Imagine a world where there were no possessives.
His, her, their, mine—it wouldn’t matter.
Imagine if you referred to others as just “other,” and not he, she, we, you, they.
Would the world be a better place?
Well, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. Because just like making adjectives agree, and the verbs ser and estar, pronouns are part of your everyday Spanish life. (They’re also part of your English existence too, though probably not so you’d notice.)
So what exactly are Spanish pronouns, and what’s their deal?
What Are Spanish Pronouns and Why Should You Care About Them?
Pronouns are small words that convey meaning and take the place of nouns. For example, instead of saying:
Juan es alto. Juan es guapo.
(Juan is tall. Juan is handsome.)
We can instead say:
Juan es alto. Él es guapo.
(Juan is tall. He is handsome.)
Or to make things easier, we could always just say “Juan es alto y guapo” (Juan is tall and handsome), but that sentence doesn’t involve any pronouns, so it wouldn’t help to demonstrate the prowess of pronouns.
Basically, we can use pronouns to avoid saying someone’s name over and over again. This is particularly helpful when you don’t know someone’s name, or if they have a particularly long, complicated or unpronounceable name that you can never remember however hard you try. In this case, pronouns are your best friend.
Referring to someone with the wrong pronoun can cause much confusion. If you say that Juan is “alto” or “ella es guapo,” you will probably get some funny looks. How can Juan be a “she”? Do you mean Juana? The confusion here lies in the fact that guapo (handsome – masculine) suggests a male and ella (she) suggests a female. It opens a whole can of gender worms, which are probably best kept inside their jar.
Trust us when we say that getting your head around Spanish pronouns will make your Spanish life much easier, especially when writing. You can get away with making more mistakes when you talk, and people can usually get the gist of what you’re saying from other verbal cues, but when you write the wrong pronoun, you can really get yourself into trouble (and not just with your Spanish teacher).
So let’s get started with the easiest pronouns, the “subject” ones.
8 Types of Spanish Pronouns You Should Know
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1. Spanish Subject Pronouns
The subject of the sentence is the person, place or thing that is doing something, or being something. The subject is the most important noun in your sentence, and is linked to your main verb. So in the sentence, “Juan es alto,” Juan is our subject and es, from the verb ser is our verb.
In order to avoid repeating our person, place or thing over and over again, we use a subject pronoun to replace it.
Subject pronouns are:
tú/usted (you – informal/formal)
vosotros/vosotras (you – plural, informal)
ustedes (you – plural, formal)
As you probably know, Spanish differs to English in that there is more than one type of “you.” There’s the “you” singular tú/usted, where tú is more familiar—for friends and people you know—and usted is a more formal version, for people you don’t know, or want to show respect to.
The plural version of “you” also has two versions: vosotros, the familiar “you guys,” and ustedes, the more formal plural “you.”
Note that in Latin America, vosotros is not used, and therefore ustedes is used to refer to “you” plural, whether you want to be formal or informal.
You can use subject pronouns in sentences such as:
Nosotros vamos a la playa.
(We are going to the beach.)
Ella ya está en la playa.
(She is already at the beach.)
Ustedes no van a la playa.
(You’re not going to the beach.) — to the poor souls who are left behind.
Be careful that you add the accent to él, to make “he” and not “the,” and also don’t forget the accent on tú.
Got the hang on subject pronouns? Let’s move on to the next type of pronoun.
2. Prepositional Object Pronouns in Spanish
These pronouns are used after prepositions. They are:
These pronouns are almost the same as the subject pronouns, apart from mí and ti. Don’t forget the accent on mí (or you’ll be saying “my”: mi), though note that ti does not have an accent.
Example sentences are:
Esto es para mí.
(This is for me.)
La playa no es para ellos.
(The beach is not for them.)
No irán a la playa sin nosotros.
(They won’t go to the beach without us.)
Notice how our prepositional object pronouns all follow prepositions, which are underlined.
The difference between the subject pronouns and the prepositional object pronouns is the same as in English, so just learn the two types, and then you can translate directly from English.
Note that English speakers often mix up yo with mí, which are used slightly differently in English and in Spanish.
If a teacher asked, “Alguien robó mi libro, ¿quién fue?” (Someone has stolen my book, who was it?), the perpetrator should say “Yo” (I) and not mí (me). It sounds a little old-fashioned when you translate into English, but imagine someone in a court during Shakespeare’s time saying “It was I,” and you get the idea.
