The Complete Guide to Spanish Pronouns

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FORMS OF SPANISH PERSONAL PRONOUNS

What are the personal pronouns in Spanish?

Spanish Personal Pronouns can take different forms depending on Person (1st, 2nd or 3rd), Number (singular or plural) and grammatical function (Subject, Prepositional or Object). In the case of second-person pronouns, there are also different forms depending on the degree of familiarity.

Spanish Subject Pronouns

  • yo I
  • tu you (familiar)
  • vos you (familiar, Argentina and Central America; see below)
  • usted you (formal)
  • él he/it
  • ella she/it
  • ello it
  • nosotros we (masculine or masc. and feminine mixed)
  • nosotras we (feminine only)
  • vosotros you (familiar, masculine or masc. and feminine mixed. Spain only)
  • vosotras you (familiar, feminine only. Spain only
  • ustedes you (plural. Only formal use in Spain, both formal and familiar in Latin America)
  • ellos they (masculine or masc. and feminine mixed)
  • ellas they (feminine only)
  • Nosotros we (object form nos) is used to refer to male persons or to males and females mixed.
  • Nosotras is used by females when referring to themselves and other females.

Spanish Object Pronouns

  • me me
  • te you (for or vos)
  • lo him/it/you (usted) masculine Direct Object only
  • la her/it/you (usted) feminine Direct Object only
  • le her/it/you (usted) masculine or feminine Indirect Object
  • nos us
  • os you informal plural, Spain only
  • los them/you (ustedes) masculine or mixed masc. and fem. Direct Object
  • las them feminine Direct Object
  • les them/you (ustedes) masculine or feminine Indirect Objects only
  • se 3rd-person reflexive pronoun, singular or plural

Masculine plural pronouns are always used for groups of people or objects when at least one of them is masculine:

  • Hay dos profesores y treinta profesoras. There are two male teachers and thirty female. I counted them.
  • Los he contado. I counted them.

Le and les become se whenever they precede to, la, los or las:

  • Se la doy. I give it to him. (can't be Le la doy.)

Usted and ustedes take third-person object pronouns, so yo la vi ayer can mean I saw her/it yesterday or I saw you yesterday. Adding a usted or a ustedes removes any ambiguity in this case and also makes the form even more formal and polite — yo las vi a ustedes I saw you (plural) — but it is rarely necessary to do this since context normally makes the meaning dear.

PREPOSITIONAL FORMS OF SPANISH PERSONAL PRONOUNS

Only the first and second-person singular Personal Pronouns and the so-called reflexive pronoun se have special forms, used after most prepositions:

  • de/a/por mí of/to/by me
  • para/contra ti (no accent!) tor/against you
  • de sí mismo/de sí misma of himself/of herself

When the preposition is con a special form is used:

  • conmigo with me: ven conmigo come with me
  • contigo with you: fue eontigo he/she went with you
  • consigo with himself/herself/yourself/themselves/ yourselves: llevan el dinero consigo they're carrying the money on them(selves)

For the rest of the pronouns the ordinary subject forms are used:

  • contra él/ella/usted against him/her/you
  • de nosotros/vosotros/ustedes/ellos/ellas of us/you/them
  • con ellos/ustedes with them/you.

The ordinary subject forms yo and are also used after:

  • entre between (entre tú y yo between you and me)
  • segun according to (segun tú according to you)
  • excepto, menos and salvo except (i.e. excepto tú, menos yo except you, except me)
  • hasta when it means even (and not as far as or up to)
  • incluso even

SPANISH SUBJECT PRONOUNS

These pronouns are required only in special circumstances since Spanish verbs already include their subject pronouns in the ending:

  • fumo means I smoke, I’m smoking
  • Yo fumo. means I (and not someone else) smoke.
  • fuiste means you went
  • Tú fuiste. means You (and not someone else) went.

The pronouns must therefore not be used unnecessarily:

¿Sabes lo que le ha pasado a Ana? Ella se ha roto el brazo Do you know what’s happened to Ana? She’s broken her arm does not make good sense in Spanish because it wrongly stresses the she; the ella must be deleted.

