Spanish Personal (Subject) Pronouns

Subject pronouns are the words such as “I”, “you”, “he”, etc. They are the “subject”, as they carry out the verb in a sentence (“I kicked the ball” – “I” is the subject). They are also referred to as personal pronouns because they refer to people.

First, let’s have a look at the forms of the personal subject pronouns:

Yo I
You (informal)
Él He
Ella She
Usted You (formal)
Nosotros/as We
Vosotros/as You (plural, informal)
Ustedes You (plural, formal)
Ellos/Ellas They

In English, we use our subject pronouns very often, and cannot omit them as they contain crucial information about the subject of the sentence – ie, who is performing the action (compare “I ran home”, to “ran home” – who ran home?). In Spanish, however, the pronoun is implied by the conjugation of the verb. Verbs are conjugated according to the subject, and as each personal pronoun has a unique conjugation, Spanish speakers will often leave out the pronoun, or if they include it this may be for added emphasis:

Tengo un carro → I have a car

Yo tengo un carro → have a car

Ways of saying “you”

Another difficulty for we English speakers is that our “you” can actually mean many different things. We could be talking to someone well known to us or a complete stranger (Spanish uses a difference in register for this), or we could be talking to one person or a group of people (in fact, some English speakers will often clarify this by saying “you guys”, or “y’all”, etc). Spanish has different forms of “you” to clarify each of these situations.

Tú and usted

Specific instances of using either “tú” and “usted” vary culturally between different Spanish speaking countries. However, the following guidelines hold true for the majority of the Spanish speaking world:

  • Use “tú” for people you know well, such as family, friends, and younger people. This is the informal “you”.
  • Use “usted” as a marker of respect. It’s used with older people and people you do not know so well. This is the formal “you”.

In Spain, “tú” is more common than other Spanish speaking countries. It is quite rare to use the form “usted” here, except in formal situations. “Usted” is more common in Latin American countries, and in some regions is actually used more frequently than “tú”.

Don’t worry, though! As a Spanish learner, you are very unlikely to offend people if you get these mixed up, and you’ll soon develop a good sense of which use is most appropriate.

Plural forms

Spanish is also different to English with “ustedes” and “vosotros/as“, which both also translate as “you”! These are the plural forms, used when referring to more than one person. “Ustedes” is formal – used when speaking to a group of people you do not know well, or that you would individually refer to as “usted”. “Vosotros” is specific to Spain, and is the plural form of “tú”.

It’s important to note that almost everywhere outside of Spain does not use “vosotros”. “Ustedes” is used to refer to more than one person, regardless of whether you would use “tú” or “usted” with them individually.

Gender

Yet another way that Spanish differs to English is the change in pronoun ending for masculine and feminine. This is evident in certain forms, and can be seen by the change in ending:

  • “Nosotros” and “nosotras”
  • “Vosotros” and “vosotras”
  • “Ellos” and “ellas”
  • “Él” and “Ella”

In each case (except for “él”), those pronouns ending with “o” are masculine, those ending with “a” are feminine.

For the plural pronouns, if the group referred to is all male, use the masculine ending. If it is all female, use the feminine ending. If it is a mix of male and female, use the masculine ending.

We’ve covered most of the key areas you need to know to start recognising and using personal subject pronouns in Spanish. Keep practising, and enjoy!

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