spanish-subject-pronouns

A Spanish Subject Pronouns Guide to Save You from Boredom

Once upon a time there was a girl called Martha.

Martha was learning Spanish.

Martha went to the language school every day and Martha was a great student.

One day, Martha decided that it was time Martha went on vacation, so Martha bought a plane ticket and Martha traveled to Mexico.

Martha was very excited because Martha was able to finally put into practice what Martha had been studying at the language school.

Martha’s Spanish improved a lot during the three months Martha spent in Mexico, and when Martha came back, Martha decided Martha would start writing about her language adventure.

The end. Thank goodness.

Do you see anything different or weird about the story I have just told you?

Does it feel unnatural, regardless of what your native language is?

Don’t you agree there are many ways of making the story more appealing?

Why yes, yes and yes!

Imagine having to tell this story to a friend, or having to talk like this your whole life. I would not be amused at all!

I know my example is a bit exaggerated, but I think you catch my drift.

None of us would repeat the same name over and over again. Most of the time we would use “she” or “the girl,” adding her name here and there just for some variety.

The story you have just read is a clear example of overuse of a name as subject.

If you had used “she” instead, you would be using a pronoun.

But don’t worry. I am not going to leave you lost when it comes to using pronouns in your Spanish speaking and writing. In this post you will learn what a subject is, what a pronoun is and, most importantly, how to master Spanish subject pronouns like a pro.

But let’s start from the beginning. Tell me, do you know what a subject is?

If not, you will find the following section very helpful.
 


 
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What’s a Subject?

Simply put, a subject (sujeto in Spanish) is that part of the sentence that tells us who or what is performing the action of the verb (if we are talking about active voice) or who or what is receiving the action of the verb (if we have a sentence in the passive voice).

Practically anything and everything, anyone and everyone can be the subject of a sentence, as you can see below.

Keep in mind that in addition to the example sentences below, you can also see Spanish in context with real-life sentences in FluentU videos—whether you want to get further into Spanish subjects, any of the other grammar in this post or something entirely different. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

Now for the examples! You can have proper names as subjects in a sentence:

María tiene un coche amarillo. (María has a yellow car.)

Pedro es mi mejor amigo. (Pedro is my best friend.)

Walmart es un supermercado. (Walmart is a supermarket.)

You can have people as subjects without indicating their names:

Mi hermano se casa mañana. (My brother is getting married tomorrow.)

El niño estaba jugando en el parque. (The kid was playing in the park.)

Aquella mujer se parece a tu madre. (That woman looks like your mother.)

You can also have things and animals as subjects:

Mi gato se llama Alejandro. (My cat is called Alejandro.)

La piedra tenía poderes mágicos. (The stone had magical powers.)

El libro de historia está encima de la mesa. (The history book is on the table.)

Or abstract nouns and concepts:

El amor es algo muy hermoso. (Love is a very beautiful thing.)

La verdad siempre sale a la luz. (Truth always comes to light.)

Aquel ruido fue espantoso. (That noise was frightening.)

You can even have infinitives as subjects in Spanish. However, bear in mind that these will be translated as a present participle in English:

Fumar puede matar. (Smoking can kill.)

Correr es muy sano. (Running is very healthy.)

Cocinar me relaja. (Cooking relaxes me.)

Finally, you can also have pronouns as subjects, and you will get to know these in the next section.

What’s a Pronoun?

The easiest definition of a pronoun is that it is a word that is substituted for a noun or a noun phrase in a sentence.

You probably know there are different types of pronouns. We have personal pronouns, relative pronouns, possessive pronouns, indefinite pronouns, object pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, etc.

Out of all of them, personal pronouns, indefinite pronouns and demonstrative pronouns form a group called subject pronouns, which are the ones we are covering in this post.

But before we go into detail, let’s see how a pronoun works.

Have a look at the following sentences, taken from the examples above.

María tiene un coche amarillo. (María has a yellow car.)

Mi hermano se casa mañana. (My brother is getting married tomorrow.)

Mi gato se llama Alejandro. (My cat is called Alejandro.)