The subject pronouns are used:

When there is a switch from one pronoun to another, as in:

  • Yo estoy aquí todo el día trabajando mientras que tú no haces nada. I’m here all day working while you do nothing.
  • Te confundiste. Yo soy Juan. El es Antonio. You made a mistake. I’m Juan. He’s Antonio

Sometimes the switch is implied rather than explicit:

  • Yo sé la respuesta. I know the answer. (implies but you don’t/he doesn’t, etc.).

When the subject pronoun stands in isolation (i.e. without a verb):

  • ¿Quién va con Pedro? —Yo. Who's going with Pedro?'Me.
  • ¿Quién fue el primero?—Tú y ella. Who was first? You and her.

In the case of all pronouns except yo, and se, after prepositions.

In the case of usted and ustedes, from time to time in order to be emphatically polite:

  • No se olvide usted de que tiene que estar aquí mañana a las ocho en punto. Please don’t forget that you must be here tomorrow at eight o'clock sharp.

FORMAL AND INFORMAL MODES OF ADDRESS

  • (and the corresponding object and prepositional forms te and ti) is used to address anyone with whom one is on first-name terms, e.g. relatives, friends, colleagues, children, and also animals. The only exception to the rule about first names might be employees with whom one is not on familiar terms: Antonia, haga el favor de preparar la cena. Antonia, please prepare dinner. (speaking to a cook or maid).
  • Spanish is used much more widely than French vous or German Sie: Spaniards under about forty use it even to total strangers of their own age or younger, but it should not be used to older strangers or persons in authority. Latin Americans are generally less ready to use than Spaniards.
  • Vos (object form te, possessive adjective tu, prepositional form vos) is used instead of in many parts of Latin America, but the only places where this usage is accepted as correct by all social groups are Argentina and most of Central America (but not Mexico). Vos tends to be considered ‘unrefined’ elsewhere in Latin America (if it is used at all), and it is not heard in Spain.
  • Vosotros (and the object form os) is used only in Spain to address more than one person when one normally addresses them individually as . Two or more females are addressed as vosotras. Latin Americans use ustedes.
  • Usted (object forms lo/la/le) is used everywhere to address strangers, especially older strangers, and persons in authority. It is always used for people with whom one is not on first-name terms. The verb is always in the third- person singular.
  • Ustedes (object forms los/las/les) is used in Latin America to address two or more people, regardless of one’s relationship with them. Latin-Americans use it for small children and even for animals. In Spain it is used to address two parsons whom one normally addresses individually as usted. The verb is always in the third-person plural.

Spanish Object Pronouns

The object forms have two basic functions:

(a) To denote the Direct Object of an action:

  • Me criticaron. They criticized me.
  • Me Ilamó. He/she/you called me.
  • Te admiran. They admire you.
  • No lo sé. I don’t know it.
  • Nos persiguen. They’re persecuting us.
  • Él os respeta. (Lat. Am. Él los/las respeta.) He respects you. (plural)

(b) To denote the Indirect Object of an action:

  • Le dicen. They say to him/her/you.
  • Usted les mandó una carta. You sent a letter to them.
  • Dame algo. Give me something.
  • Dile. Tell him/her.
  • Nos dice. He says to us.
  • Os envían. They send to you. (i.e. a vosotros)
  • Les da dinero. He gives money to them. (or to you = a ustedes)

It should be noted that the term Indirect Object includes not only the meaning to... but also from after verbs meaning removal or taking of/away from, and in some cases it can be translated for:

  • Me compró una camisa. He bought a shirt off me. (or for me)
  • Les confiscaron el dinero que llevaban. They confiscated (i.e. took off them) the money they were carrying.
  • Me robaron cien dólares. They stole $100 from me.
  • Te escribiré el ensayo. I’ll write the essay tor you.

Object Pronouns are also used to show the person affected by something done to his/her body or to some intimate possession:

  • Me sacó una muela. He took one of my teeth out.
  • Te vas a romper una uña. You’re going to break a finger-nail.
  • Le has manchado la falda. You’ve stained her skirt.

The third-person pronouns used for the Indirect Object are unusual in that they differ from the corresponding Third-Person Direct Object Pronouns:

3rd-Person Direct Object Forms

  • Lo vieron. They saw him/it/you. (usted)
  • La vieron. They saw her/it/you. (usted)
  • Los vieron. They saw them/you. (masculine)
  • Las vieron. They saw them/you. (feminine)

3rd-Person Indirect Object Forms

  • Le dijeron. They said to him/her/you.
  • Les dijeron. They said to them/you.
  • Le torcleron el brazo. They twisted his/her/your arm.

