spanish-grammar-terms

A Grammar Nerd’s Amusing Guide to 45 Basic Spanish Grammar Terms

Grammar is a joke.

Literally! And this is coming from a Spanish grammar teacher.

If you don’t believe me, have a look at this:

What’s the difference between a cat and a comma?

One has claws at the end of its paws and the other is a pause and the end of a clause.

I know, I know… but I can’t help being a grammar nerd, so I love joking about grammar.

Give me one more chance. I heard this grammar joke once, and it’s still one of my favorites:

Every time I see someone type “to funny,” I immediately picture them, fist in the air, going on a quest to find “funny.”

Are you laughing yet?

Ah, okay, we’ll move on to our main event—as I am definitely here to teach you something besides jokes: grammar terms.

Consider this post your new best friend, or you know, one of those bookmarked pages you have on your browser that you check every so often.

Whenever you see a weird Spanish grammar term you don’t understand, come to this post. Or print it out and keep it with your study materials—whatever makes you happy.

Best of all, unless you’re specifically studying for a grammar exam, you don’t need to learn these words by heart. Just have them close, because they will definitely come in handy.

A Grammar Nerd’s Amusing Guide to 45 Basic Spanish Grammar Terms

The following Spanish terms will be ordered alphabetically (in Spanish). For each you will see a short definition, links to further explanations on the topic and an example showing the notion in use.

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1. Acento (Accent mark/stress)

The Spanish word acento has two main meanings. On one hand, it’s the written accent mark we find in some words (also known as tilde). On the other hand, it means “stress,” as in the way a syllable (or a word) is pronounced with greater force.

No te olvides de poner el acento/la tilde.
(Don’t forget to write the accent mark.)

And below in bold you’ll see which syllables are stressed (tienen acento) in spoken Spanish:

Me llamo Pedro.
(My name is Pedro.)

2. Adjetivo (Adjective)

As in English, Spanish adjectives are words that are used to describe people, places and things. However, you will need to remember these rules if you want to use them properly in Spanish!

Acabo de comprarme un coche rojo muy rápido.
(I have just bought a very fast, red car.)

3. Adjetivo demostrativo (Demonstrative adjective)

Demonstrative adjectives are a set of words we use to identify the people, places or things we are referring to (i.e. this, that, these, those, etc.).

Este perro es mío y aquel es tuyo.
(This dog is mine and that one over there is yours.)

4. Adverbio (Adverb)

Adverbs are words that modify a verb, an adjective, another adverb or a sentence. They answer the question “How?”

Esa chica habla inglés muy bien.
(That girl speaks English very well.)

5. Agente (Agent)

The agent is the person, animal or thing carrying out the action of the verb. It’s normally the subject (see below) of the sentence, but it can also appear in passive structures (see the second example below), normally in the form of a by-phrase.

El niño lanzó la pelota.
(The boy threw the ball.)
The agent and the subject are the same.

La pelota fue lanzada por el niño.
(The ball was thrown by the boy.)
The agent is not the subject.

6. Artículo (Article)

Articles are a set of words that precede the noun and indicate whether or not it’s already known. We have definite articles (el/la/los/las) and indefinite articles (un/una/unos/unas).

Although the concept is similar in Spanish and in English, Spanish articles can be a bit of a headache sometimes, so you’d better watch out for them!

María tiene un hermano. El hermano de María es muy guapo.
(María has a brother. María’s brother is very handsome.)

El ordenador azul es más rápido.
(The blue computer is faster.)

7. Comparativo (Comparative)

The comparative is the form of an adjective or adverb that we use when we want to express more or less amount, quality or degree. We use the comparative form for comparisons.

Soy más alto que tú.
(I’m taller than you.)

8. Complemento directo (Objeto directo — direct object)

Direct objects are the people, places or things affected directly by the action of the verb. They normally answer the questions “What?” or “Who?”

Necesito unas tijeras nuevas.
(I need a new pair of scissors.)
What do I need? A new pair of scissors.

Ayer vi a tu hermano.
(I saw your brother yesterday.)
Who did I see yesterday? Your brother.

9. Complemento indirecto (Objeto indirecto — indirect object)

Simply put, indirect objects are the people, animals or things affected by the action of the verb. You’ll likely need the prepositions “to” or “for” to render this in English.

