A Simple Guide to Spanish Sentences and Their Structure
So far you have learned some essential Spanish words (like casa, perro, and comida) and even some verb conjugations! The next step in your journey to fluency is learning how to put those words together to form full Spanish sentences. While you may be able to survive with short phrases and simple answers, understanding the structure of different sentence types in Spanish is key to conversing with ease in your second language.
Spanish Sentence Types
Just like in English, there are three main Spanish sentence types:
Affirmative Spanish Sentences
The majority of Spanish sentences are affirmative, or declarative, sentences whose structure is similar to the English form. Let’s look at an example in English and Spanish and compare their forms.
I got a dog for Christmas.
Subject (I) + verb (got) + object (a dog)
Yo recibí un perro para la Navidad.
Subject (Yo) + verb (recibí) + object (un perro)
As you can see, both the English and Spanish affirmative sentences have the same structure. However, there is some flexibility in the Spanish sentence structure.
In English, commands are the only sentences that do not have a subject:
- Give me that book.
- Pass me a pencil.
Any other sentence without a subject would lack essential information, like who is performing the action. For example:
Got a dog for Christmas.
Who got a dog for Christmas? The answer is unclear. However, in Spanish, each subject has its own verb conjugation so the subject is usually understood without saying it.
Recibí un perro para la Navidad.
That particular past tense verb conjugation is only used for the subject yo, so the sentence makes sense without the subject. As such, the subject for affirmative Spanish sentences is optional! You can use the subject when you would like to emphasize the subject or to clarify, but other than that it is completely normal to not include a subject.
In the above Spanish sentence, the object (un perro), comes after the verb, just like in the English example. However, if we were to replace the words un perro with the direct object pronoun lo, it would go BEFORE the verb, not after. The placement of direct and indirect pronouns varies depending on the type of verb conjugation and sentence. (Learn more about pronouns.) For now, remember that:
- If the object of the sentence is a noun or name and NOT a pronoun, put it after the verb.
- If the object is a pronoun, put it before the verb.
Now, get ready for this. The order we established above, subject + verb + object, is not always used. Most affirmative sentences follow this format, but it is not necessary. You can often hear sentences in the verb + object + subject format or in the object + verb + subject order.
Yo recibí un perro.
Recibí un perro.
Un perro recibí yo.
Recibí un perro yo.
All of these sentences are correct, acceptable, and understandable. The most common formats you’ll hear, though, are the first two. If you are just starting to form Spanish sentences, use the first format we learned: subject + verb + object. It is the same as the English format, and people will have no problem understanding you.
Negative Spanish Sentences
To form negative Spanish sentences, we need to keep in mind everything we learned about the affirmative form. The only thing that changes to make a sentence negative is the addition of the word no. Here, the placement of this tiny word is always the same and never changes. The no goes directly before the verb, no matter where the verb is in the sentence.
Yo no recibí un perro para la Navidad.
No recibí un perro.
Un perro no recibí yo.
Since the most common Spanish sentence structure is subject + verb + object, we will base the negative sentence formula on that same structure:
Subject + NO + verb + object
Remember that the subject is optional!
Interrogative Spanish Sentences
Our last type of Spanish sentence is the question! Just like in English, there are a couple of different ways to ask questions. Let’s check them out!
Using Question Words
Many questions need a particular word to make its inquiry clear. These are called question words, and there are seven in Spanish.
|Why?||¿Por qué?||pohr kay|
|How many / how much?||¿Cuánto?||kwahn-toh|
To use these question words, follow the following structure:
Question word + verb + object
¿Quién es ella? – Who is she?
¿Qué es eso? – What is that?
¿Dónde está mi mochila? – Where is my backpack?
¿Cuándo es tu cumpleaños? – When is your birthday?
¿Cuánto vale? – How much is it?
¿Por qué estás triste? – Why are you sad?
¿Cómo te sientes? – How do you feel?
Note that in the last two sentences, the English question has the subject “you.” This subject is not in the Spanish questions because it is not often used in questions like these. However, if you would like to include the subject, it can go either before or after the verb:
¿Por qué tú estás triste? – Why are you sad?
¿Cómo te sientes tú? – How do you feel?
Because “how many” is referring to the amount of something, we need to change the formula a bit:
Question word + object + verb
¿Cuántos perros hay? – How many dogs are there?
Note that every question word has an accent mark; these accents separate the question word from the same word used in affirmative sentences. For example:
When did you arrive?
No estaba en casa cuando llegaste.
I wasn’t home when you arrived.
The word “when” has two translations in Spanish. Cuándo (with an accent mark) is only used as a question word. Cuando (without an accent mark) is used in affirmative or negative sentences to mark time. This idea applies to all the other question words, as well.
The only question word that changes depending on the sentence is cuánto. Because it is often used before a noun, it must change to agree with the noun.
¿Cuánta leche hay? (How much milk is there?)
Leche is a singular, feminine noun, so cuánto changes to cuánta.
¿Cuántas manzanas hay? (How many apples are there?)
Manzanas is a plural, feminine noun, so cuánto changes to cuántas.
¿Cuántos niños hay en la clase? (How many kids are there in the class?)
Niños is a plural, masculine noun, so cuánto changes to cuántos.
¿Cuánto cuesta? (How much does it cost?)
Here, the question word is followed by a verb, so there is no change.
General Question Words
For questions that do not require a question word, the format is quite simple. Take the affirmative Spanish sentence, add question marks (one at the beginning and one at the end), and raise your voice at the end of the sentence to indicate you are inquiring about something. That’s it!
Here are some examples.
Tú quieres ir a la fiesta. – You want to go to the party.
¿Tú quieres ir a la fiesta? – Do you want to go to the party?
Vamos a estudiar más tarde. – We are going to study later.
¿Vamos a estudiar más tarde? – Are we going to study later?
Don’t forget that the subject of the sentence is optional and often omitted, just like in the second sentence.
Clarifying Questions at the End of a Sentence
The last type of question is a short interrogative addition to an affirmative or negative sentence. In English, an example of this would be the following:
You already finished the homework, right?
The question part is only made up of the word “right” and is separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma. In Spanish, the format is very similar except for the addition of a question mark.
Ya terminaste la tarea, ¿verdad?
Common clarifying question words are verdad, no, and sí.
Ya terminaste la tarea, ¿verdad?
Ya terminaste la tarea, ¿no?
Ya terminaste la tarea, ¿sí?
All three words can be used in the same way: to clarify that what you are stating is true.
¿Estás listo para practicar?
Now that you are a pro in Spanish sentence structure, it’s time to practice! Write down some example sentences to make sure you have the formulas correct, then check them with your Spanish teacher. If you don’t have a Spanish teacher, try a free class with one of our professional, native Spanish-speaking teachers. They would love to help you perfect your Spanish sentences and will give you valuable real-life practice. Try it today!
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