Le/les have no separate feminine form.

FURTHER REMARKS ON THE USE OF LE AND LES

The relationship between le/les and lo/la/los/las is rather complicated, since le and les are quite often used as Direct Object pronouns as well as for Indirect Objects. This happens:

In Central and Northern Spain, and in the standard written language of Spain, when the pronoun refers to a human male and is singular:

  • Le vimos. We saw him. (elsewhere lo vimos)
  • Lo vimos. We saw It.

Le is usual among the ‘best’ speakers in Spain (academics, schoolteachers, newsreaders, editors of quality publications, most writers), but the Academy in fact prefers lo vimos for both we saw him and we saw it. The lo construction is slowly spreading in Spain and is easier for beginners to remember. In Northern Spain one constantly also hears le/les used for human female direct objects (i.e. instead of la), but this is not approved usage.

Use of les for plural human direct objects is also very common in speech in central and northern Spain and is seen in writing in Spain, but it is not approved by the Academy and other authorities; los/las should be used: los vi ayer I saw them (masc.) yesterday, las vi ayer I saw them (fern.) yesterday.

With the following common verbs: (the list is not exhaustive)

  • creer to believe (when its object is human): yo le creo I believe him/her
  • disgustar to displease
  • gustar to please: les gusta they like it
  • importar to matter to...
  • interesar to interest
  • llenar when it means fulfill (British fulfil) in sentences like ser ama de casa no le llena being a housewife doesn’t fulfill her. Compare lo/la llena he fills it up.
  • pegar to beat su marido le pega mucho her husband beats her up a lot

Le/les are also preferred for third-person human direct objects in a number of other constructions, and in most parts of the Spanish-speaking world, although this topic is rather advanced for a grammar of this type. The most common cases are:

  • (a) Optionally (but usually) after Impersonal se: Se le (or lo) reconoció He was recognized
  • (b) Optionally when the direct object is usted(es). Latin-American speakers from some regions may, for example, say Perdone, señor, no quería molestarle Excuse me, sir, I didn’t want to bother you even though they would use lo in other contexts.
  • (c) Often when the subject of the verb is nonhuman and non-animal. Compare Le espera una catástrofe A catastrophe awaits her and La espera su hermana Her sister is waiting for her

Usage fluctuates in some of these cases, especially in Latin America. Colombians especially tend to prefer lo/la/ los/las where others may use le.

ORDER AND POSITION OF OBJECT PRONOUNS IN SPANISH

When two or more object pronouns appear in a sentence there are strict rules governing their order and their position in relation to the verb.

What are the order of object pronouns in Spanish?

  1. se
  2. te/os
  3. me/nos
  4. le/les
  5. lo/la/los/las

In other words:

  • se always comes first
  • te/os always precedes all the rest
  • me/nos always precedes any pronoun beginning with l
  • le/les precedes lo/la/los/las (and then becomes se as explained after the examples).

This order applies whether the pronouns appear before the verb or as suffixes:

  • Te lo dijo. He told it to you.
  • Os la entregaron. They delivered it to you. Lat. Am. Se lo entregaron.
  • No te me pongas difícil. Don't get difficult ‘on me’.
  • Me lo enseñó. He showed it to me.
  • Nos los enviaron. They sent them to us.
  • Se te dijo. It was said to you.
  • Se lo comuniqué a usted. I informed you.
  • Quiero regalártelo. I want to present it to you/make a present of it to you.
  • No pueden dárnoslo. They can’t give it to us.

Note: Whenever le or les immediately precede lo, la, los or las, le/les become se. This is the so-called 'rule of two l’s: two Spanish object pronouns beginning with L can never stand side-by-side:

  1. Se lo dije. (never le la dije.) I told him/her/you/them.
  2. Se los dieron. (never les los dieron.) They gave them to him/her/you/them.

