Direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish are used to substitute indirect and direct objects. This lesson explores the proper way to do these substitutions using examples from our catalog of videos.
The direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish are identical except for the third-person singular and plural (him, her, it, them) and the second-person formal (you) forms:
So, the pronoun me is used to substitute either the direct object, as in:
A Adícora me trajo el viento.
The wind brought me to Adícora.
Caption 7, Adícora - Venezuela - Darío y el Kitesurfing
Or the indirect object, as in:
Mi papá había ido a Nueva York en un viaje de negocios y me trajo unos discos.
My father had gone to New York on a business trip and brought me some records.
Caption 1, Carli Muñoz - Niñez - Part 2
In the previous example, me is the indirect object, while unos discos (some records) is the direct object, which is a plural masculine noun that according to our table is substituted by los (them). So, to substitute both objects you must say: me los trajo (he brought them to me).
Now, the pronoun te is used to substitute either the direct object:
Y de este lado sólo te revuelca, pero del otro lado te come
And from this side it only pushes you around, but from the other side it eats you
Caption 37,38, Antonio Vargas - Artista - Comic - Part 1
or the indirect object:
Bueno y por eso te traje las aspirinas.
Well, and that's why I brought you the aspirins.
Caption 36, Muñeca Brava - 2 Venganza - Part 7
In the previous example, te is the indirect object, while las aspirinas (the aspirins) is the direct object, which is a plural feminine noun that according to our table is substituted by las (them). So, to substitute both objects you must say: te las traje (I brought them to you).
For the third person of singular (him, her, it & formal "you"), though, Spanish uses lo, la for direct object and le for indirect object. So, for a feminine noun as cicatriz (scar) in the direct object position we use la (in genderless English we use "it"):
Porque tiene una pequeña cicatriz en el brazo que sólo yo conozco porque se la hizo jugando conmigo.
Because he has a small scar on his arm that only I know about because he got it playing with me.
Caption 41,42, Yago - 10 Enfrentamientos - Part 2
For a masculine noun as pollo (chicken) in the direct object position we use lo (again, English uses "it"):
Ya tenemos listo aquí nuestro pollo.Y lo decoramos con un poco de ajonjolí y cebollín.
We already have our chicken ready here. And we decorate it with a bit of sesame seeds and chives.
Caption 17, Osos en la cocina - Pollo asiático - Part 1
Take note that lo and la are also used for usted (the formal you) in the direct object position. Lo is used for a noun in the direct object position that designates a male person (Morgan):
Morgan, la Señorita Victoria está enterada de su regreso y lo espera en el escritorio.
Morgan, Miss Victoria is aware of your return and awaits you in the study.
Caption 53, Muñeca Brava 18 - La Apuesta
Or la for a noun in the direct object position that designates a female person (let's say Ms. Gonzalez):
Señora Gonzalez, el doctor la verá a las diez.
Ms. Gonzalez, the doctor will see you at ten.
On the other hand, the indirect object uses a different pronoun le (him, her, it & formal "you"). So, for a masculine noun like muchacho (boy) in the indirect object position we use le:
Otro muchacho que nunca escuchó los consejos que su madre le dio
Another boy that never listened to the words of advice his mother gave him
Caption 40,41, La Secta - Consejo - Part 1
And we would also use le if we were talking about una muchacha (a girl):
Otra muchacha que nunca escuchó los consejos que su madre le dio
Another girl that never listened to the words of advice his mother gave her
Equally, we use le if we are addressing someone formally:
Usted que nunca escuchó los consejos que su madre le dio
You who never listened to the words of advice your mother gave you
Got it? Now a test. How do you substitute not only the indirect object (muchacho, muchacha, usted), but also the direct object los consejos (the words of advise) in the previous examples? This is how:
Otro muchacho que nunca escuchó los que su madre le dio
Another boy that never listened to the ones his mother gave him
Otra muchacha que nunca escuchó los que su madre le dio
Another boy that never listened to the ones his mother gave her
Usted que nunca escuchó los que su madre le dio
You who never listened to the ones your mother gave you
It's interesting to note how English can't use "them" to replace "the words of advise" in this particular construction because the wording is odd (it's somehow odd in Spanish as well). So let's simplify the example (the indirect object and indirect pronouns appear in bold):
Mamá dio unos consejos al muchacho / Mamá se los dio.
Mom gave the boy some words of advise / Mom gave them to him.
Mamá dio unos consejos a la muchacha / Mamá se los dio.
Mom gave the girl some words of advise / Mom gave them to her.
Mamá dio unos consejos a usted / Mamá se los dio.
Mom gave you some words of advise / Mom gave them to you.