Fumar puede matar. (Smoking can kill.)

At the beginning of this section I said that pronouns are substituted for nouns. See what happens when I substitute for the words in bold with a pronoun:

Ella tiene un coche amarillo. (She has a yellow car.)

Él se casa mañana. (He is getting married tomorrow.)

Él se llama Alejandro. (He/It is called Alejandro.)

Eso puede matar. (That can kill.)

We have what seem to be different sentences, but since you already know the full version (we have a context), you can use pronouns instead of the nouns and the meaning keeps being the same.

This is super useful when you have to tell a story like the one at the beginning of the post.

Remember Martha?

Something was not right. Her name was everywhere and the sentences sounded awful.

But let me take one of the sentences and substitute some of the “Martha”s with a pronoun. See what happens:

Martha was very excited because she was able to finally put into practice what she had been studying at the language school.

Doesn’t it sound much better that the original? Of course it does! Thanks to our friends the subject pronouns.

Shedding Some Light on Spanish Subject Pronouns: A Guide

It would take three times the space I am using here if I wanted to explain in detail each and every group of pronouns, or even just the three main groups that form the subject pronoun group.

Because of that, when talking about subject pronouns today, we will concentrate on personal pronouns the most.

However, as you will see briefly in the following section, demonstrative and indefinite pronouns can also function as subjects in a sentence.

Demonstrative and Indefinite Pronouns

A demonstrative pronoun is a kind of pronoun that is substituted for specific nouns in a sentence. By “specific noun” I mean that this kind of pronoun always points to someone or something specific, and gives us information about its location (near or far), its number (singular or plural) and, only in Spanish, its gender, too.

Since this is not primarily a post about demonstrative pronouns, I will only give you a couple of examples with their translations. You can have a look at this link in order to get to know them better.

Here you have some examples of demonstrative pronouns as subjects:

Esto es muy bonito. (This is very beautiful.)

Ese parece más alto. (That one looks taller.)

Aquella es más vieja. (That one [feminine] is older.)

On the other hand, an indefinite pronoun refers to nouns that are unspecified. They can be used when we don’t know exactly what we are talking about or we don’t want other people to know. Either way, they are very useful.

Once again, since this is not a post primarily on indefinite pronouns, I will be giving only a couple of examples and their translations. If you want to know more about this kind of pronoun, visit this site.

Here you have some examples of indefinite pronouns functioning as subjects:

Alguien tiene que venir. (Someone has to come.)

Algo huele raro. (Something smells funny.)

Nadie me quiere. (Nobody loves me.)

The rest of this post is devoted to the most important group of subject pronouns, the personal pronouns.

This group is not the biggest one, but it is without a doubt the one we use the most. Almost every single sentence, both in Spanish and in English, contains a personal pronoun.

It would be almost impossible to imagine our everyday conversations without them, and you will understand why in the following paragraphs.

Personal Pronouns

The easiest way of defining personal pronouns is by saying that they are a fixed group of pronouns that are substituted for people in sentences.

However, this is not 100% true.

Personal pronouns refer not only to people but, surprisingly enough, to animals and things as well. But more on this later.

Personal pronouns are the group of pronouns most commonly used to substitute for the subject of a sentence. As in the example I gave you at the beginning of this post, repeating the same word over and over again can not only get tedious, but also almost unbearable.

Thanks to the personal pronouns, we don’t have to say “el médico” (the doctor) twenty times during a conversion, we don’t have to repeat “Martha” every time we want to talk about her and we don’t have to mention every single person individually, one by one, when we can simply use “ellos” (they).

Subject pronouns, and especially personal pronouns, make our lives much easier and let us focus on what we want to say because we don’t have to be remembering names or specific people all the time.

Technically speaking, personal pronouns are very similar in Spanish and in English.

We have one to indicate the person who is speaking: yo (I). We have another one to indicate the person who is listening: (you, singular). There is also a pronoun to indicate a third person: él/ella (he/she). And so on, and so forth (the fun is just about to begin).

I will analyze each personal pronoun separately in the following sections. But before doing that, let me just tell you one very important thing.