The overworked pronoun se can therefore (among other things) stand for:

  • a él to him
  • a ella to her
  • a usted to you
  • a ellos to them (masc.)
  • a ellas to them (fem.)
  • a ustedes to you (plural)

Usually context makes the meaning clear, but if real ambiguity arises one adds one of the phrases just listed:

  • Se lo dije a ella. I told her.
  • Se lo quité a ellos. I took it off/from them. (masc.)
  • Se lo daré a ustedes. I’ll give it to you.

These additional phrases should not be used unless emphasis or clarity are absolutely essential.

Familiar Latin-American speech very frequently shows that se stands for les and not le by adding -s to the Direct Object pronoun: se los dije =se lo dije a ellos/ellas/ustedes I told it to them/you. This is not accepted in written Spanish and is not heard in Spain.

POSITION OF OBJECT PRONOUNS IN SPANISH

Spanish Object Personal Pronouns are placed:

Before all finite verb forms (i.e. forms other than the Gerund and Infinitive) except the positive Imperative. The pronouns appear in the order given above. No word can come between the pronouns and the verb:

  • Me lo deben. They/you owe it to me.
  • Yo no la conozco. I don’t know her.
  • Te lo has olvidado. You’ve forgotten it. (olvidarse = to forget)
  • Siempre la recordaremos. We’ll always remember her.
  • No me lo tires. Don’t throw it away for me.
  • No nos lo digan. Don’t tell it to us.

Attached to positive Imperatives in the order given above:

  • Dimelo. Tell it to me.
  • Contestadme. (Lat. Am. Contéstenme.) Answer me. (plural)
  • Dénselo a ella. Give (plural) it to her.

The position of the stress does not change, so a written accent is required when the stress falls more than two syllables from the end of the word formed after the pronouns are added: organizo I organize, organizamelo organize it for me.

Attached to Infinitives and Gerunds in the order given above:

  • Sería una buena idea vendémoslo. It would be a good idea to sell it to us.
  • No creo que sea posible explicárselo. I don’t think it’s possible to explain it to him. (selo for lelo)
  • Está pintándomelo. He’s painting it for me.
  • Me llamó pidiéndome dinero. He called me asking for money.

As the examples show, a written accent may be required to show that the stress has not shifted.

However, if the Infinitive or the Gerund is preceded by a Finite Verb, pronouns may be optionally put in front of the latter:

  • No puede decírmelo/No me lo puede decir. He can’t tell it to me.
  • Queríamos guardártelo. / Te lo queríamos guardar. We wanted to keep it for you.
  • Voy a hacerlo. / Lo voy a hacer. I’m going to do it.
  • Estaba esperándonos. / Nos estaba esperando. She/he was waiting for us.
  • Iba diciéndoselo. / Se lo iba diciendo. He was going along saying it to himself/to her/to them, etc.

The second of these constructions is more usual in everyday language, but it is not possible with all verbs. The best advice for beginners is to use it only with the following verbs:

Verbs followed by Infinitive:

  • acabar de to have just...
  • conseguir to manage to
  • deber must
  • empezar a to begin to
  • ir a to be going to
  • parecer to seem to
  • poder to be able
  • preferir to prefer to
  • querer to want
  • saber to know how to
  • soler to habitually...
  • tener que to have to
  • tratar de to try to
  • volver a to do again (volvió a hacerlo/lo volvió a hacer he did it again)

Verbs followed by Gerund:

  • andar: anda contándoselo a todo el mundo or se lo anda contando... he goes around telling everyone
  • estar: está haciéndolo or lo está haciendo he’s doing it
  • seguir: sigue haciéndolo or lo sigue haciendo he’s still doing it

In cases of doubt the suffixed construction is always correct, but it is slightly more formal. The non-suffixed construction should not be used if any word comes between the finite verb and the Infinitive or Gerund: intentó muchas veces verla he often tried to see her, not la intentó muchas veces ver. The suffixed forms should also be used with the Imperative: vuelve a llamarlos call them again, ve a verlos go and see them.

WHAT ARE REDUNDANT SPANISH PRONOUNS?

Spanish often apparently unnecessarily uses Personal Pronouns when the thing or person is also referred to by a noun in the sentence.

This happens:

When the Direct Object noun precedes the verb:

  • Los libros te los mando por correo I’ll send you the books by post (tí. te mando los libios por correo)

When the sentence contains a noun that is the Indirect Object:

  • Se lo diré a tu padre. I’ll tell your father. (not lo diré a tu padre)
  • Esto les parecía bien a sus colegas. This seemed OK to his colleagues.
  • Le robaron mil dólares a Miguel. They stole 1000 dollars from Miguel.