As you can see, it was now possible to use "them" to replace "the words of advise" in English. But did you notice that Spanish used se instead of le to replace the indirect object this time! Why is that? Well, that's because in Spanish there's a special rule for combining pronouns: when le(s) and lo(s)/la(s) would end up next to each other in a sentence you must use se instead. So you can never say Mamá le los dio, you must say Mamá se los dio. We will learn more about this rule and continue with the plural forms of the direct and indirect pronouns in Part II of this lesson.
Our previous lesson focused on the proper use of reflexive pronouns. We discussed when and how to use them and how the meaning of what we say is affected by them. We also mentioned that there are some Spanish verbs that can be used with or without reflexive pronouns, and that the verb comer (to eat) and other "ingestion verbs" are excellent examples.
In theory, verbs like comer (to eat), tragar (to swallow), beber and tomar (to drink), etc., can either be used with or without reflexive pronouns. For example:
Yo como la zanahoria = Yo me como la zanahoria (I eat the carrot)
Nosotros bebimos el tequila = Nosotros nos bebimos el tequila (We drank the tequila)
Tú tomas la leche = Tú te tomas la leche (You drink the milk)
Ella traga la pastilla = Ella se traga la pastilla (She swallows the pill)
However, this equivalence is not 100% accurate. Most Spanish speakers would more likely use the second option with reflexive pronouns than the first one without them. Saying yo como la zanahoria may not be wrong, but it's surely more common to say yo me como la zanahoria.
Cuando te comes una seta venenosa...
When you eat a poisonous mushroom...
Caption 23, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 11
Nos bebemos la Coca Cola
We drink the Coca-Cola
Caption 85, Zoraida en Coro - Artesanos
On the other hand, sometimes you cannot use a reflexive pronoun at all—for example, when you don't use an article before the direct object. There's a difference between saying yo como la zanahoria (I eat the carrot) and yo como zanahoria ("I do eat carrot" or "I'm eating carrot"), right? But you can never say yo me como zanahoria.
So, you can say yo bebo el alcohol (I drink the alcohol), but it's more normal to say yo me bebo el alcohol (I drink the alcohol). You can also say yo bebo alcohol ("I do drink alcohol" or "I'm drinking alcohol"), but you can never say yo me bebo alcohol. Got it?
What about if we use indefinite articles (un, una, unos, unas)? Well, it's the same. You can't use reflexive pronouns when you don't use an article before the direct object. For starters, and by definition, you cannot use indefinite articles before nouns that describe an undetermined amount of something, like leche (milk). You don't say tomé una leche (I drank a milk)—you say tomé leche (I drank milk). But with countable nouns like pastilla (pill), you can say una pastilla (a pill) and la pastilla (the pill). So in Spanish you could say ella traga una pastilla , but it's even better to say ella se traga una pastilla (both meaning "she swallows a pill"). What you can never say is ella se traga pastilla. Here's a challenging example that combines the use of tragar (to swallow) with a reflexive pronoun, the reflexive verb pudrirse (to rot), and a pronoun (lo) playing the role of direct object:
Lo que uno se traga se pudre.
What one swallows rots [Keeping things to yourself is bad for you].
Caption 15, Yago - 8 Descubrimiento - Part 1
To make it simpler, you can substitute the pronoun lo with a proper direct object. Since this is a figure of speech, let's say we are talking about miedo (fear). The expression could be: el miedo que se traga se pudre (the fear one swallows rots). So it's two sentences combined: uno se traga el miedo (one swallows fear) / el miedo se pudre (fear rots).
Now, a tricky question for you. Is it correct to say ella traga pastilla, since we just said that yo como zanahoria (translated either as "I do eat carrots" or "I'm eating carrot”) is correct? The answer is no, it's not correct to say ella traga pastilla. This is because nouns like zanahoria (carrot) can be used either as a countable noun (if you use an article) or an uncountable noun (if you don't use an article). But the singular pastilla (pill) is always a countable noun in Spanish: it's always one pill. The only way to refer to an indeterminate amount of pills in Spanish is by using the plural pastillas (pills). So in Spanish you could say ella traga unas pastillas, but it's even better to say ella se traga unas pastillas (both meaning "she swallows some pills"). But you don't say ella se traga pastillas.
If you want to express that a certain girl does swallows pills regularly, you could say ella traga pastillas. That's correct, but you must know that, just like in English, Spanish prefers the use of the verb tomar (to take) for this particular expression: ella toma pastillas (she takes pills). But you can correctly say yo trago miedo ("I swallow fear" or "I'm swallowing fear") because miedo (fear) is an uncountable noun.
