to love aprender – to learn vivir – to live 2nd person singular tú – you (informal) ama aprende vive 3rd p. s., pres. tense 3rd person singular usted – you (formal) ame aprenda viva a→e and e/i→a 1st person plural nosotros/nosotras – we amemos aprendamos vivamos a→e and e/i→a 2nd person plural vosotros/vosotras – you (informal) amad aprended vivid ar/er/ir→ad/ed/id 3rd person plural ustedes – you (formal) amen aprendan vivan a→e and e/i→a
Similarly to the regular conjugation for the present tense, the stems of the verbs do not change. The vowels of the stressed syllables are underlined to help with pronunciation. The endings of the conjugated forms are set in bold.
Note that the forms for the 2nd person singular of the imperative are identical to the forms of the 3rd person singular of the present tense. Here is an example:
¡Espera un momento! Wait a moment! A0001: Are you ready yet? (line 2)
Thus, espera can mean wait! or he/she/it waits or you (formal) wait.
In the 3rd person singular and plural and the 1st person plural, there is a characteristic change from a to e for -ar verbs. Analogously, there is a change to a from e for -er verbs and from i for -ir verbs. (In the case of the negative imperative this change occurs in all persons.) Here is an example for the -ar verb disculpar – to pardon, to excuse for the 3rd person singular:
Ah, disculpe. Oh, pardon me / sorry. (formal) A0035: Is anyone in there? (line 2)
These are the regular forms of the affirmative imperative. Irregular forms are included in the vocabulary lists for the lessons for all the verbs that appear in the imperative in the dialogues. However, instead of learning all these forms, you should focus on the forms for the 2nd person singular (tú – you) and the more formal 3rd person singular (usted – you (formal)). These two are the most common ones.
No sé. ¡Búscalo! I don't know. Look for it. A0013: Doing the laundry (line 4)
In this case, the direct object pronoun lo – he/it has been appended to the imperative form ¡busca! – (you) search! (informal). Note that the stress is on the next-to-last syllable of ¡busca! Since this is the default for words ending with a vowel (see the section about stress), no accent mark is necessary. However, to indicate that the stress is on the same syllable in ¡búscalo!, an accent mark is necessary.
Here is another example with the direct object pronoun los – them:
¡Llámalos! Call them! A0131: I miss them (line 3)
And with the direct object pronoun me – me:
No importa. Síganme por favor. It doesn't matter. Follow me please. A0015: Table for two (line 4) ¡Apúrate! ¡Corre! Hurry up! Run! A0056: What time is the train? (line 5)
The negative imperative (also called prohibitive imperative) always includes a negation with no – not; thus, it is used for prohibitive commands. Here is an example:
¡No te preocupes! Don't worry. A0037: The baby is sleeping (line 4)
All forms except the 2nd person singular and plural are the same as for the affirmative imperative with the characteristic change from a to e and from e/i to a. Even better: the 2nd person singular and plural show the same change of the vowel; thus, the conjugation for the negative imperative is actually simpler than the conjugation for the positive imperative. Here is the full list:
PERSON SUBJECT PRONOUN -ar VERBS -er VERBS -ir VERBS HINT amar – to love aprender – to learn vivir – to live 2nd person singular tú – you ames aprendas vivas a→e and e/i→a 3rd person singular usted – you (formal) ame aprenda viva a→e and e/i→a 1st person plural nosotros/nosotras – we amemos aprendamos vivamos a→e and e/i→a 2nd person plural vosotros/vosotras – you améis aprendáis viváis a→e and e/i→a 3rd person plural ustedes – you (formal) amen aprendan vivan a→e and e/i→a
Here is another example with the irregular verb hacer – to make:
¡Sh! ¡No hagas ruido! Sh! Don't make noise! A0037: The baby is sleeping (line 1)
As always, irregular conjugations are listed in the vocabulary lists for the lessons where the irregular verb appears.
In contrast to the affirmative imperative, object pronouns are not appended to the verbs in the negative imperative but appear in their usual position right before the verb (and after the no).
The infinitive is the form of verbs that is included in dictionaries. In English, the word to is often used to indicate an infinitive, e.g., to be, to give, to go, etc. In actual sentences, the infinitive form is not conjugated; it always stays the same.
There are several verbs (in Spanish and in English) that can be followed by a second verb in the infinitive form, for example, querer – to want:
Sí, quiero ir a un restaurante italiano. Yes, I want to go to a Italian restaurant. A0010: I'm hungry (line 3)
In this example, the conjugated verb quiero – (I) want is followed by the infinitive form ir – to go. Another verb that can be followed by an infinitive is poder – to be able:
¿Me puedes dar tu e-mail? Can you give me your e-mail? A0072: Here is my card (line 3)
Here, the conjugated verb puedes – (you) can is followed by the infinitive dar – to give. Note that the indirect object pronoun me – (to) me comes before the conjugated verb (puedes in this case). Alternatively, object pronouns can be appended to the infinitive as in the following example:
No, prefiero quedarme en casa. No, I prefer to stay (myself) at home. A0021: I'm sleepy (line 2)
Here, the reflexive pronoun me – myself has been appended to the infinitive form quedar – to stay. In dictionaries, reflexive verbs are actually listed with the appended 3rd person reflexive pronoun se – oneself; e.g., quedarse – to stay (oneself).