However, a redundant pronoun is not used when a Direct Object comes after the verb. It should be remembered that the presence of the preposition a to does not necessarily show that the noun is the Indirect Object, since a also precedes human direct objects in Spanish :

  • Vi a Miguel. I saw Miguel. (not Lo vi a Miguel., which, however, is normal in relaxed styles in Argentina and common in spoken Latin-American Spanish elsewhere)
  • La policía seguía a los ladrones. The police were following the thieves.

EMPHASIS OF PERSONAL PRONOUNS

Subject Pronouns are emphasized simply by using the subject pronoun, since a Finite Verb in Spanish already contains its subject pronoun:

  • Lo sé. I know it.
  • Yo lo sé. I know it (but he doesn’t, etc.).

Object pronouns, direct and indirect, are emphasized by adding a mí, a ti, a él/ella/usted, a nosotros/as, a vosotros/as or a ellos/ellas/ustedes:

  • A mí nunca me dicen nada. They never tell me anything.
  • A ella sí que la admiro. I do admire her. (emphatic use of sí)
  • A ustedes sí los vi. I did see you.

TRANSLATING ITS ME, ITS YOU, ETC.

  • Soy yo. It’s me.
  • Eres tú./Es usted. It’s you.
  • Son ellos. It’s them.
  • Son ustedes los que hacen más ruido. You (plural) are the ones who make most noise.
  • Somos nosotras las que estamos más disgustadas. It’s we women who are most fed up.

What are the Indefinite Pronouns in Spanish?

These are miscellaneous pronouns that unlike the Personal Pronouns do not refer to specific individuals. They are:

  • El que
  • La que
  • Los que
  • Las que

These mean the one(s) that or the one(s) who, those that/who. If the verb is in the subjunctive, the idea of anyone who is strengthened:

  • El que dice eso es tonto. The person/man who says that is stupid.
  • El que diga eso... Anyone who says that...
  • La que dljo eso... The girl/woman who said that...
  • Los que vinieron ayer. The ones who came yesterday.

El que is not always an indefinite pronoun since it can refer to specific persons or objects:

  • Antonio es el que lleva la boina azul. Antonio’s the one wearing the blue beret.
  • Esta cerveza es la que menos me gusta. This beer's the one I like least.

Quien/quienes (no accent)

Quien may replace el que/la que and quienes may replace los que/las que, but only when they refer to humans:

  • Quienes/los que piensen así... Those who think/anyone who thinks like that...
  • No te fíes nunca de quien no dice la verdad. Never trust the person who doesn’t tell the truth.

El de, la de, los de, las de

These mean the one(s) belonging to, or the one(s) from:

  • El coche de María es más grande que el de Antonio. Marías’s car is bigger than Antonio’s.
  • Las de allí son mejores que las de aquí. The ones (fem.) from there are better than the ones from here.

Lo que, lo de

These are neuter equivalents of el que, el de. They are required when they do not refer to a specific noun:

  • Lo que me irrita. What/the thing that irritates me.
  • Le sorprendió lo que dijo Ana. What Ana said surprised him.
  • Lo de Gabriel es increíble. That business of/about Gabriel is incredible.

Alguien

This invariable word is equivalent to someone or, in questions, anyone (but in negative sentences nadie is required):

  • Alguien entró. Someone came in.
  • Vi a alguien en la calle. I saw someone in the street.
  • ¿Conoces a alguien que sepa ruso? Do you know anyone who knows Russian?

Algo

This invariable word translates something or, in questions, anything (but nada is required in negative sentences):

  • Me recuerda algo. It reminds me of something.
  • ¿Tienes algo para mi dolor de cabeza? Have you got anything for my headache?

Alguno

This can be used either as a pronoun or an adjective. As an adjective it appears before plural nouns with the meaning some but not others:

  • En algunos casos... In some cases.
  • Algunas mariposas tienen alas muy bonitas. Some butterflies have very pretty wings.