You also can't use a reflexive pronoun if you don't use a direct object at all with these verbs—for example, when you just use an adverb with the verb instead of a direct object. You can say yo bebo hoy (I drink today) but you can't say yo me bebo hoy (that would mean something that doesn't make sense, unless you are writing poetry: "I drink myself today").
Los españoles comen a las dos de la tarde.
Spaniards eat at two in the afternoon.
Caption 6, La rutina diaria - La tarde
Another example: you can say nosotros comemos despacio (we eat slowly), but you can't say nosotros nos comemos despacio (unless you mean "we eat each other slowly"!). You can use reflexive pronouns again if you add a direct object. The second option in the following examples is the more common:
Yo bebo rápidamente el tequila = Yo me bebo rápidamente el tequila (I drink the tequila quickly).
Nosotros comemos despacio el atún = Nosotros nos comemos despacio el atún (We eat the tuna slowly).
Do you remember reflexive verbs? A verb is reflexive when the subject in a sentence performs an action on itself, in other words, when the subject and the object are the same. In Spanish reflexive verbs use reflexive pronouns (me, te,se, nos, etc.), which play the role of direct object in the sentence:
Yo me veo en el espejo.
I look at myself in the mirror.
Since they involve a direct object, reflexive verbs are also transitive verbs (verbs that take a direct object). Many transitive verbs can be transformed into reflexive verbs. Peinar (to comb), for example, is a classic example of a transitive verb:
Yo peino a mi bebé
I comb my baby's hair
Caption 21, Lecciones con Carolina - Verbos reflexivos
that can also be transformed into a reflexive verb, peinarse:
Yo me peino
I comb my hair [literally, "I comb myself"]
Caption 20, Lecciones con Carolina - Verbos reflexivos
On the other hand, intransitive verbs are action verbs that, unlike transitive verbs, don't take a direct object receiving the action. Examples are llegar (to arrive), estornudar (to sneeze), morir (to die), caer (to fall), etc. Consequently, these verbs can't really be transformed into reflexive verbs. So why do we always hear Spanish speakers using reflexive pronouns with these verbs? For example:
Si me caigo, me vuelvo a parar.
If I fall, I stand up again.
Caption 8, Sondulo - Que te vaya mal
Obviously, me caigo doesn't mean “I fall myself." It just means "I fall," because the verb caer[se] is part of a group of verbs that use reflexive pronouns but are not reflexive verbs. These verbs are called verbos pronominales, verbs that are typically conjugated using a reflexive pronoun that doesn't have any syntactic function. It's just the way these verbs are typically constructed! Another example is the verb morir (to die). Me muero doesn't mean "I die myself"; it just means "I die." The following example uses it as part of an idiomatic expression:
No hablemos más de comida que me muero de hambre.
Let's not talk about food since I'm starving [literally, "I'm dying of hunger"].
Caption 35, Salvando el planeta Palabra - Llegada
Now, while reflexive verbs like peinarse always need to be used with reflexive pronouns, verbs like caer (to fall) and matar (to kill) can be used either as pronominales (caerse and morirse), or as simple intransitive verbs (caer, morir), that is, without the reflexive pronouns. Therefore, the following expressions are also correct (though maybe just a little less common in everyday speech):
Si caigo, me vuelvo a parar.
If I fall, I stand up again.
No hablemos más de comida que muero de hambre.
Let's not talk about food since I'm starving [literally, "I'm dying of hunger"].
The really tricky aspect of reflexive pronouns is how to use them, either with verbos reflexivos like peinarse or verbos pronominales like caerse and morirse. Typically, you will use the pronoun before the verb, for example me caigo (I fall), te peinas (you comb your hair). But how do you use reflexive pronouns in a sentence that uses more than one verb, for example an auxiliary verb such as the verb ir (to go) combined with a verb in the infinitive?
Voy a caer
I'm going to fall
Juan va a morir
Juan is going to die
Well, the rule is simple. You either use the reflexive pronoun right before the auxiliary verb:
Me voy a caer
I'm going to fall
Juan se va a morir
Juan is going to die
Or you use it after the verb in infinitive as a suffix:
Voy a caerme
I'm going to fall
Juan va a morirse
Juan is going to die
And the same rule applies to reflexive verbs like peinarse:
Ella se va a peinar = Ella va a peinarse
She is going to comb her hair
In fact, this rule applies to all pronouns, even pronouns that are not reflexive (that are used to substitute the direct object in any given sentence), like lo, la, los, las, and te:
Como sandía / La como
I eat watermelon / I eat it
Voy a comer sandía
I'm going to eat watermelon
Voy a comerla = La voy a comer
I'm going to eat it
Coincidentally, comer (as well as other "ingestion verbs") is an excellent example of a verb that is transitive in nature but that is also used as a pronominal verb with reflexive pronouns. For example, it’s also correct to say voy a comérmela (I’m going to eat it).