When talking or writing in Spanish, do not use the personal pronouns unless you want to emphasize or specify. We native Spanish speakers don’t use them. It feels superfluous and unnecessary. So if you are not in a situation where you feel the message can be confusing, try to avoid them like the plague.

At the beginning it will sure seem unnatural to you, but I can assure you that you will be convinced once you see this holds true every time, in every context, no matter what.

“So, Franko,” you may be thinking, “You mentioned that we can use personal pronouns in order to emphasize and specify the subject of the sentence. Can you give us an example?”

Indeed I can!

Let’s use as an example this sentence:

Tengo 27 años. (I am 27 years old.)

Since Spanish fully conjugates its verbs, we know tengo is the first person singular of the verb tener. We do not have to add yo in order for the sentence to make perfect sense. We know the subject is yo. There is no need to give unnecessary info.

Now imagine a situation where I am talking to a friend and he says he thought it was my brother who was 27. I, so as to correct him, and emphasize that it is I who am 27, not my brother, would then use the personal pronoun to make things clear:

– Pensaba que tu hermano tenía 27 años. (I thought your brother was 27 years old.)

No, yo tengo 27 años. (No, I am 27 years old.)

I have italicized I because in English you would emphasize that word to make it clear you are correcting the person and telling them you are referring to yourself. In Spanish, however, you do not even have to change the intonation. The very fact that you are adding the personal pronoun means you are emphasizing that person!

And now that you know this, we will have a look at each of the personal pronouns and analyze them. Let’s have some fun!

Yo

The first person pronoun is yo (I).

This pronoun is an example of usefulness at its best. It always refers to the person who is speaking, and it saves us from the embarrassment of having to talk about ourselves in the third person. Be thankful!

Yo is one of the easy pronouns, so the only thing you need is a couple of examples. Remember, in Spanish we don’t normally use the personal pronouns when they are the subject of the sentence. Notice how I have added them between parentheses to indicate they are “there.” Just remember that (depending on the situation, as mentioned above) you shouldn’t necessarily use them:

(Yo) Tengo 27 años. (I am 27 years old.)

(Yo) No soy polaco. (I am not Polish.)

(Yo) Estoy escuchando música. (I am listening to music.)

Another one of the easy pronouns. Every time you are talking directly to another person, you need to use the pronoun “you” in English.

In Spanish, however, we use the singular pronoun (or its conjugations) only in situations where we know the other person and we have a close bond. This is called tutear (to address as tú) and it is indeed very common, but you need to remember you can only use it in specific situations.

I cannot imagine myself talking to an older person, my boss or an unknown person on the street (unless they were a little child) and using the form . In these formal situations we use usted (you, singular and formal), but more on this later.

Back to . As I said, if you know a person and you are talking directly to them, use this pronoun and/or its conjugations. Easy!

Here you have some examples:

(Tú) Eres muy inteligente. (You are very intelligent.)

¿Quieres (tú) un café? (Do you want a coffee?)

(Tú) No puedes venir porque (tú) no has hecho los deberes. (You can’t come because you haven’t done your homework.)

Él / Ella

Let’s get this party started, shall we?

Él and ella are the Spanish third person singular personal pronouns, and they are translated as “he” and “she,” respectively.

Let’s have a look at some examples:

Mi hermana es estudiante. (Ella) estudia biología. (My sister is a student. She studies biology.)

El profesor llegó 5 minutos tarde. (Él) había perdido el autobús. (The professor arrived 5 minutes late. He had missed the bus.)

Ana es de Perú, pero (ella) vive en Barcelona. (Ana is from Peru, but she lives in Barcelona.)

Have you noticed any pattern in the subjects presented above?

If you have answered that they are all people, you are absolutely right. We have “he” or “she” in all of the sentences because they are all human subjects.

But what happens when we have animals or things? How would you translate “it” into Spanish?

This may come as a surprise for many of you, but the truth is that we don’t have “it” in Spanish, we don’t have a separate pronoun for animals and things.