It can also be used as an adjective before singular nouns that do not refer to quantities or substances, in which case it roughly translates one or other, the odd..., one or two... When it comes directly before a singular masculine noun it loses its final vowel:

En algún momento de mi vida... At some time or other in my life...

¿Has encontrado alguna falta? Have you found some mistake/any mistakes?

Alguno is not used before non-countable nouns or quantities of objects when the meaning is an unspecified amount of:

  • Necesito pan. I want some bread.
  • Trajo agua. He brought some water.
  • Tengo que comprar floree. I’ve got to buy some flowers.

Used as a pronoun, alguno can mean some of them, the odd..., some people, some things

  • De vez en cuando salía con alguna de sus amigas. Now and again she went out with the odd girlfriend/with some girlfriend or other.
  • Algunos dicen que... Some people say that...

Cualquier(a)

This word can also function as an adjective or pronoun. As an adjective it means any in the sense of it doesn’t matter which. When it comes directly before a noun it loses its final -a:

  • en cualquier caso..... in any case...
  • cualquiera que Sea la respuesta... whatever the reply...

It can be put after the noun, in which case it may sound faintly pejorative:

  • Podríamos ir a un cine cualquiera para pasar el rato. We could go to any cinema to kill time.

As a pronoun it is often followed by de and means any of:

  • Puedes usar cualquiera de estas dos habitaciones. You can use any/either of these two rooms.

The plural is cualesquiera:

  • cualesquiera que sean sus razones... whatever his reasons... (also sean cuáles sean sus razones)

Uno

This corresponds to the English impersonal pronoun one:

  • Si uno tiene que pagar dos veces más, no vale la pena. If one has to pay twice as much, it isn’t worth it.

A female speaker referring to herself would say una.

In everyday language tends to replace uno in this kind of sentence:

  • Si tienes que pagar dos veces más, no vale la pena. If you have to pay twice as much, it isn’t worth it.

Uno (or ) must be used to form an impersonal form of a verb that already has se:

  • A veces uno tiene que contentarse con lo que tiene. Sometimes one has to put up with what one has. (never se tiene que contentarse’ since a verb cannot have two se’s)

Spanish Relative Pronouns

These introduce Relative Clauses. The meanings are given in the examples below. There are several possibilities in Spanish, but the most frequent solutions are:

When no preposition precedes:

  • que

When a preposition precedes:

  • el que (people or things)
  • quien/quienes (people)
  • el cual
  • cuyo whose

El que, el cual and cuyo agree in number and gender with the noun or pronoun that they refer to:

Masculine singular:

  • El que, el cual, cuyo

Masculine plural:

  • Los que, los cuales, cuyos

Feminine singular:

  • La que, la cual, cuya

Feminine plural:

  • Las que, las cuales, cuyas

Quien has a plural, quienes, but no separate feminine form.

No preposition:

  • el perro que mordió a mi hermana the dog that bit my sister
  • la mujer que vi ayer the woman that/whom I saw yesterday
  • la carta que recibí de mi nieto the letter that I got from my grandson

With preposition:

  • el bolígrafo con el que lo escribí the ball-point pen that I wrote it with
  • los novelistas a los que/a quienes me ranero the novelists I'm referring to
  • la mujer con la que/con quien se casó the woman he got married to

Familiar English usually omits a relative pronoun that is the Direct Object of a verb or is accompanied by a Preposition, but Spanish never does this:

  • el libro que leí the book I read
  • el cine al que fuimos the cinema we went to

English constantly puts prepositions at the end of relative clauses. This is never possible in Spanish:

  • la mesa encima de la que había dejado el plato the table he’d left the plate on (Spanish must say the table on which he had left the plate)
  • los pronombres de los que estoy hablando the pronouns I’m talking about

El cual

This is a substitute for el que, but it is less used nowadays as it tends to sound rather heavy in familiar styles:

  • muchachos y muchachas, algunos de los cuales llevaban sombrero boys and girls, some of whom were wearing hats
  • los puntos a los cuales/a los que me he referido the points that I have retorted to

Cuyo

This word means whose. It agrees in number and gender with the thing possessed not with the possessor:

  • la señora cuyo bolso encontré en el metro the lady whose bag I found in the subway/underground
  • Tolstoy, cuyas novelas figuran entre las más leídas del mundo. Tolstoy, whose novels figure among the most widely read in the world.

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