After the preposition con, the rules change ever so slightly:
- con mí becomes conmigo
- con ti becomes contigo
For example, “Come with me” would be “Ven conmigo,” and “He wants to go with you” would be “Él quiere ir contigo.“
3. Direct Object Pronouns in Spanish
In order to understand this type of pronoun, we need to know what the object of a sentence is. Remember that the subject of a sentence is the person, thing or place that is doing something, or being something (like Juan, being beautiful in our previous example).
The object of the sentence is the thing or person that receives the action of the subject. So in the example “Juan hit the ball” (Juan golpeó la bola), Juan is the subject and the ball is the object. (Juan hit what? The ball.)
If Juan gets a little aggressive and decides to hit a person, that person would be the object of the sentence. So in the sentence “Juan hit Diego” (Juan golpeó a Diego), Diego is our object—or more specifically, our direct object. Don’t panic, we’ll get to other type of object a bit later on.
In order to avoid repetition, we often use a direct object pronoun to avoid saying the name of our direct object over and over again.
Direct object pronouns are:
os (you – plural)
In English, these are the same as the prepositional object pronouns, which is why English speakers often mix up the two in Spanish.
So for example, let’s say that Juan tiene la bola (Juan has the ball), but we don’t know that. So we might ask where the ball is: ¿Dónde está la bola? We then can answer using a direct object pronoun, “Juan la tiene” (Juan has it), since the speaker already knows we are referring to the ball. This is easier than saying “Juan tiene la bola.“
Note that the “la,” the direct object pronoun, goes before the verb, not afterwards. This is different in English, and so it’s another common mistake for English speakers. You have been warned!
If the subject of our sentence changes, because Juan gives the ball to someone else, our direct object pronoun stays the same. So if Diego tiene la bola (Diego has the ball) and someone asks where the ball is, we can answer with, “Diego la tiene” (Diego has it).
If we’re talking about something masculine, not feminine, like a book, for example, then we need to use the masculine pronoun: lo. So if Diego has the book, we could say, “Diego lo tiene.” (Diego has it.)
And if Diego has more than one book, we’d need to make our pronoun plural: Diego los tiene. (Diego has them.)
Let’s move on to another type of object: an indirect object, and its pronouns.
4. Indirect Object Pronouns in Spanish
What on earth is an indirect pronoun? I hear you! Well, an indirect pronoun tells us where the direct object is going (to whom?/for whom?). Useful, right?
Let’s take the sentence: “Juan gives the ball to Laura.” (Juan da la bola a Laura).
What’s our subject?
What’s our direct object?
And where is our direct object going?
To Laura. So she must be our indirect object!
In some sentences, our direct object isn’t explicit, like in the sentence, “Diego le contó” (Diego told her/him), for example. We have both a subject (Diego) and an indirect object (her/him), but we don’t know what the direct object is. We have to assume that the answer is “it,” or a juicy secret about Juan.
So what are indirect object pronouns?
me (to me)
te (to you)
le (to him/her/it)
nos (to us)
os (to you)
les (to them)
And how do we use them? As with other pronouns, to replace our indirect object in order to avoid repetition.
For example, take the following sentence:
Diego contó el secreto a Laura.
(Diego told Laura the secret.)
We can shorten this by simply saying:
Diego le contó el secreto.
(Diego told her the secret.)
Or simply, “Diego le contó.” (Diego told her.)
Note that the indirect object pronoun goes before the verb, just like with direct object pronouns, but unlike in English. If we said “Diego contó le,” for example, that would be wrong.
However, and this is a big “however,” when we use a command or infinitive, we need to put the pronoun at the end of our verb, instead of before.
So if you want to say “Do it!,” instead of saying “¡Lo haz!,” you must say, “¡Hazlo!”
And another big “however” is that if you have a conjugated verb followed by an infinitive or an –ando/-iendo form, you can choose whether to put your pronoun either before or after the verb.
So you could say “Voy a hacerlo” (I’m going to do it), or “Lo voy a hacer” and either would be correct. The same applies to “Estoy haciéndolo” or “Lo estoy haciendo” (I’m doing it), either option is just fine. Who said grammar was rigid?
