A Simple Guide to Spanish Sentence Structure and Order
Some people say that Spanish sentences structures are very flexible and they are not mistaken.
Let’s take a look at an example sentence.
Siempre cocino una deliciosa sopa para mi madre.
Now, you surely understood that it says: I always cook a delicious soup for my mother.
What about If I change the order of the words and say:
Cocino una deliciosa sopa para mi madre siempre.
Exactly! It communicates the same meaning.
Of course there are some rules to follow and remember while constructing basic Spanish sentences, but I will show you all about it in this post.
Here you will find some tricks that will help you understand Spanish word order and sound like a native Spanish-speaking person.
Some Basic Information About Spanish Sentence Structure
Let’s start with some groundwork. We will have more opportunities later to delve into the secrets of the Spanish subjunctive sentence structure and some other more complex sentences.
For now, let’s get acquainted with some simple facts.
You’ll need some basic knowledge about parts of speech, but we won’t need to worry too much about Spanish grammar. I promise that if we get to something more complicated, I’ll guide you towards helpful resources. If you need help now, a quick reminder on verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs will do—you can check out “Spanish Grammar for Beginners: The 8 Parts of Speech.”
1. Every Verb is Conjugated Depending on the Subject Pronoun
This is one of the main differences when comparing Spanish vs. English grammar.
Spanish verb endings change depending on who the subject is for all tenses. In contrast, English may have the same verb form for all pronouns depending on the tense.
The changes in verb endings in English are few—for instance, we say “I cook,” “you cook,” but “she cooks”.
In Spanish, however, each grammatical person will have a different ending in each tense and in each mood.
Look at how the verb cocinar (to cook) looks in present simple tense:
Cocinar – present tense conjugation chart
|yo cocino||I cook|
|tú cocinas||you cook|
|él, ella, usted cocina||he, she, it, cooks (fml. you cook)|
|nosotros cocinamos||we cook|
|ustedes cocinan||you cook|
|ellos, ellas cocinan||they cook|
If you want to know more about Spanish conjugation, here is “An Exclusive Beginner’s Guide to Spanish Conjugation.”
2. Subject Pronouns Are Optional
Point one logically leads to point two. Because of the verb conjugation, subject pronouns in Spanish are not obligatory. Let me explain.
Look at what happens if we remove all the subject pronouns from the chart above, both for Spanish and English:
That’s right! English might only give us clues about the third person singular only, and even then, we would have to blindly choose from he, she, or it.
If we use other tenses, this unique distinction would disappear.
However, for Spanish, we still know if it’s you or he, or us, who cooks. This is why a sentence without a subject pronoun in Spanish is grammatically correct.
Empiezo a las 8pm.
I start at 8 pm.
¿Terminas tan tarde?
Do you finish that late?
Abran los libros en la página 22.
Open your books on page 22.
The only English sentence where I could omit the subject pronoun was the last one—in the imperative form. If I did that for the other ones, they would simply be incomplete and incorrect.
3. Pronouns Almost Always Go Before The Verb
Yes, all types of pronouns (personal, reflexive, direct, and indirect) go before the verb. Take a look.
Quiero un coche.
I want a car.
I want it.
This is another case to remember in the Spanish vs. English game. In English, we place the object after the verb.
In Spanish, when you substitute a noun with a pronoun, it should be placed before the verb. Here are some examples.
I like (it).
Pedro se levanta tarde.
Pedro gets up late.
Nos hablamos ayer.
We talked yesterday.
Why do pronouns almost always—and not always—go before the verb? Well, if the verb is in the imperative, gerund, or infinitive form, the pronoun will go after the verb.
Siéntese, por favor.
Sit down, please.
I’m taking a bath.
¿Quieres darme este cuaderno?
Do you want to give me this notebook?
If you want to read more about pronoun placement, check out “The Ultimate Guide to Using Double Object Pronouns in Spanish”. There are some exercises at the end of the article, so you can practice on word order.
4. Verbs Sometimes Go before The Subject
A typical structure in Spanish is:
Subject + Verb + Object
Los invitados entraron a la reunión.
The guests entered the meeting.
Los invitados: subject
a la reunión: direct object
However—and that is the beauty of the Spanish language—you can switch this order if you want to place the emphasis on a different part of your message.
Entraron los invitados a la reunión.
In this case, the emphasis is placed on the fact that the guests entered the meeting. The structure we see there is:
Verb + Subject + Object
It’s still a perfectly correct sentence where the verb is placed before the subject.
5. Adjectives Go After Nouns in a Spanish Sentence Structure
Another difference between English and Spanish is the placement of adjectives in a sentence.
Opposite to English, in Spanish we place the adjective after the noun it describes.
Take a look:
In English, we say: I want a black cat. (Subject + Verb + Adjective + Object Noun)
In Spanish, we say: (Yo) quiero un gato negro. (Subject + Verb + Object Noun + Adjective)
Now, you’ll probably be on the lookout next time you hear someone say “quiero este rojo tomate” (literal, yet not correct in Spanish, translation for “I want this red tomato”), instead of the proper “quiero este tomate rojo.”
There will be some cases where you can play with the adjective placement, but that’s another story. You can read more about it in an article: “Positive Adjectives in Spanish for Any Person or Occasion.”
6. Adverbs Can Go Almost Everywhere
Yes—adverbs can go almost everywhere but there are still some rules to remember.
The most flexible adverbs are the ones that modify the whole sentence. They can go at the beginning, before the verb, after the verb, and also at the end of the sentence.
