Spanish Pronouns: The Different Types Explained With Examples
- Jada LòpezSpanish teacher, translator🎓 B.A., Translation and Interpreting English and Spanish, Universidad de Granada🎓 M.A., Formación de Profesores de Español como Lengua Extranjera (ELE), Universidad Pablo de Olavide
Passionate language teacher and translator. Wife, mother of 3 and amateur surfer.
Spanish pronouns can be a bit tricky at first.
If your goal is to become fluent in Spanish, you’re going to have to understand Spanish pronouns.
The fact is, they’re unavoidable.
If you encountered Spanish pronouns in your Spanish course but feel like you’re swimming against the tide when it comes to understanding the huge number of pronouns that are out there, this guide will help.
What are Spanish pronouns?
A Spanish pronoun (pronombre) is a small word that we use instead of a noun (or known as a sustantivo or nombre in Spanish).
Their purpose is to help you express an idea in a sentence or in the spoken form without repeating the noun several times.
Here’s an example to start things off.
If you wanted to say three things about your friend Juan, without repeating his name, you are going to need the Spanish pronoun él to help you.
Look at this example:
Juan come las fresas.
Juan no come los plátanos.
Pero Juan siempre come pan de plátano.
With the magic of pronouns, here’s how these sentences would transform:
Él come las fresas.
Él no come los plátanos.
Pero él siempre come pan de plátanos.
See how pronouns can save you from repeating someone’s name over and over?
That’s the beauty of pronouns.
And there are plenty more where these came from.
What are the main types of Spanish pronouns?
There are a few main types of Spanish pronouns that you will notice as you learn.
Some of the main ones are:
- Spanish personal pronouns
- Spanish reflexive pronouns
- Spanish direct pronouns
- Spanish indirect pronouns
- Spanish relative pronouns
Paso a paso (step by step), these are the pronouns that we are going to explore in this article.
Keep reading to learn all you need to know.
Spanish personal pronouns
In the second section of this article, we gave an example of the food that Juan likes to eat.
In these examples, we mentioned that his name (the sustantivo) can be replaced with the small word él.
That small word él is one example of a Spanish personal pronoun — it replaces the noun.
What are the other Spanish personal pronouns?
Here’s the complete set of Spanish personal pronouns for you:
|Ellos/as||They (m.) / They (f.)|
As you can see, there are different Spanish personal pronouns for each subject of a sentence.
There are also masculine and feminine personal pronouns that translate to ‘he’ and ‘she’.
What is different from English pronouns is that the Spanish pronoun for ‘we’ and ‘they’ both have masculine and feminine versions.
In English we would simply say ‘we eat banana bread’, but in Spanish, if the subjects were all women, they would say *nosotras *comemos pan de plátano.
How to use Spanish personal pronouns
So, how exactly do we use Spanish personal pronouns?
This is quite easy.
You’d just need to substitute the noun for the pronoun.
If you wanted to say ‘María, Sofía and Sara went to the cinema and didn’t eat popcorn’, you could simply say:
Ellas fueron al cine y no comieron palomitas.
Notice how, instead of listing every name of the subjects in the original sentence, we have substituted the names with ellas?
This is because all three subjects are female.
If Juan, Jaime and Jacobo didn’t eat palomitas, we would use ellos.
The same thing applies for all names in Spanish.
They can be substituted with the relevant Spanish personal pronoun that we have featured in the above table.
Spanish reflexive pronouns
Let’s now explore Spanish reflexive pronouns and how they work.
Take a look at the Spanish reflexive pronouns to start with, which you will find just below.
What are the six Spanish reflexive pronouns?
Here are the six Spanish reflexive pronouns:
When should we use a Spanish reflexive pronoun?
We use Spanish reflexive pronouns when a person or group of people carry out a reflexive action.
So, what is a reflexive action? Here’s an example in English:
She looked at herself in the mirror and brushed her hair.
In this example, the reflexive pronoun is ‘herself’.
So, how would we say this in Spanish?
Take a look at the Spanish version of this:
Ella se miró en el espejo y se peinó el pelo.
Here, the reflexive pronoun se means ‘herself’.
Where do we place a Spanish reflexive pronoun in a sentence?
When we use a Spanish reflexive pronoun, keep in mind that it should be placed after the Spanish personal pronoun and before the verb.
Here are a few examples of this:
Yo me peino el pelo.
Ella se duchó.
Él se afeite.
Just to drive the point home, in all of these instances, the reflexive pronoun comes after the personal pronoun and the verb comes after the reflexive pronoun.
Note that Spanish reflexive actions are sometimes described differently compared with their English counterparts.
So, even though ‘I brush my hair’ doesn’t technically contain a reflexive pronoun, the Spanish version does — yo me peino el pelo.
Spanish direct and indirect pronouns
There are another two classes of Spanish pronouns that you’ve got to be aware of — these are direct and indirect pronouns.
Let’s tackle the direct pronouns first and then move on to the indirect ones in the section after the next one.
Direct Spanish pronouns
The table just below contains the direct Spanish pronouns that you need to know.
Have a look at the full list:
When are direct pronouns used in Spanish?
Direct pronouns are used to demonstrate who the direct object of the sentence is.
In other words, they stand in place of the direct object — which is the thing or individual that receives the action of the verb.
Where are direct pronouns placed in Spanish?
Always keep in mind that direct pronouns are positioned before the verb.
¿No lo viste? Es muy guapo y tiene ojos azules.
Here, the direct pronoun lo comes before the conjugated verb viste.
However, there are situations where, if the imperative tense is used, the direct pronoun joins the verb and combines to form an instruction.
Sígueme después. Estoy apunto de llegar.
In this case, the direct pronoun me, tags onto the verb seguir to form a verb in the imperative tense *sígueme*.