In Spanish, however, you are most likely to find the preposition a with indirect objects. In case of doubt, remember to ask “To/For what?” or “To/For whom?” for the verb.

Antonio les ha comprado caramelos a los niños.
(Antonio has bought candy for the children.)

What has he bought? Candy (= direct object).

He bought candy for whom? For the children (= indirect object).

10. Condicional (Conditional tense)

As its name implies, the conditional tense expresses what would happen if a certain condition were fulfilled. While in English you normally use “would” + [infinitive], in Spanish you need to conjugate the verbs in the conditional tense.

You will also use the conditional tense when talking about the future in reported speech (see below), for making wishes and when building conditional sentences.

Me gustaría ser rico.
(I would like to be rich.) — Wish

Dijo que llegaría tarde.
(He said he would be late.) — Reported speech

Si tuviera dinero, compraría una casa.
(If I had money, I would buy a house) — Conditional sentence

11. Concordancia (Concordance/agreement)

Concordancia is the agreement between specific parts of the sentence. For instance, in Spanish there is compulsory agreement between the noun and its adjective, and between the subject and the verb.

El gato negro siguió a la niña.
(The black cat followed the girl.)

The noun gato and its adjective negro are both masculine singular.

Mis vecinos fueron a la playa.
(My neighbors went to the beach.)

The third-person plural subject mis vecinos matches the third-person plural verb fueron.

12. Conjugación (Conjugation)

The conjugation is basically the way we classify verbs in Spanish. There are three conjugaciones (-ar, -er and -ir), and all regular verbs within the same conjugation are conjugated in the same way.

You’ve probably heard this word used more often for its other meaning, though: the different forms of a verb (each form indicating person, tense and mood).

Me gusta cantar.
(I like singing.)

Gusta: -ar, third person singular, present tense, indicative.
Cantar: -ar, infinitive.

Mi hermana no come verduras.
(My sister doesn’t eat vegetables.)

Come: -er, third person singular, present tense, indicative.

Vosotros queríais que ella viniera a la fiesta.
(You wanted her to come to the party.)

Queríais-er, second person plural, imperfect, indicative.
Viniera-ir, third person singular, imperfect, subjunctive.

13. Conjunción (Conjunction)

Conjunctions are words used to join sentences, phrases and other words. As in English, there are different groups of conjunctions classified by meaning and by function.

Me gustan los perros y los gatos.
(I like cats and dogs.)

Me gustan los perros pero no los gatos.
(I like dogs, but I don’t like cats.)

14. Contracción (Contraction)

A contraction is the fusion of two words into one. While we have a lot of them in English, Spanish only has two contractions, al (a + el) and del (de + el).

Queremos ir al parque.
(We want to go to the park.)

Acabo de llegar del cine.
(I just came back from the cinema.)

15. Cópula (Copula — linking verb)

A copula is a specific kind of verb that links the subject to the adjective or noun that describes it. The most common Spanish copulas are ser, estar (to be) and parecer (to seem, to look like).

Mi hermano está cansado.
(My brother is tired.)

Me parece que llegarán tarde.
(It looks like they will be late.)

16. Contable/incontable (Countable/uncountable)

Countable nouns are those which can be counted (like one apple, two apples, three apples…), can take the indefinite article and can be preceded by a number.

Uncountable nouns, on the other hand, cannot be counted (like “water”, “salt,” “money,” “milk”), do not accept the indefinite article and cannot be preceded by a number.

For those of you who are saying “But you can count money!,” this note is for you: Words like “bottle,” “grain,” “dollar” and “gallon” are all countable nouns (i.e. three bottles of water, 50 grains of salt, 40 dollars and four gallons of milk)—but uncountable nouns alone cannot be preceded by a number: 40 moneys, 50 salts.

And you can of course use quantifiers such as mucho (a lot of), poco (little), bastante (enough), etc. in front of nouns.

Tengo tres casas.
(I have three houses.)

Tienes mucho dinero.
(You have a lot of money.)

No tengo bastante azúcar.
(I don’t have enough sugar.)