Check out how the English sentence—Juan slowly eats his soup—can be translated into Spanish:
Juan come su sopa lentamente.
Lentamente, Juan come su sopa.
Juan lentamente come su sopa.
Juan come lentamente su sopa.
However, it does look a bit different using other adverbs for their placement will depend on the word they describe.
Adverbs that modify adjectives will go before them:
Soy muy feliz.
I am very happy.
Adverbs that modify another adverb also go before the adverb they modify:
Puede correr tan rápido.
He can run so quickly.
Adverbs that modify a verb go after the verb.
Su ensayo se basa principalmente en las entrevistas con niños.
His essay is based mainly on interviews with children.
Adverbs of negation go before the verb.
Yo nunca salgo después de las 9 de la noche.
I never go out past 9 at night.
If you want to read more about adverbs, don’t forget to check “50 Common Spanish Adverbs to Start Using Today.”
Three Basic Sentence Types in Spanish
While learning about Spanish sentence structure, it’s good to have a quick look at the three basic types of Spanish sentences:
- affirmative statements
- negative sentences
Let me show you how they work.
1. Affirmative Spanish Sentence Structure
If you have thoroughly read all the information above, you already know the Spanish sentence structure for declarative sentences.
Subject+ verb + object
Yo como una manzana.
I eat an apple.
The basic sentence structure is the same as in English. It will feel great to breeze right through it once you get to practice it!
You also know how to use objects, add adjectives, and adverbs if you need to.
You also know that you can place the verb before the subject and omit the subject.
2. Negative Spanish Sentences
It is simple to build a negative Spanish sentence. . You just need to add “no” before the verb and you get the negative sentence.
Yo no como una manzana.
I don’t eat an apple.
So the structure of a negative sentence is:
Subject + No + Verb + Object
Simple, right? You may also omit the subject.
No como una manzana
It’s a good moment to mention double negatives in Spanish. Double negatives are sentences with two negative words, which sound perfectly fine in Spanish.
I have also included my literal English translations to show you that the use of double negatives is a correct practice exclusively in Spanish.
No como ninguna manzana.
I don’t eat no apple.
No me gusta nada.
I don’t like nothing.
No quiero nada de ti.
I don’t want nothing from you.
If I sparked your curiosity with the topic of the double negatives, you should definitely read this super fun Guide to Double Negatives in Spanish, written by my colleague Luis!
3. Spanish Questions
There are several ways to ask questions in Spanish.
Here are some ways to build interrogative sentences—and they are all easy to grasp!
- Just add question marks and rising intonation
This is definitely the easiest way. You take an affirmative sentence, add question marks at the beginning and at the end of the sentence, raise your intonation at the end, and voilà!
¿Yo como una manzana?
Do I eat an apple?
- Switch verb and subject
You can also switch the verb with the subject, add the question marks, and raise your intonation.
¿Como yo una manzana?
Do I eat an apple?
Does Juan write?
- Add question tags
This is also a simple way to turn a sentence into a question. You take the affirmative statement, and use a comma to add a question tag word—inside question marks—.It can be a “no”, “sí”, or “verdad”.
Juan escribe libros, ¿verdad?
Juan escribe libros, ¿no?
Juan escribe libros, ¿sí?
They can all translate into “Juan writes books, doesn’t he?”
Thank you for having worked so hard on understanding Spanish sentence structure!
Now that you’ve learned how to build a basic sentence, your knowledge about word order in Spanish is surely greater than ever. Am I right?
Test Your Knowledge Taking This Multiple-Choice Quiz On Spanish Sentence Structure
Let’s see how much you’ve learned about common Spanish sentence structure.
1. Where do we place adjectives in a Spanish sentence?
2. What’s the correct order of a basic Spanish sentence?
3. Which sentence is grammatically correct?
4. Which of these is a correct question.
5. Which sentence order is correct? (adverb of frequency)
6. Translate this sentence: I want a red car.
7. What’s the correct translation for: I don’t want anything.
8. What’s the correct translation for: Do you write books?
9. Where do you put an adverb that modifies another adverb in a Spanish sentence?
10. What is true about Spanish sentence structure?
Congratulations on learning a lot about basic Spanish sentence structure today. You’ll notice it will start to feel completely natural once you put it into practice.
My recommendation is that rather than trying to memorize Spanish sentence structure you practice it on a daily basis.
If you don’t have a Spanish-speaking friend to help you with frequent practice, you can always sign up for a FREE class with one of our native Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala. They will be more than happy to help you tackle the sentence order in Spanish and help you with any other questions you may have.
Just imagine yourself using affirmative, negative, and interrogative statements in Spanish—you would easily make it in a Spanish-speaking country! So, maybe you should be getting your suitcases ready!
Would you like more lessons on Spanish grammar? Check these out!
- What You Should Know About Indirect Objects in Spanish
- Venir Conjugation: Free Spanish Lesson and Quiz
- How to Say ‘You’ in Formal and Informal Spanish
- Understanding the Spanish Subjunctive in Noun Clauses
- How To Pronounce R and RR in Spanish
- How to Use Relative Adjectives in Spanish
- How to Talk About Length of Time in Spanish: Durar, Tardar, Llevar
- How to Master Verbal Periphrasis in Spanish
- What You Should Know About Indirect Objects in Spanish - September 22, 2021
- How to Say ‘You’ in Formal and Informal Spanish - September 21, 2021
- Understanding the Spanish Subjunctive in Noun Clauses - September 21, 2021