When studying any new language, it’s important to understand the parts of grammar that we will be using. For example, let’s talk about pronouns! Do you remember those from your school days? Try to identify the pronouns in the following sentences:
- He went to the store to get her some medicine.
- I need to do it by myself.
- What do you need? I need something for my classes, but I can’t remember what she told me it was called.
- Give that to me, please.
Could you find the pronouns? There are actually 16! Let’s explore:
What are Pronouns
Pronouns are short and useful words that replace a noun. Thanks to pronouns, we don’t have to continue repeating whichever noun we’re saying. To clarify, consider the following examples:
- John is our boss. John is great to work with.
Now with a pronoun:
- John is our boss. He is great to work with.
As you can see, the sentences read smoother, and we don’t have to repeat ourselves. Spanish pronouns are equally as important. The most frequently used types of Spanish pronouns come in 3 categories. They will help you to better express yourself when speaking or writing.
3 Most Frequent Spanish Pronouns
1. Subject Pronouns
These pronouns replace the subject or the “naming part” of a sentence. They come in four categories: person, number, gender, and formality. Person refers to the identity of who is doing the action: first (I and we), second (you and you all), or third person (he, she, it, they). Likewise, numbered pronouns refer to singular (he) or plural (they) pronouns. Gender is specific for Spanish since every noun is either feminine or masculine. It must be remembered that masculine pronouns replace masculine subject nouns (‘el sol’ becomes él) and feminine pronouns replace feminine subject nouns (‘la casa’ becomes ella). Also, for groups of both men and women, we use the masculine plural form (a group of male and female students: ellos). Lastly, formality refers to the formal (usted) or informal (tú) pronouns used to address a person. This chart will help you understand and organize the subject pronouns in Spanish:
Usage of Vosotros versus Ustedes
Both vosotros and ustedes mean “you” in the plural form. They are used when talking to more than one person. Vosotros is used in Spain, while ustedes is always used in Latin America. Vosotros has two forms; the first is for a group of men or mixed group, and the other, vosotras, is for addressing a group of females.
The Omission of Subject Pronouns
It’s important to understand that subject pronouns are not always used in Spanish. At first, it can feel very strange to remove the pronoun from your speech or writing, but it’s perfectly natural for Spanish speakers. For example, the English sentence “She is a lawyer” can be stated in Spanish as “Ella es abogada” or “Es abogada.” Each sentence is perfectly understood, due to the feminine ending -a in abogada.
2. Direct Object Pronouns
The direct object is a noun that directly receives the action of a verb. It answers the question “What?” or “Who?” A direct object pronoun takes the place of the noun. Let’s look at some examples:
- He brought it. – He brought what? It is the direct object
- I know you! – I know who? You is the direct object
The following is a chart of direct object pronouns in Spanish:
Now, if you look at the previous English examples, you’ll see that the direct object comes after the verb. In Spanish, however, the direct object pronouns come before the verb!
- Tú me debes dinero. – You owe me money.
- ¡Te dije! – I told you!
- Lo conozco. – I know him/you/it.
While using direct object pronouns lo, la, los, and las, the direct object can be clarified by adding a usted, a él, a ella, a ellos, or a ellas.
- Lo conozco a él. – I know him.
- La espero a usted. – I (will) wait for you.
3. Indirect Object Pronouns
Similarly, the indirect object always answers the question “to whom?” or “for whom?” It is generally telling you where the direct object is headed. Let’s see some examples:
- I toss the ball to Jack. – The direct object is the ball, but to whom is the ball being tossed? Jack is our indirect object.
Now, without using Jack’s name, we would say:
- I toss the ball to him. or I toss him the ball. – I toss the ball to whom? Him is our indirect object pronoun.
Just like with the direct objects, the indirect object pronouns in Spanish come before the verb, unlike in English where they come after.
- ¿Me hablas? – Are you talking to me?
- Él nos enseña español. – He teaches us Spanish.
- Le doy mi llave. – I give you my key. / I give him my key.
To clarify or to add emphasis to the indirect object, an additional phrase can be added:
- ¿Me hablas a mí? – Are you talking to me?
- Él nos enseña español a nosotros. – He teaches us Spanish.
- Le doy mi llave a usted. – I give you my key.
- Le doy mi llave a él. – I give him my key.
For You Pronoun Pros
If all of this has been a review for you, let’s look at something a bit more difficult. You will find there to be times when you need to use both direct and indirect object pronouns. Luckily, this is not particularly difficult; however, it is important to remember some essential rules. In English, this looks like the following examples:
- She gives it to me.
- I tell it to you.
- Send me that.
If you remember, the direct and indirect pronouns both go before the verb in Spanish. Therefore, when both pronouns are being used, the indirect object pronoun goes before the direct object pronoun, as seen here:
- Ella me lo da. (She gives it to me.)
- Te lo digo. (I tell it to you.)
- Me lo mandas. (You send me that.)
But, what if we want to say “I give it to her?”
Le lo doy – Try saying this out loud. Does it sound a bit funny?
In Spanish, when certain pronouns are used together, the indirect pronoun changes to “se” to avoid silly sounds like ‘lelo.’ Let’s call this the ‘Lelo Rule.’ Check out this chart to help you:
In order to clarify the indirect object, you can add a personal pronoun at the end using “a + personal pronoun.” This shows without a doubt who the indirect object refers to:
- Se lo digo a usted. (I tell it to you.)
- Se las doy a ellos. (I give them to them.)
The Importance of Pronouns
As you may have noticed, many of the pronouns are similar or exactly the same. This requires a great deal of concentration when learning, studying, and using new pronouns. The good news is, the more you study and practice, the faster you will be able to understand the different pronouns when native Spanish speakers use them. After enough practice, the pronouns will become second nature. Above all else, you will be able to automatically choose the right pronoun for every grammatical occasion.