Even though there are plenty of websites devoted to explaining the difference between te amo and te quiero (both meaning "I love you" in English), learning how to use these expressions remains a difficult task for many English speakers. Why is that?
For starters, these phrases deal with perhaps one of the most complicated feelings human beings can ever experience. All things considered, you could say that a language that offers only two verbs to express this feeling is, in fact, very limited! And if you believe Spanish is just complicating things by using both amar and querer, consider that there are at least 11 words for love in Arabic! Is it really that surprising, considering the many ways, modes, and interpretations of love that there are out there?
So, generally speaking, the difference between te amo and te quiero is that the first one is more serious in nature, while the second one is more casual. You have also probably heard or read that te amo is romantic in nature and te quiero is not, but this is not really accurate. The phrase te quiero is used all the time to express romantic love, and is even perhaps more common than saying te amo.
What is the difference, then? Well, there is an added solemnity to saying te amo that is somewhat equivalent to the act of kneeling to propose marriage: some people may see it as too theatrical, affected, and old-fashioned, while others may see it as the ultimate proof of how deep and committed the declaration of love is. For many, using te amoas a declaration of romantic love is very telenovela-like, but for others, it's just the right way to do it. Our new series“Los Años Maravillosos” comically illustrates this duality of perspectives:
Te amo. -Yo también te amo. -¿Cómo podían amarse? ¡Se habían conocido a la puerta del colegio hacía cinco minutos!
I love you. -I love you too. -How could they love each other? They had met at the school door five minutes ago!
Caption 47, Los Años Maravillosos - Capítulo 1 - Part 5
Te amo is also used very often to express romantic love in songs and poetry:
Te amo dormida, te amo en silencio
I love you asleep, I love you in silence
Caption 49, Documental de Alejandro Fernandez - Viento A Favor - Part 2
On the other hand, te quiero is a more relaxed way to express either romantic love or affection to family, friends, pets, etc.
Confesarte que te quiero, que te adoro, que eres todo para mí
To confess to you that I love you, that I adore you, that you're everything to me
Caption 3, Andy Andy - Maldito Amor - Part 1
Te quiero mucho (I love you so much) is something you can and must say to your kids, your partner, your family, and yourself on a regular basis:
¿Sabes lo que yo quiero hacer? Pasar mis días con mi abuelito. -¡Qué maravilla! -Te quiero mucho.
Do you know what I want to do? To spend my days with my grandpa. -How wonderful! -I love you a lot.
Caption 22, Yago - 4 El secreto - Part 11
But when can't you say te quiero? Well, here's an interesting tidbit. Spanish speakers have long used the distinction between te amo and te quiero* to test the commitment of their lovers. So learn this: If your lover says to you te quiero, you can answer yo también te quiero. (Of course, you also have the option to turn up the tables and solemnly answer yo te amo, if you are up for it.) But if your lover says to you te amo, be careful! She or he probably means serious business. You either answer with a reciprocal te amo, or answer with te quiero (which will likely be interpreted as, "Whoa! I want to go slower").
In Spanish, when someone says te amo to profess romantic love, there's always this conscious choice of putting more emphasis, adding more commitment, giving more importance to the expression. It could come out of true emotion, of course, but it could also be a calculated move to manipulate someone. If you are familiar with the plot of “Yago Pasión Morena,” you know which is which in the following situation:
Yo también, mi amor. -Te amo. -Yo también te amo, te reamo.
Me too, my love. -I love you. -I also love you, I love you so much.
Caption 2-3, Yago - 6 Mentiras - Part 2
So you definitely don't want to be saying te amo lightly to declare romantic love. However, different contexts mean different rules. For example, since expressing your love to your dad is definitely not in the context of romantic love, maybe you can use te quiero on a regular basis and use te amo, papá on his 70th birthday.
Moreover, in some situations, using the verb amar is more natural than using querer. This is especially true when you are talking about your love for inanimate or abstract things, like nature, a musical genre, etc. Why? Well, because the verb querer literally means "to want," while amar is exclusively used to express affection. Strictly speaking, you can also use querer, though it would sound a little odd (it would sound a bit as if you are professing romantic love for an object or an abstract thing). Anyway, if you decide to use querer to express your affection to something other than an animate being, make sure to always use the preposition a (for) plus an article (el, la, los, las, etc.) or a possessive adjective (mi, su, tu, etc). Study the difference between the following examples and their translations. The first option is the most natural and common, the second one is possible but uncommon, and the third one means something totally different:
Voy de vacaciones al campo porque amo a la naturaleza / quiero a la naturaleza / quiero la naturaleza.