5. Reflexive Pronouns
Remember back when you were learning the basics of Spanish? Those wonderful days where you didn’t even know what a pronoun was?
Well, guess what? You probably learned some pronouns very early on, and they were probably reflexive pronouns.
Reflexive verbs are a common source of grievance for beginners, as they add an extra dimension to the verb, but they are actually pretty simple. For example, when you say, “Se llama Diego” (His name is Diego), you are using the reflexive verb llamarse (to call oneself).
Reflexive verbs always end in –se in the infinitive. When you conjugate the verb, you need to drop the se from the end of the verb, and add it before the verb. You may or may not change the se to another reflexive pronoun, depending on who you’re talking about.
Reflexive pronouns are:
Think back to some of those first Spanish verbs you ever learned, like vestirse (to dress oneself, aka to get dressed), peinarse (to brush/to comb oneself) or ducharse (to shower/to shower oneself).
So you might say something like, “Me ducho por las mañanas, antes de vestirme” (I take a shower in the morning before I get dressed), and you would be using reflexive pronouns without even realizing it. Oh happy days.
6. Relative Pronouns
Relative pronouns are another type of pronoun you’ve been using without noticing. Relative pronouns in English are “who,” “whom,” “whose,” “which,” “that,” “what,” “where” and “when.”
In Spanish, you can use que to refer to both people and things. It works as “who,” “whom,” “that” and “which” in English.
Laura, que es guapa…
(Laura, who is pretty…)
La bola que Diego tiró a Juan, se rompió
(The ball that Diego threw at Juan, broke) – Note the use of the reflexive verb romperse.
Quien means “who,” and can be both plural or singular. For example:
Diego, quien sale con Laura…
(Diego, who is going out with Laura…)
Or perhaps if things are a little more complicated than they seem:
Diego y Juan, quienes salen con Laura…
(Diego and Juan, who are going out with Laura…)
Use la que/el que/las que/los que to mean “the ones who…” For example:
Laura, la que sale con Diego, también tiene otro novio.
(Laura, the one who’s going out with Diego, also has another boyfriend.)
Diego y Juan, los que salen con Laura, se conocieron hace poco.
(Diego and Juan, the ones going out with Laura, only met recently.)
Cuyo means “whose.” So you could say:
Laura, cuya situación romántica es complicada, está contenta.
(Laura, whose romantic situation is complicated, is happy).
Note that you may need to change cuyo to cuya/cuyos/cuyas, and you should make cuyo agree with the thing that is being owned (in this case the romantic situation)—not the owner (Laura).
In the sentence above, both things are feminine, but this may not always be the case. You could say, for example:
Laura, cuyo padre está enojado, está contenta.
(Laura, whose father is angry, is happy).
Note that the masculine cuyo refers to Laura’s father.
Also note that unlike in English, it’s not possible to omit the relative pronoun in Spanish. For example, in English you could say “The car (that) you crashed, was new.” In Spanish, you cannot omit the “that,” and you have to say “El auto que chocaste era nuevo.” Either way, try and avoid crashing other people’s new cars if possible, and then hopefully no one will ever say that sentence to you.
7. Possessive Pronouns
Possessive pronouns each have four forms. If you guessed that there are masculine and feminine forms in both plural and singular, give yourself a gold star.
They always go with the definite article “the” (el, la, los, las) and are:
El mío/la mía, los míos/las mías (mine)
El tuyo/la tuya, los tuyos/las tuyas (yours)
El suyo/la suya, los suyos/las suyas (his/hers/its)
El nuestro/la nuestra, los nuestros/las nuestras (ours)
El vuestro/la vuestra, los vuestros/las vuestras (yours)
El suyo/la suya, los suyos/las suyas (theirs)
The possessive pronouns work much like their English counterparts. For example, in answer to “¿De quién es este auto?” (Whose car is this?), you might answer, “Es el mío” (It’s mine). Or “Es el nuestro” (It’s ours). Or even “Era el tuyo” (It was yours), if said car is now unrecognizable.
The form of the possessive pronoun must match the noun it’s replacing. So in the above example, the noun we are talking about is el auto, which is why the possessive pronoun is singular and masculine.
