“This morning, Hannah was sleepy so Hannah went to the café. Hannah bought a coffee. Hannah drank the coffee in the park. Hannah thought the coffee was very good.”
Sick of hearing about Hannah, Hannah, Hannah yet?
Personal pronouns (I, you, he, she, they…) can save the day in a case like this, replacing many appearances of Hannah.
This article will give you a complete rundown on the Spanish personal pronouns and how to use them. At the end of the article, you’ll find a short practice exercise to help you reinforce these new vocabulary words and grammar concepts.
- What Are the Spanish Personal Pronouns?
- Why Are There so Many Ways to Say “You” In Spanish?
- 6 Ways Personal Pronouns Are Different in Spanish and English
- 1. Spanish Personal Pronouns Aren’t Always Necessary.
- 2. You Can Use Personal Pronouns to Show Emphasis.
- 3. Word Order Isn’t as Rigid as in English.
- 4. When Asking Questions, Put the Personal Pronoun After the Verb.
- 5. In Spanish, There’s More Than One Way to Say “It.”
- 6. The Accent Marks in the Personal Pronouns Are Crucial.
- Personal Pronoun Practice Makes Perfect!
What Are the Spanish Personal Pronouns?
Spanish has twelve personal pronouns. To hear the pronunciation of each word, simply click on it.
Yo — I
Tú — You (singular, informal)
Él — He
Ella — She
Usted — You (singular, formal)
Nosotros / Nosotras — We
Vosotros / Vosotras — You (plural, informal)
Ellos / Ellas — They
Ustedes — You (plural, formal)
Note that the personal pronouns that refer to groups of people (“we,” “they” and the plural “you”) change based on the gender of the people you’re referring to. Nosotras, vosotras and ellas refer to groups of all women. Nosotros, vosotros and ellos refer to all-male groups or mixed-gender groups.
In some Spanish-speaking countries like Argentina and Uruguay, the pronoun vos is used instead of tú for the singular, informal “you.”
Remember that in Spanish, verbs are conjugated differently based on the subject of the sentence. This is a big part of why subjects and pronouns are very critical to learn about. The subject decides how verbs are conjugated, and it also decides the gender of any adjectives attached to it.
Not familiar yet with verb conjugation in Spanish? You can learn about the present simple tense here.
Why Are There so Many Ways to Say “You” In Spanish?
At first, it can be confusing for a Spanish learner to keep track of all the different ways to say “you” in Spanish. In English, we’ve just got one—you—that we use in any situation.
In Spanish, the word for “you” changes depending on who you’re talking to. In order to figure out which “you” is correct, you must consider the number of people you’re talking to, whether the situation is informal or formal and where you are in the Spanish-speaking world.
Let’s start with number. If you’re talking to just one person in an informal situation (for example, one friend or one younger sibling) you use tú. If you’re in a formal situation and talking to just one person (for example, just one supervisor at work, just one customer or just one world leader) you would use usted. If you’re talking to a group of people, use vosotros/as in an informal situation and ustedes in a formal situation.
Now, how can you tell if a situation is formal or informal? It varies from place to place—some countries, like Costa Rica and Colombia, heavily favor the usted form unless talking to close family members. In Spain, for example tú is much more common except in very formal situations.
Here are some situations in which you should consider using the formal usted and ustedes forms:
- When talking to a person who’s older than you who you don’t know.
- When in a work-related setting, especially when talking to a higher-up.
- In any situation where you want to convey respect and polite distance.
- More often than not, people in the service industry (flight attendants, waiters, hotel clerks and so on) will address you, the customer, as usted.
I have found most Spanish-speakers to be pretty lenient with Spanish learners when it comes to the difference between the formal and informal “you”—I’ve never experienced anyone being offended because I happened to use the wrong form!
However, if you’re unsure about a situation, you may want to err on the side of politeness and use usted or ustedes. If your conversation partner doesn’t mind you switching to the informal tú, they may just let you know.
Finally, you must consider your location. The vosotros form is only used in Spain. If you’re in North, Central or South America or the Caribbean, you don’t have to worry about it! In those parts of the Spanish-speaking world, ustedes is used for both formal and informal situations.
A lot to keep track of? Here’s a quick chart to summarize what we’ve been over so far:
|Informal||Tú||Vosotros in Spain; Ustedes elsewhere|
6 Ways Personal Pronouns Are Different in Spanish and English
If you’d like to learn more about different types of Spanish pronouns and their usage, read this first. To perfect your usage of personal pronouns, read on!
In many ways, Spanish and English personal pronouns are quite similar. However, here are six crucial differences between Spanish and English personal pronoun usage. These tips will help you correctly incorporate this new vocabulary into your everyday speaking and writing.
1. Spanish Personal Pronouns Aren’t Always Necessary.
In Spanish, personal pronouns can often be eliminated from sentences altogether. Because verbs are conjugated differently for each personal pronoun, it’s generally easy to tell what the subject of a sentence is without explicitly saying it.
For example, the English sentence “She is tall” cannot be changed to “Is tall.” However, the equivalent Spanish sentence Ella es alta can be changed to Es alta with no problems.
In many cases, subject pronouns sound downright superfluous. For example:
A: ¿En qué trabaja tu hermana?
B: Es abogada.
A: What does your sister do for work?
B: She’s a lawyer.
Notice that the second sentence doesn’t include the word ella (she). Sure, you can write Ella es abogada (She’s a lawyer). But since it’s perfectly clear from the question who we’re talking about, there’s no need to include the word ella.