I'm going on a vacation to the countryside because I love nature / I love nature / I want nature.
Gertrudis realmente ama a la literatura / quiere a la literatura / quiere literatura.
Gertrudis really loves literature / loves literature / wants literature.
Los niños aman a su hogar / quieren a su hogar / quieren su hogar.
The kids love their home / love their home / want their home.
Amo al jamón ibérico / Quiero al jamón ibérico / quiero jamón ibérico.
I love Iberian ham / I love Iberian ham / I want Iberian ham.
Finally, there is another instance is which you must use amar instead of querer: when you want to express love that is strictly spiritual in nature. So you say amar a dios (to love God), amar al prójimo (to love one’s neighbor), amara la creación (to love God's creation), etc. Again, it's possible to use querer in such contexts as well, but it's not customary and it would sound odd. Here's a nice example:
Hermano gato yo te amo no te mato
Brother cat, I love you, I don't kill you
Caption 19-20, Aterciopelados - Hijos del Tigre
*For advanced learners, here’s a very famous song that refers to the difference between amar and querer out of spite for an unrequited love.
The proper use of the words bien (well) and bueno (good) seems to be specially challenging for English speakers. From a grammatical point of view the difference between these words is quite simple: bueno (good) is an adjective, and bien (well) an adverb. But that doesn’t help much, doesn't it? Especially if you don't have a clear understanding of the function of adjectives and adverbs themselves. And even if you do, people who are really fluent don't usually go around wondering if a word is an adverb or an adjective in order to use it properly.
Is not that grammar isn't helpful, it's just that very often people try to use it as a rigid template that you can superimpose on any given portion of speech to determine its correctness. But trying to grammatically deconstruct a sentence in Spanish, or any language, can be a tricky and confusing exercise, one more suited to linguists than to language learners. Indeed, from a learner's perspective, grammar is more useful if you learn to see it as a set of very basic structures (think of Legos), that you learn how to combine and then use to build basic structures that may eventually be used to build more complex structures and so on. Imagine a foreign language is some kind of alien technology that you want to replicate and master. Would you prefer if you are given the blue print and some of its basic components, or would you rather try to do reverse engineering on it?
For example, "adjectives modify nouns and only nouns" is a much simpler grammar "Lego piece" than "adverbs modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs." Right? So maybe we can start with that. The word bueno(good) is an adjective, like bonito (pretty), flaco (skinny), and malo (bad). Add another basic Lego piece such as "in Spanish, adjectives must agree in gender and number with the nouns they modify," and you can build:
El perro bonito /The pretty dog and Los perros bonitos /The pretty dogs
El gato flaco / The skinny cat and Los gatos flacos / The skinny cats
El lobo malo / The bad wolf and Los lobos malos / The bad wolves
La niña buena / The good girl and Las niñas buenas / The good girls
A classic example of the proper use of bueno is the expression buenos días:
¡Hola, buenos días! -Joaquín.
Hi, good morning! -Joaquín.
Caption 7, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 16
Now, what about bien (well)? Bien is an adverb, like rápidamente (fast) or mal (badly). Adverbs in Spanish are invariable, which means they have only one form and do not change according to gender or number. The main function of adverbs is to modify verbs:
Yo corro rápidamente /I ran fast
Ella baila mal / She dances badly
Yo lo hago bien / I do it well
Adverbs also modify other adverbs:
Yo corro bastante rápidamente / I ran quite fast
Ella baila muy mal / She dances very badly
Yo lo hago bien temprano / I do it very early (yes, bien can also mean "very")
Adverbs also modify adjectives:
El perro muy bonito /The very pretty dog
El gato bastante flaco / The quite skinny cat
El lobo terriblemente malo / The terribly bad wolf
La niña tan buena / The so very good girl
So, if the adjective bueno can only be used to modify a noun, and bien can only be used to modify a verb, an adjective or another adverb, how can Spanish speakers say things like La sopa está buena (the soup is good) or Yo soy bueno (I'm good) all the time? Aren't estar and ser verbs? They are, but here we have to step up our game and remember that these two verbs are very special in Spanish—they are special Lego pieces with special rules.