17. Diminutivos (Diminutives)

Diminutives are words which express small size, affection or lesser importance. In order to form a diminutive, you need to add a diminutive suffix to the original word in Spanish.

Tu casita me gusta mucho.
(I love your little house a lot.)

18. Estilo directo/estilo indirecto (Direct/reported speech)

Direct speech refers to the actual words a person is uttering or that they’re writing. The indirect or reported speech is the report of what someone else has said.

“Te amo,” me dijo.
(“I love you,” he said.) — Direct

Me dijo que me amaba.
(He told me he loved me.) — Reported

19. Futuro (Future tense)

We use the future tense to indicate that something will happen in the future.

Te llamaré cuando llegue a casa.
(I will call you when I arrive home.)

Tendrás que repetir el examen.
(You will need to take the exam again.)

20. Género (Gender)

Gender refers to the fact that a noun, pronoun, adjective or article can be feminine, masculine or neuter (neuter gender only applies to pronouns).

El vaso blanco es muy bonito.
(The white glass is very pretty.) — Masculine

La niña está avergonzada.
(The girl is embarrassed.) — Feminine

21. Gerundio (Gerund: -ing form of a verb)

The Spanish gerundio is an impersonal form of the verb which ends in -ando or –iendo, and is used to express a continuous action.

Estoy comiendo pizza.
(I am eating pizza.)

Estaba volviendo de la escuela cuando sucedió.
(He was coming back from school when it happened.)

22. Imperativo (Imperative)

The imperative is one of three Spanish moods (see below). We use the imperative to give orders.

Dámelo.
(Give it to me.)

Dile a mamá que compre naranjas.
(Tell mom to buy oranges.)

23. Imperfecto/indefinido (Imperfect/preterite)

The imperfect and the preterite are the two main past tenses in Spanish. While the imperfect is used to express uncompleted actions, the preterite is used for completed ones.

El hombre fumaba.
(The man was smoking.) — Imperfect

El hombre cerró la puerta.
(The man closed the door.) — Preterite

24. Indicativo (Indicative)

The indicative is one of three Spanish moods (see below). We use the indicative to express facts.

Tengo un hermano.
(I have a brother.)

25. Infinitivo (Infinitive)

The infinitive is the base form of a verb. Remember that in Spanish, each infinitive belongs to one of three conjugations (types).

Me gusta correr.
(I like to run.)

Quiero comprar un coche.
(I want to buy a car.)

26. Interjección (Interjection)

Interjections are words and sounds speakers use in order to express surprise, emotions, pain, etc. Interjections are normally a reaction to someone else’s words or deeds, or a reaction to something we have seen.

¡Ay! ¡Me duele mucho!
(Ouch! It hurts a lot!)

¡Eh! ¡Por ahí no!
(Hey! Not that way!)

27. Intransitivo/transitivo (Intransitive/transitive)

An intransitive verb is a verb that cannot take a direct object. A transitive verb is a verb that can be used with a direct object.

La chica está sonriendo.
(The girl is smiling.) — Intransitive

Mamá me dio dinero.
(Mom gave me money.) — Transitive

28. Irregular/regular (Irregular/regular)

Regular verbs are those which follow a specific pattern of conjugation. On the other hand, irregular verbs are those which do not follow said pattern.

Ayer comí pizza.
(I ate pizza yesterday.) — Regular

Ayer no fui a la escuela.
(I didn’t go to school yesterday.) — Irregular

29. Modo (Mood)

Moods are sets of verb forms which are used to express the speaker’s attitude with respect to the action expressed by the verb. Spanish has three moods: indicative, subjunctive and imperative.

Me llamo Franko.
(My name is Franko.) — Indicative

No quiero que llegues tarde.
(I don’t want you to arrive late.) — Indicative / Subjunctive

Dame un abrazo.
(Give me a hug.) — Imperative

30. Nombre (Sustantivo — Noun)

Nouns are words that refer to things, people, places, ideas, etc. There are different types of nouns.

Mi perro es mi mejor amigo.
(My dog is my best friend.)

Pedro es un hombre muy inteligente.
(Pedro is a very intelligent man.)

31. Número (Number)

Number indicates if the person, animal, thing, etc. we are talking about is just one (singular) or more than one (plural).