Each and every noun in Spanish is either feminine or masculine, so it doesn’t matter if our third person is a person, an animal, a thing or a thought, all of them will just be either “he” or “she.” I kid you not!

This is why it is so important to know the gender of Spanish nouns from the very beginning of your language adventure!

Try to get past the fact that we “personify” everything. Just get used to it and use the grammar correctly. There is no other way.

Here you have some examples:

El perro se llama Pepe. (Él) es muy divertido. (The dog is called Pepe. It/He is very funny.)

Mi gata está en la cocina. (Ella) tiene hambre. (My she-cat is in the kitchen. It/She is hungry.)

(Yo) Me he encontrado un libro. (Él) es muy antiguo. (I have found a book. It/He is very old.)

I know it is weird to refer to a book as a “he,” or to a piedra (stone) as a “she,” but that is how we do it in Spanish. Look on the bright side: you don’t have to learn an additional pronoun!

Usted

Usted (abbreviated Ud. or Vd.) is one of those words that exists in Spanish but that you don’t have in English.

The translation of usted is “you,” but it is no ordinary “you.” In Spanish, usted is the pronoun we use when talking directly to someone in a formal context.

To add another twist to it, usted is a third person singular pronoun, so its verb has to be conjugated in the third person singular as well!

This may seem a little complicated, but it really is not. Both and usted mean “you,” but they are used in different situations, the former when the context is informal, and the latter when the context is formal.

The only thing that can cause you a little trouble at the beginning is the use of the third person in the verb. I normally tell my students to think of this as distancing yourself from the person you are talking to. The distance is so big, that it becomes a whole different pronoun in Spanish.

I know it may sound a little silly, but it helps them to memorize the difference.

The good news is that usted does not differentiate gender, so the gender of the person you are talking to doesn’t matter. The pronoun will always be the same:

¿Quiere (usted) algo? (Would you like something?)

Deme (usted) la mano, por favor. (Give me your hand, please.)

(Usted) Debe volver mañana. (You have to come back tomorrow.)

In case you are wondering, yes, usted can also be omitted and the other person will still know you are using it. Why? Because the verb is in the third person singular! There is no way of not knowing, really!

Nosotros / Nosotras

Nosotros and nosotras are translated as “we,” but unlike English, Spanish has two types of “we,” as you can see.

Use nosotros when you are talking about two or more people and you are included in the group.

Depending on the gender of the people referred to, you will have to use one form or the other.

These are the rules:

1. Use nosotros when there are only males in the group:

(Nosotros) Vamos a ganar. (We are going to win.)

(Nosotros) No tenemos dinero. (We don’t have any money.)

2. Also use nosotros if the group is mixed in terms of gender:

Mi novia y yo nos queremos. (Nosotros) Somos muy felices. (My girlfriend and I love each other. We are very happy.)

Mamá y yo vamos al cine. (Nosotros) Pasaremos la tarde juntos. (Mom and I are going to the cinema. We will spend the afternoon together.)

3. Use nosotras when you are only referring to women:

Ana y yo hemos aprobado. (Nosotras) Habíamos estudiado mucho. (Ana and I have passed. We had studied a lot.)

Pepa y yo somos vecinas. (Nosotras) nos divertimos mucho juntas. (Pepa and I are neighbors. We have a lot of fun together.)

Vosotros / Vosotras

Here we have yet another pair of pronouns that are translated in English as “you.”

In this case, what we have is the informal second person plural personal pronouns. They will be used when you are talking directly to two or more people you know.

As you can see, this also has two different forms in Spanish, one masculine and one feminine.

The rules for using them are very similar to the ones we had before:

1. Use vosotros when you are referring to males only:

(Vosotros) Sois los mejores. (You are the best.)

(Vosotros) Habláis muy alto. (You speak very loudly.)

2. Also use vosotros when a group is mixed:

(Tú) Recoge a María e id (vosotros) a casa. (Pick up María and go home.)

(Vosotros — Antonio + Susana) Sois españoles. (You are Spanish.)

3. Use vosotras when there are only females in a group:

(Vosotras) Sois muy guapas. (You are very pretty.)

¿Por qué habéis venido (vosotras)? (Why have you come?)