It may be difficult at first for beginning speakers to omit the pronoun because it feels so unnatural from an English-speaking standpoint. But try to work this habit into your day-to-day speaking. It’ll make your Spanish sound more natural, and it’ll help you understand other Spanish speakers who also leave out their personal pronouns.
2. You Can Use Personal Pronouns to Show Emphasis.
Since personal pronouns aren’t always grammatically necessary, you can selectively include them to show emphasis or change the connotation of your sentence.
For example, you can say ¿Qué haces aquí? (What are you doing here?) without the personal pronoun tú (you), and it’s perfectly correct.
Or, if you want to express surprise, excitement or even aggression—depending on vocal tone—you can say, ¿Qué haces tú aquí? (What are you doing here?)
In English, you’d have to change your vocal tone on the word “you” to create this change in meaning. In Spanish, it only requires adding or subtracting a personal pronoun.
3. Word Order Isn’t as Rigid as in English.
“We are going to the party.”
In English, this sentence is always written this way. You can’t say “Going to the party we are” or “Are going to the party,” unless you want to sound like Yoda.
In Spanish, this isn’t the case. Spanish word order isn’t exactly a free-for-all, but you can switch around the order of words in a few ways. Pronouns are specifically flexible in this way. In many cases, a pronoun can go before or after the verb with no problem.
To write the previous sentence—“We are going to the party”—in Spanish, you could write Nosotras vamos a la fiesta or vamos nosotras a la fiesta, or, of course, leave out the pronoun altogether and write vamos a la fiesta.
4. When Asking Questions, Put the Personal Pronoun After the Verb.
Yes, Spanish word order is flexible, but when asking questions, it’s more common to put the personal pronoun after the verb.
For example, you can say ¿Trabajas tú en la biblioteca? (Do you work in the library?) In this case, the personal pronoun tú (you) comes after the verb trabajas (do you work).
5. In Spanish, There’s More Than One Way to Say “It.”
The Spanish language has many ways to express the English concept “it.”
In many cases, the word “it” is simply superfluous. For example, to say “It is red,” the most common phrasing would be Es rojo. This technically translates to “Is red,” with no need for the word “it.”
In other cases, you may see someone use the object pronouns lo and la. For example, the command piénsalo (think about it) combines the verb pensar (to think) and the object pronoun lo (it.)
But in other cases, you’ll need to use the personal pronouns él and ella to express the concept of “it.” This may feel strange at first for English speakers, because you’re essentially referring to inanimate objects as “him” and “her,” but that’s just the way it is in Spanish. They operate as indirect object pronouns. In this case, you need to figure out the gender of the object in question, and then choose él if it’s a masculine object and ella if it’s a feminine object.
¿Dónde está tu chaqueta? No puedes salir sin ella!
Where is your jacket? You can’t leave without it!
6. The Accent Marks in the Personal Pronouns Are Crucial.
Two of the Spanish personal pronouns—tú and él—have accent marks. In English, we don’t have to worry about accent marks, so English-speakers learning Spanish can sometimes underestimate how important these little marks are!
In this case, él (with an accent mark) means “he,” but el (no accent mark) means “the,” as in el libro (the book.) Tú (with an accent mark) means “you,” but tu (no accent mark) means “your,” as in tu libro (your book). In both of these cases, omitting the accent mark creates a completely different word!
Yes, you can usually figure out the correct meaning from context alone, and some Spanish speakers will leave out the accents when text messaging or in other informal writing situations. But it’s important to learn the rules before you break them, so make sure you mind your accent marks.
Personal Pronoun Practice Makes Perfect!
Here are six fill-in-the-blank sentences. Before looking at the answers, try to fill in the blank with all possible personal pronouns. In some cases there’s more than one correct answer!
1. ¿Vas _______ al gimnasio?
2. _______ soís rubias.
3. _______ no quiero comer pan.
4. _______ es inteligente.
5. Vamos _______ a la fiesta.
6. ¿Pueden bailar _______?
1. Tú. Because the verb ir is conjugated as vas, you know that the verb must be the corresponding tú.
2. Vosotras. Although the verb sois (you are, pl.) could go with vosotros or vosotras, the “a” in the word rubias (blonde) is a tip-off that the speaker is talking to all women. Therefore, vosotras is necessary.
3. Yo. The verb quiero (I want) goes exclusively with the pronoun yo.
4. Él, ella or usted. The verb es from ser (to be) can go with any of these three pronouns. The sentence could mean: Él es inteligente (He is intelligent), Ella es inteligente (she is intelligent), or Usted es inteligente (You are intelligent.)
5. Nosotros or nosotras. The word vamos (to go) needs to go with the pronoun “we,” but depending on the gender of the speakers, you must choose either nosotros or nosotras.
6. Ellos, ellas or ustedes. Like with number 4, there are three possible answers here. In this case, the meanings are: ¿Pueden bailar ellos? (Can they dance?) ¿Pueden bailar ellas? (Can they dance?) or ¿Pueden bailar ustedes? (Can you dance?)
Practice surely does make perfect, and in this case, the best practice is a mixture of rote grammar exercises, listening and conversation. This way, you’ll learn to recognize and use—or occasionally, not use—the Spanish personal pronouns.
Another way to practice is to watch authentic mass media and learn how to use pronouns in context. Or use a virtual immersion platform. FluentU, for example, teaches Spanish with videos made by and for native speakers. And the videos all have interactive captions, so it’s a bit simpler to figure out why a word is being used where it is.
Once you start hearing personal pronouns in context, the grammar will become second nature and you’ll get better at using them yourself.
These words are essential for Spanish speaking, so get studying!