A Concise Guide to Spanish Word Order

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Spanish word order is a bit specific, and it can be confusing for native speakers of English. If you want to master this language, it is important to be able to recognize the different ways in which the words are ordered. In this article, we will go through some of the most common situations that learners need to know about.

Spanish is unlike English in that it puts a Verb and an Object (if there is one) before the Subject rather than separate them by many intervening words. Spanish does not like to leave verb phrases dangling at the end of the sentence far from their subject. The position of the Spanish verbs in italics should be noted in these sentences:

  • Rompió la ventana el vecino que siempre lleva el sombrero amarillo. The neighbor who always wears the yellow hat broke the window.
  • Ganó el partido el equipo que más se había entrenado antes. The team that had trained most before won the match.
  • Me fui porque me revienta tener que esperar varias horas en la parada del autobús. I left because having to wait several hours at the bus-stop gets on my nerves.

The preceding rule is almost always applied in Subordinate and Relative Clauses. The verb is usually not left at the end of the sentence:

  • Esa es la moto que me vendió Alfredo. That’s the motor-bike that Alfredo sold me. (lit. that sold me Alfredo)
  • Quedará prohibido cuando entre en vigor la nueva ley. It will be prohibited when the new law comes into effect. (lit. comes into effect the new law)

After adverbs and adverbial phrases, the verb is often put before the subject:

  • Si bien dice el refrán que “ojos que no ven, corazón que no llora ”. If the proverb is right (literally if well says the proverb that...) that ‘what the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn’t weep about.’
  • Con la noche llegan a su fin las actividades del día. At nightfall the day’s activities come to an end.

An English preposition can appear at the end of a sentence, but Spanish prepositions always stand before the noun or pronoun that they refer to:

  • La chica a la que di el dinero. The girl I gave the money to.
  • Las escaleras por las que subieron. The stairs they went up.
  • alguien con quien salir... someone to go out with...

In Spanish no word ever comes between Object Pronouns and their verb:

  • Me lo diste ayer. You gave it to me yesterday.
  • Me has defendido siempre. You’ve always defended me.

There is a tendency, especially in colloquial speech, to put the most urgent information first. This is required in some contexts, e.g. ¡Viene la policía! The police are coming! , but normal word order would also be correct in the following sentences:

  • Dinero tiene, pero no es un millonario. He’s got money, but he’s no millionaire. (literally money he’s got...)
  • Invitada está, pero no só si viene. She’s invited, but I don’t know if she’ll come (literally invited she is...)
  • Todos esos detalles ya me los explicaste ayer. You already explained all those details to me yesterday.

In the last example the Direct Object (todos esos detalles) is echoed or resumed by los.

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