Ellos / Ellas

Ellos / ellas are the third person plural personal pronouns, and they are translated as “they.”

There is a difference between Spanish and English here, though. English has a universal form, while Spanish, once again, distinguishes between male only, mixed and female only groups.

The rules are exactly the same as above, so I will go straight to the examples so as not to bore you:

(Ellos — Juan + Antonio) Tienen hambre. (They are hungry.)

(Ellos — Pedro + Isabel) Están casados. (They are married.)

(Ellas — Ana + Lucía) Son de Murcia. (They are from Murcia.)

Ustedes

Do you remember Spanish has a special third person pronoun (usted) that is used when you are talking formally to someone?

Well, sorry guys, but the same happens in the plural! When we have a formal situation and we are talking directly to a group of people, we have to use ustedes (abbreviated Uds. or Vds.).

However, just as with the form usted, the plural ustedes is not gender specific, so it doesn’t matter what the genders of any of the people in the group are. The pronoun will remain the same.

There is one last similarity between usted and ustedes: they both use the third person of the verb. Usted needed the third person singular, while ustedes uses the third person plural:

¿Tienen (ustedes) alguna pregunta? (Do you have any questions?)

(Ustedes) Tienen razón. (You are right.)

¿De dónde son (ustedes)? (Where are you from?)

The More You Know: Regional Takes on the Personal Pronouns

If you thought I had finished, I am sorry, but there are still a couple of things you should know about our pronouns.

As you probably know, there are as many varieties of Spanish as there are Spanish-speaking countries.

Normally we tend to have similar grammar, vocabulary and usage, but there are times when you can clearly see the differences, especially between Spain’s Spanish and Latin America’s Spanish. Blame this on location, mainly, but you still have to give us a thumbs up for general homogeneity.

Jokes aside, there are a couple of differences in the use of some of our pronouns. These last two sections will deal with them.

vs. Vos

The pronouns and vos may seem to have different meanings when you look at them, but their meaning is exactly the same: they both mean “you” and refer to the informal second person singular.

The difference between them is just a matter of geography. Generally speaking, native speakers from Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Nicaragua and parts of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica prefer to use vos, while the rest of Spanish-speaking countries tend to use .

There is not a clear line separating the regions that use from the ones using vos, but there are two facts no one can deny:

1. Vos is never used in Spain by native speakers. It is a Latin American feature.

2. Everybody knows what vos means.

Just to show you they have the same meaning, let me give you a couple of examples:

¿ cómo te llamas? / ¿Vos cómo te llamás? (What is your name?)

 eres muy inteligente. / Vos sos muy inteligente. (You are very intelligent.)

Vosotros vs. Ustedes

We have already learned that vosotros is the informal second person plural and ustedes is the formal third person plural. We translated both of them as “you” or “you all.”

However, I did not tell you everything about these two pronouns because I wanted to do it here in a separate section.

First of all, you should know the form vosotros is mainly used in Spain. Very rarely will you hear it in Latin America.

What do they use instead? The answer will probably make you very happy: they use ustedes just like you use the plural “you” in English, for both formal and informal conversations.

Again, the difference in use is mainly due to geographical reasons.

But before I finish this post, I want to share something with you.

If you have read my other posts, you already know I am from Spain. I was born in the south of Spain, more specifically in Andalusia.

I have no explanation for what I am about to tell you, and I have certainly not heard of this happening outside of the Andalusian region, but it is, at least for me, very curious.

Many people in this region, me included, use ustedes with an informal meaning, too. This is nothing special, I know. Latin Americans do the same. But the funny thing is this. We use ustedes, yes, but instead of adding a third person verb like other people do, we use the second person plural!

So the sentence ¿Ustedes qué quieren? (What do you want?) would be ¿Ustedes qué queréis? instead.

I know. Languages are crazy, but I love crazy!

 

I hope this lengthy post has not made you lose your mind and you now feel more confident when using Spanish subject pronouns.

Remember that learning is a process and it takes time, so if you feel you need to read this a million times, do it!

As always, happy learning!

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