Mi hermano tiene un coche.
(My brother has a car.) — Singular

Mi hermano tiene dos coches.
(My brother has two cars.) — Plural

32. Oración (Sentence)

A sentence is a group of words which together express a statement, a question or a command.

Está lloviendo.
(It’s raining.) — Statement

¿Quieres venir conmigo?
(Do you want to come with me?) — Question

¡Cállate!
(Shut up!) — Command

33. Persona (Person)

Person refers to each and every personal pronoun (see below) and forms taken by the verb. There are three in the singular (first person, second person, third person) and three in the plural.

Yo no soy francés.
(I am not French.) — First person singular

Tú te llamas Miguel.
(Your name is Miguel.) — Second person singular

Nosotros somos felices.
(We are happy.) — First person plural

34. Posesivos (Possessives)

Possessives are adjectives and pronouns we use to express possession.

Su hermano es jardinero.
(His brother is a gardener.)

Este es el mío.
(This one is mine.)

35. Predicado (Predicate)

The predicate is the part of a sentence which contains the verb and gives information about the subject.

El ordenador funciona perfectamente bien.
(The computer works perfectly fine.)

36. Preposición (Preposition)

Prepositions are invariable words that can be used before a noun or pronoun to indicate place, time, position, etc.

Voy a comprar la casa de Mateo.
(I am going to buy Mateo’s house.)

Me gusta viajar en tren.
(I like traveling by train.)

Esto es para ti.
(This is for you.)

37. Presente simple (Present simple)

This is the tense used in Spanish to talk about habitual or repetitive actions, universal truths and, sometimes, actions that are taking place at the moment of speaking.

Tengo mucha sed.
(I am very thirsty.)

Los domingos voy a la iglesia.
(I go to church on Sundays.)

El Sol es una estrella.
(The sun is a star.)

38. Pretérito perfecto (Present perfect)

This tense is used to describe actions that took place in the past but are still somehow related to the present.

Me he roto el brazo.
(I have broken my arm.)

39. Pretérito pluscuamperfecto (Past perfect)

This tense is used to describe an action that took place before another past, completed action.

Cuando llegué, mamá ya se había ido.
(When I arrived, Mum had already left.)

40. Pronombre (Pronoun)

Pronouns are words that substitute the noun or the noun phrase in a sentence. There are different types of pronouns both in Spanish and in English.

Me gusta este.
(I like this one.)

El libro es tuyo.
(The book is yours.)

Dame un abrazo.
(Give me a hug.)

41. Subjuntivo (Subjunctive)

This is one of the three Spanish moods, and probably the most difficult one for native English speakers. It’s used to express doubt, uncertainty, hypotheses, etc.

No necesito que vengas.
(I don’t need you to come.)

42. Sujeto (Subject)

The subject is the noun, pronoun or noun phrase which denotes the person, animal or thing that performs the action of the verb.

Mi perro es mi mejor amigo.
(My dog is my best friend.)

43. Superlativo (Superlative)

The superlative is the form of an adjective or an adverb which expresses its highest or lowest degree.

Soy el más alto de la clase.
(I’m the tallest in the class.)

44. Verbo (Verb)

Verbs are the words that express actions and states in sentences. Although verbs are commonly divided into regular and irregular, there are some other types you should know.

Estoy viendo una película.
(I am watching a movie.)

Ana se duchó hace una hora.
(Ana took a shower an hour ago.)

45. Voz activa/pasiva (Active/passive voice)

In the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action of the verb. In the passive voice, the subject doesn’t perform the action but is affected by it.

Estoy haciendo los deberes.
(I am doing my homework.) — Active voice

Los deberes están siendo hechos.
(My homework is being done.) — Passive voice

 

And that’s it! Please, don’t panic when you encounter any of these technical-sounding words while learning Spanish.

Take it a step at a time. Explore one term every day, or two if you feel like it. Then go back and review what you have learned from time to time. Or just print this list and have a look at it every time you need to. Your list, your grammar, your rules! (And you rule, too, by the way!)

Grammar is your friend, really. Since grammar is the core of every language, it really will help you to start uncovering it sooner rather than later, one topic at a time. Good luck!

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FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.

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