One very important way to express future actions uses a conjugated form of ir – to go followed by a – to and an infinitive; in short: ir + a + infinitive. For example:
Voy a lavar la ropa. ¿Hay detergente? I'm going to wash clothes. Is there detergent? A0013: Doing the laundry (line 1)
In this example, voy – (I) go is the (irregular) conjugated form of ir, which is followed by a – to and the infinitive lavar – to wash. In English, this construction corresponds to phrases with going to.
The (past) participle of a verb is formed by replacing the infinitive ending -ar by -ado and the infinitive endings -er and -ir by -ido. The most important use of participles are perfect tenses, which are not discussed in this course.
Encantada. Nice to meet you. A0082: My name is... (line 4)
The participle of encantar – to enchant is encantado – enchanted. In this example, however, the participle is used as an adjective for a female speaker; thus, the ending is changed to encantada. Here is another example for a masculine singular noun with the participle of the verb dormir – to sleep:
El bebé está dormido. The baby is sleeping. A0037: The baby is sleeping (line 3)
The gerund (or present participle) corresponds to the ing-form of verbs in English. In Spanish, it is formed by replacing the infinitive ending -ar by -ando and the infinitive endings -er and -ir by -iendo. The gerund is often used after a conjugated form of estar – to be to express a continuing action in the present. This corresponds to English phrases of the form to be doing something. Here is an example:
¡Mírala! Está coqueteando. Look at her! She is flirting. A0127: Flirting (line 1)
Note that the endings -ando and -iendo are the same for masculine and feminine, singular and plural nouns.
See reflexive pronouns.
Huele bien. It smells well/good. A0052: Smells good (line 1)
Here, the adverb bien – well describes the verb huele – (it) smells.
Adverbs can also describe adjectives or even other adverbs, for example:
Muy bien. Gracias. Very well/fine. Thank you. A0030: Call back later (line 4)
In this example, the adverb muy – very describes the adverb bien – well.
As in English, Spanish adverbs never change their form.
Adverbs from AdectivesEdit
In English, adverbs can be derived from adjectives by appending -ly (or -lly). For example, the adverb approximately is derived from the adjective approximate. Something very similar is possible in Spanish: Adverbs can be derived from adjectives by appending -mente to the feminine, singular form of an adjective. For example, the feminine, singular form of the adjective aproximado – approximate is aproximada; thus, the adverb is: aproximadamente – approximately. Here is another example:
Igualmente. Equally/likewise. A0072: Here is my card (line 2)
The adjective igual – equal has only one form for the masculine and feminine case; thus, the adverb is igualmente – equally.
Prepositions are usually short words that indicate a certain relation to the following words. For example:
A las tres de la tarde. At three o'clock in the afternoon. A0056: What time is the train? (line 2)
In this sentence, a – at, to and de – of are both prepositions. Another example:
¿Agua con gas o sin gas? Carbonated water or non-carbonated water? A0066: Bottle of Water (line 3)
Here, con – with and sin – without are the prepositions.
Just as in English, Spanish prepositions never change their form. However, the combination de el – of the is shortened to del and the combination a el – to the is shortened to al. For example, al cine – to the cinema/movies; see lesson A0013.
Preceding Objects with “a”Edit
There is one particular use of the preposition a – to that we should discuss. If the direct object or indirect object of a sentence is a noun that denotes one or more persons, it is preceded by the preposition a. For example:
Extraño a mi familia. I miss my family. A0131: I miss them (line 2)
Here, mi familia – my family is the direct object of the verb extrañar – to miss. Since this object denotes a group of people, the preposition a is required. Note that this preposition is not required if the object is specified by a pronoun nor if it doesn't denote one or more persons.
Conjunctions are usually short word that connect words or clauses. For example:
¿Manzana verde o roja? Green apples or red ones? A0023: Going to the market (line 2)
In this sentence, the conjunction o – or connects two adjectives. Another example:
Te ve y te sonríe. She looks at you and she smiles. A0127: Flirting (line 3)
Here, the conjunction y – and connects two clauses.
As in English, conjunctions usually do not change their form. However, o – or becomes u – or before words starting with o- or ho- as in this example:
¿Clara u obscura? Regular or dark? A0003: At the bar (line 3)
Similarly, y – and becomes e – and before words starting with i- or hi-.
Interjections are usually exclamations in the form of short words that do not really fit in any of the other word categories. For example, hola – hello:
¡Hola, guapa! ¿Cómo te va? Hello, beautiful! How is it going for you? A0006: How's it going? (line 1)
Another Spanish interjection is ah, which corresponds to the English interjection oh:
Ah, disculpe. Oh, sorry. A0035: Is anyone in there? (line 2)
Well, that's it. Hopefully these explanations are helpful to understand the grammar of the SpanishPod newbie lessons. If you want to learn more about Spanish grammar, we recommend the wikibook “Spanish” or the articles about Spanish grammar on Wikipedia. There you will also find links to further internet resources about Spanish grammar. ¡Que lo pases bien! – Have a good time!