Be careful not to mix up possessive pronouns with possessive adjectives (mi(s), tu(s), su(s), nuestro(s)/nuestra(s), vuestro(s)/vuestra(s)). These mean the same as the possessive pronouns in English: my, your, his/her/its/ours/yours/theirs, but are slightly different in Spanish.
For example, “My girlfriend is pretty” translates to “Mi novia es guapa.” In this case, “my” is a possessive adjective because it’s describing a noun “girlfriend.”
Contrast this with “Yours isn’t (pretty),” “La tuya no es guapa.” In this case, “yours” takes the place of a noun “girlfriend,” and so is a possessive pronoun. Another horrible sentence we hope you never have to utter.
8. Indefinite Pronouns
Indefinite pronouns are pronouns where the thing we’re talking about isn’t clear. In English, they are words like “somebody,” “nobody” and “anybody.” In Spanish, they’re the same, just translated.
- alguien (someone/somebody, anybody/anyone)
¿Alguien tiene un auto?
(Does anyone have a car?)
- alguno/alguna, algunos/algunas (one/some/some people)
Algunos no tienen auto.
(Some people don’t have cars.)
- algo (something)
Algo raro está pasando entre Laura, Diego y Juan.
(Something strange is going on with Laura, Diego and Juan.)
- nada (nothing)
Nada está pasando, te lo prometo.
(Nothing’s going on, I promise you.)
- nadie (nobody/no one)
Nadie sabe lo que está pasando.
(No one knows what’s happening.)
- ninguno/ningunaa (nobody/no one/none)
Ninguno de nosotros vio nada.
(None of us saw anything). — Note that in Spanish, using a double negative is acceptable.
- cualquiera (anybody/anyone)
Ella sale con cualquiera.
(She goes out with anyone).
With this last one here, note that you can’t say “cualquiero” or “cualquieros/as,” so just stick with cualquiera.
Other indefinite pronouns are:
- todo/toda, todos/todas (everyone/everybody, all)
- uno/una, unos/unas (one, some)
- poco/pocas, pocos/pocas (little, little bit, few, a few)
- mucho/mucha, muchos/muchas (many, much, a lot)
- otro/otras, otros/otras (others, another one, other one)
¿Vamos a otro tema? (Shall we move onto another topic?)
We’re almost done with the pronouns, there are just a few more things you need to know.
Other Things You Need to Know About Spanish Pronouns
Remember your direct object pronouns and indirect object pronouns? What happens if you have both an indirect and a direct object in one sentence?
Don’t know what I’m talking about? Take this example: “She gave it to you.”
Our subject is “she,” our object is “it” and our indirect object is “you.”
In Spanish, the indirect object always comes first. So the sentence would be “Ella te lo dio,” assuming that our “it” is masculine (let’s imagine it’s un auto).
When Two Pronouns Begin with an “l”
Things get just slightly modified when you have two pronouns that begin with “l.”
For example, if you had “She gave it to them,” ella les lo dio, this is too much of a mouthful for anyone to bear. But don’t worry, there’s a rule to help you out of this mess.
Rule: Whenever both pronouns begin with “l,” change the first one (the indirect pronoun) to se.
So our sentence would actually be: Ella se lo dio.
The only other type of pronoun that you could possible need are demonstrative pronouns. These are the equivalent of “this/that/these/those one/s” in English, and in Spanish are:
- este/esta, estos/estas (this, these ones)
- ese/esa, esos/esas (that, those ones)
- aquel/aquella, aquellos/aquellas (that one/those over there) — used to indicate something further away.
So you might say, “¿El novio de Laura? ¡Ese es guapo!” (Laura’s boyfriend? That one is good-looking!).
These demonstrative pronouns are the same as the demonstrative adjectives. For example, “This book is mine” (Este libro es mío), but remember that demonstrative pronouns replace a noun, while an adjective describes a noun.
Other demonstrative pronouns that don’t change according to gender or whether they’re plural are esto, which means “this matter” or “this thing,” eso “that matter” or “that thing” and aquello, “that matter/thing over there.”
For example, you might say:
Esto es muy difícil.
(This is very difficult.)
But don’t worry, because you have reached the end of the pronoun party!
If your head is feeling a little fried, take a deep breath, have a cup of coffee and look over each type of pronoun carefully, before writing yourself some practice sentences and then moving on to the next type. You can do it!
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