You use the verb ser with an adjective to describe something or someone by stating their characteristics as essential qualities that are an intrinsic part of who they are. In a way, you could say that this use of the verb ser +an adjective is redundant because, whether you use ser or not, you are essentially expressing the same thing about the object or person (noun) you are talking about. Another way to put it is that when you use the verb ser (to be) with an adjective you are just talking about a characteristic as if it were an action, in a verbal form. Compare our first set of examples:
El perro bonito / The pretty dog = El perro es bonito /The dog is pretty
El gato flaco / The skinny cat = El gato es flaco / The cat is skinny
El lobo malo / The bad wolf = El lobo es malo / The wolf is bad
Las niñas buenas / The good girls = Las niñas son buenas / The girls are good
But if you use the verb estar (to be) with an adjective you are not talking about a characteristic as if it were an essential trait, you are talking about a characteristic of someone or something but not seeing it as intrinsically related to that someone or something. It may be a trait only present for the moment, for example. English doesn't usually makes this subtle distinction, so we have added some extra information to the translations so you can better grasp the difference of using estar instead or ser:
El perro es bonito / The dog is pretty ≠ El perro está bonito / The dog is pretty (right now but maybe not tomorrow).
El gato es flaco / The cat is skinny ≠ El gato está flaco / The cat is skinny (today, but it could get fat if we feed him).
Now, since estar is not used to express an intrinsic quality, the following examples using estar can't be referring to moral or spiritual qualities (intrinsic by nature) such as being good or being bad, so malo (bad) and bueno (good) here can only refer to something different:
El lobo es malo / The wolf is bad ≠ El lobo está malo / The wolf is sick (or tastes badly).
Las niñas son buenas / The girls are good ≠ Las niñas están buenas / The girls are tasty (Something the Big Bad Wolf could say, for example (think buenas = sabrosas = tasty). As "tasty" in English buenas can also mean "good looking," which is a rather vulgar expression, by the way).
That covers the use of ser and estar plus an adjective like bueno (good). Let's see what happens if you combine these verbs with an adverb, like bien (well). The first good news is that you never use the verb ser with and adverb. So you can never user bien (well) with the verb ser. Never. The following are all incorrect expressions:
Yo soy bien
Nosotros somos tan bien
El carro es bien
You must use instead an adjective combined with the verb ser if you want to talk about ethical or intrinsic qualities:
Yo soy bueno / I am good
Nosotros somos tan buenos / We are so good
El carro es bueno / The car is good (maybe it's a good brand, or a good model, or just a good one for some other reason)
If you want to talk about non-essential, non-intrinsic, non-ethical qualities, you need to use an adjective combined with the verb estar:
Yo estoy bueno / I am tasty (If a good meal could talk, it could say something like that. The expression can also mean " I'm good looking" by extension, see above).
Nosotros estamos tan buenos / We are so tasty (or "good looking," see above).
El carro está bueno / The car is in good condition.
Or, finally, an adverb with the verb estar:
Yo estoy bien / I am well
Nosotros estamos tan bien / We are so well
El carro está bien / The car is Ok (is doing well)
Let's continue practicing the use of the subjunctive in adverb clauses that are part of compound sentences (99% of the time subjunctive is used in compound sentences) by identifying the conjunctions typically used to introduce it. In our previous lesson we focused on conjunctions of time, this time let's revise the use of the subjunctive combined with conjunctions of provision, a classic match!
The conjunctions that are used to express provision in Spanish are antes (de) que, con tal (de) que, en caso (de) que, para que, sin que. You will love these conjunctions, which, by the way, are more properly called locuciones conjuntivas (conjunctive phrases). Why? Well, because they will always use subjunctive, always. There's no room for mistakes. They are, therefore, a great addition to your vocabulary, one that will automatically improve your proficiency in the use of the subjunctive. Of course, you also must learn the proper way to conjugate the subjunctive; if you are not there yet, we recommend you to first focus on the present subjunctive.
So let's start with the examples. Always use the subjunctive after the conjunction antes (de) que (before):
Aléjate de mí y hazlo pronto antes de que te mienta
Get away from me and do it soon before I lie to you
Caption 1, Camila - Aléjate de mí
The same happens with con tal (de) que (provided that):
Soy capaz de todo con tal de que te quedes a mi lado.
I'm capable of everything, provided that you stay beside me.
You probably noticed that we put the preposition de (of) between parentheses. This is just so you know that many Spanish speakers don't use it and instead just say antes que (before), con tal que (provided that), sometimes even en caso que (in case that). We recommend you to always use it. Read about dequeísmo and queísmo here.
The conjunctive phrase en caso de que (in case that) will also always be followed by subjunctive:
Porque en caso de que esté muy aguado, hecho el resto.
Because, in the case that it is very watery, I put in the rest.