What are the indirect Spanish pronouns?
In the following table you will find the indirect Spanish pronouns.
Here they are:
Though you might think these indirect Spanish pronouns are practically the same as the direct pronouns, it’s important to understand how their uses differ.
When are indirect pronouns used in Spanish?
Whereas direct pronouns are used in place of the direct object, indirect pronouns in Spanish replace indirect objects in a sentence.
Now, you’re going to need to understand what an indirect object is to use these pronouns correctly.
An indirect object is a subject of a sentence that receives an action that is done to or for them.
You can identify who or what the indirect object of the sentence is by converting the sentence into a question and then answering the question.
This might seem confusing, so here is an example in English:
She gave me a pen.
If you wanted to know who the indirect object was for this sentence, simply ask:
Who did she give the pen to? (To me)
And there’s your answer — the indirect object is me.
Now let’s look at an example in Spanish.
Les dio los bolígrafos como regalo.
In this case, the indirect Spanish pronoun would be les, which replaces the names of all the individual people he gave the pens to.
Relative Spanish pronouns
Our final section is on relative Spanish pronouns.
They’re not too tricky to understand and can be really useful when speaking fluently in Spanish.
Let’s make a start.
What are the Spanish relative pronouns?
The table below contains the Spanish relative pronouns to keep in mind:
|Que||Who / which / that|
|El cual||That / which|
|Quien / es||Whom|
|Cuyo / a||Which / that|
What is the purpose of relative Spanish pronouns?
Spanish relative pronouns serve the purpose of linking two clauses that are originally in two separate sentences together.
So, in English, if you painted a beautiful picture yesterday with watercolours, one way of saying this would be:
I painted a beautiful picture. I painted it yesterday. I used watercolours.
But check out the alternative, more fluid way of saying this:
For the beautiful picture that I painted yesterday, I used watercolours.
It’s that little word ‘that’ that has the power to make two sentences sound more natural.
When to use que in Spanish
We use que in Spanish as a relative pronoun to join two clauses together.
As we stated in the above table, que can mean ‘which’, ‘that’ or ‘who’.
Here are a few examples of que being used as a relative pronoun.
Original sentences: Las ovejas viven en el campo. Las ovejas están comiendo la hierba.
Las ovejas que viven en el campo están comiendo la hierba.
Original sentences: El tráfico pasa por aquí. El tráfico va muy lento.
El tráfico que pasa por aquí va muy lento.
Original sentences: Los animales duermen allí. Los animales son muy lindos.
Los animales que duermen allí son muy lindos.
As you can see, the relative pronoun que is a useful word.
Without it, these sentences would be expressed in a clumsy way and sound as though the speaker was rambling.
Keep in mind that you can use que with or without commas for clauses that are relative.
When to use el cual in Spanish
The Spanish relative pronoun el cual is used in a similar way to the pronoun que.
You’ll typically hear it in formal dialogues and see it in formal texts.
El cual has different forms depending on who is being described. There are masculine, feminine and plural forms, which include la cual, los cuales and las cuales.
Here are a couple of examples of el cual being used:
Es una pena que concedemos un penalti con el cual marcaron.
Este es el bolígrafo con el cual ha escrito su nombre.
When to use quien
Quien is always used when referring to people.
You can substitute el que for quien in cases where a preposition features in the sentence before quien. You can also use quien as a substitute for que in cases where the sentence doesn’t feature a preposition.
Take a look at some of the following examples to see the difference between these usages:
La mujer con quien el hombre ha salido tiene mas años que él.
La chica quien ha cenado temprano, no se encuentra bien.
When to use cuyo/a
The first thing to know about the relative pronoun cuyo is that it is used in formal situations.
It’s unlikely that you’ll hear this one in dialogues with your friends.
The second thing to be aware of is that cuyo has many different forms.
There is a masculine and feminine form (cuyo and cuya), and there are plural forms for each of these (cuyos and cuyas).
The form you select has to complement the noun that comes after it.
Here’s an example of cuyo being used:
El hombre cuyo café ha caído al suelo está enfadado.
El hombre cuyas gafas han roto no puede ver nada.
El hombre cuyos libros están acabados tiene que comprar mas.
So, notice that the modified version of cuyo complements all the nouns that follow it. El café is complemented by the masculine singular version cuyo. Las gafas is complemented by the feminine plural version cuyas.
And los libros is complemented by the masculine plural version cuyos.
What to remember about Spanish pronouns to become an expert
The list of Spanish pronouns is huge.
What we recommend is that you’re studying an introductory course, it is unlikely that you will encounter some of the pronouns on this list.
Some Spanish courses will teach you daily routines as a topic, through which you will get your first taste of reflexive pronouns, such as yo me baño, or yo me afeito.
But this is really just the tip of the iceberg and you will revisit many of these in the following courses.
The question is — how can you make a good start when learning these Spanish pronouns?
Focus on the pronouns that you will be using frequently as a beginner.
These include the personal pronouns at the beginning of this list.
Don’t get too obsessed with cuyo/cuya at this stage.
This is because you will use it less often than you think.
While it is important, you will revisit it at B2 level and that’s when you can roll up your sleeves and start studying it in depth.
A couple of tips to help you remember Spanish pronouns
We all learn differently.
For this reason, it might not be enough for you to have a look at the examples and tables of pronouns I’ve included in this list and consider it finished.
You’ll need to hear them being spoken in conversation and natural contexts repeatedly.
And just like verb conjugation, understanding the forms of these Spanish pronouns is crucial, so you should practice Spanish exercises to understand them better.
Make use of various Spanish resources to help you understand and listen to formal and informal dialogues to develop your knowledge.
You’ll soon be using Spanish pronouns in your conversations and writing with ease.
Do you have any advice on learning Spanish pronouns?
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