Caption 46, Recetas de cocina - Papa a la Huancaína - Part 1
The same happens with para que (so that, in order that) and sin que (without):
Si quieres puedes voltear acá para que veas en el espejo el reflejo
If you want you can look here so that you see the reflection in the mirror
Caption 27, Instinto de conservación - Gorgona - Part 4
Yo soy el que hago que coman sin que tengan hambre
I am the one who makes them eat without being hungry
Caption 10, Calle 13 - Calma Pueblo
The Spanish subjunctive is used in adverb clauses when the action described in the clause is anticipated or hypothetical (a reservation, a condition not yet met, a mere intention). Adverb clauses are sentences that function as adverbs in compound sentences:
Organizaremos una fiesta / cuando mi esposo regrese de su viaje
We will organize a party / when my husband comes back from his trip
In the previous example, the main clause is organizaremos una fiesta and its verb (organizaremos) is in the indicative mood, future tense. However, the adverb clause that modifies that verb (in this case, establishing a condition of time for the action to happen) must use regrese, the subjunctive form of the verb regresar (to come back). Adverb clauses like this one are usually introduced by conjunctions, which you can use to identify the type of clause that it's being used. The previous sentence, for example, uses the conjunction cuando (when) to introduce the adverb clause. The word cuando is a conjunction of time, just like después (after). These conjunctions are used with the subjunctive to express anticipated circumstances, that is, a future occurrence not yet met. Let's study some examples from our catalog of authentic videos.
An example with the conjunction cuando (when):
pues no quiere deberle nada a nadie cuando llegue a la presidencia.
because he doesn't want to owe anything to anyone when he reaches the presidency.
Caption 20, Andrés Manuel López Obrador - En campaña - Part 1
An example with the conjunction hasta (until), which must be combined with the pronoun que (that):
Yo mantendré esa tradición hasta que me muera.
I will keep this tradition until the day I die.
Caption 66, Estado Falcón - Locos de la Vela - Part 4
Here's an example with the conjunction siempre (always), which combined with the pronoun que (that) means "whenever" or "as long as." Pay attention, the word order has been changed, so the main clause appears at the end.
Pero siempre que sea posible, recurriremos a un fotógrafo profesional.
But whenever it is possible, we'll turn to a professional photographer.
Caption 22, Raquel y Marisa - Español Para Negocios - Introducción
Now, that doesn't mean that you should always use subjunctive after conjunctions of time. You must use it only when you are talking about actions anticipated to occur in the future. If, for example, the conjunction is used to introduce an adverb clause that refers to actions in the past or in progress, known facts or habits, you must use the indicative. Let's see examples:
An example where you don't use subjunctive after the conjunction cuando (when):
Lo primero que hago cuando voy de compras es mirar los escaparates.*
The first thing that I do when I go shopping is to look at the display windows.
Caption 20, Raquel - Haciendo compras - Part 1
*Another common word order could be: Lo primero que hago es mirar los escaparates cuando voy de compras.
Now, an example where you don't use subjunctive after hasta que (until):
Hay policías desde que salgo de mi casa hasta que entro al Tec.
There are police from when I leave my house until I enter the Tech.
Caption 67, Alumnos extranjeros del - Tec de Monterrey - Part 1
And here's and example with the conjunction siempre (always) combined with the pronoun que (that) that doesn't use subjunctive either.
Entonces, yo siempre que estaba en Lima no los encontraba.*
So, every time I was in Lima, I didn't meet up with them.
Caption 22, Gonzalo el Pintor - Vida - Part 2
*Again, the main clause appears at the end of the sentence here, but you can easily change the word order: Entonces, yo no los encontraba siempre que estaba en Lima.
Summarizing: the subjunctive is used after conjunctions of time (such as cuando, hasta que, siempre que, etc.) only when you want to express anticipated circumstances, that is, a future occurrence not yet met (anyway, strictly speaking future is always hypothetical, right?). For your reference, other conjunctions of time that use subjunctive are después de que (after), mientras que (while, as long as), tan pronto que (as soon as), antes de que (before), and en cuanto (as soon as). So remember to always use subjunctive after them if you want to talk about anticipated circumstances. There is only one exception that applies to después de que (after), antes de que (before), and hasta que (until): you can get away with using a verb in infinitive (ending in -ar, -er, -ir) instead of subjunctive if you get rid of the pronoun que (that). Check the following examples:
Voy a bañarme después de hacer ejercicio.
I'm going to shower after I exercise.
Escribiré un libro antes de morir.
I will write a book before I die.
No me voy hasta hablar contigo.
I'm not leaving until I speak with you.
Of course, you can also use the subjunctive by adding the pronoun que. Here are the equivalent sentences for the examples above:
Voy a bañarme después de que haga ejercicio.
I'm going to shower after I exercise.
Escribiré un libro antes de que me muera.
I will write a book before I die.
No me voy hasta que hable contigo.
I'm not leaving until I speak with you.
Let's go back to the subjunctive just a little. Did you know that one characteristic that sets apart the subjunctive mood from the indicative, conditional, and the imperative is the fact that the subjunctive is found primarily in dependent clauses? (Of course, the other moods can occur there as well.) Let's illustrate this with an example from one of our new videos:
¿Que estás queriendo que se muera más rápido?
What do you want, for him to die faster?
Caption 12, Yago - 9 Recuperación - Part 9
This is a classic example of subjunctive, right? It's being used to talk about a wish, a hypothetical situation. We have highlighted the subjunctive muera in bold and underlined the indicative queriendo to clearly show you the way the subjunctive is used as part of compound sentences: the indicative queriendo plays the main role as the independent clause (the action of wanting), while the subjunctive muera refers to the action that depends on it (the action of dying). This is the way the subjunctive is used most of the time.
But the subjunctive is sometimes used in independent clauses. One of the most interesting cases is when the imperfect subjunctive is used to replace the conditional forms of the verbspoder (to be able), querer (to want), and deber (must) as part of what in Spanish is called elsubjuntivo de cortesía (the courtesy subjunctive). As its name indicates, this constructions is used to make a request or a suggestion in a more gentle, polite, or deferential way. This type of subjunctive is very, very common, so it's a good idea to memorize the corresponding conjugation for each verb. you can find full conjugations of these verbs on this page.
You might also want to explore the following examples. Note that the use of this subjunctive is usually combined with another verb in infinitive:
Quisiera saber si los perros tienen cosquillas.
I would like to know if dogs are ticklish.
Caption 102, Animales en familia - Señales de calma y cosquillas en los perros
¿Pudieras pasarme la leche?
Could you pass me the milk?
Angélica debiera bajar a comer.
Angelica should come down to eat.
Caption 11, Muñeca Brava - 36 La pesquisa
All these expressions would still be correct if you used the conditional forms (querría instead of quisiera, podrías instead of pudieras, debería instead of debiera); the use of subjunctive just makes them more polite, refined. It's a subtle difference, really. Think of it this way: using the conditional podrías pasarme la leche could mean, in theory, that the speaker is actually doubting weather the other person is able to pass the milk or not, instead of just asking for a favor. The use of the subjunctive leaves no room for doubts that you are making a polite request.
We can't stress enough how common this substitution of conditional with subjunctive is. But make no mistake, this is no conditional, and it only uses these three verbs. You may bump into similar constructions that are just incomplete compound sentences, for example incomplete si (if) clauses:
Si yo supiera ...
If I only knew...
Caption 61, Muñeca Brava - 33 El partido - Part 4
The subjunctive is not used as an independent clause here. Grammatically speaking, this expression is just missing its main clause, in this case a conditional. If we add it, for example: si yo supiera te lo diría (if I only knew I would tell you), we have a classic case of conditional plus subjunctive, as seen in one of our previous lessons on the subject.
The same happens with the following example. It's a tricky one, because even though it uses the verb poder (to be able), this is not a case of courtesy subjunctive. To prove it, we have completed the sentence with a conditional in brackets:
Si pudiera bajarte una estrella del cielo [me amarías]
If I could lower down to you a star from the sky [you would love me]
Caption 5, Enrique Iglesias - Cuando me enamoro
Another interesting use of the subjunctive used as an independent sentence happens when it's used with words that mean “perhaps,” like tal vez and quizá.
Tal vez cure el tiempo las heridas.
Perhaps time may heal the wounds.
Caption 20, Reik - No desaparecerá
Of course, it's also possible to simply use the indicative here and say: tal vez cura el tiempo las heridas (perhaps time heals the wounds). The use of subjunctive just stresses the idea that the action is improbable or doubtful, it's also more poetic. However—and this is just an exercise of the mind—another way of understanding these type of expressions is to recall that the words tal vez and quizá mean es posible (it's possible) and thus play the role of the main clause in a classic example of indicative plus subjunctive, where the subjunctive que cure... is the subordinate clause. Just saying.
Es posible que cure el tiempo las heridas.
It's possible that time will heal the wounds.
This is our third lesson in the series on the Spanish subjunctive. We invite you to read our lessons on Subjunctive and Indicative and Subjunctive and Imperative. Our site is featuring new social media widgets, so feel free to share the lessons with all your friends!
Let's now study how to combine subjunctive with conditional. Don't forget all our examples use bold to highlight the subjunctive and underlining for the other moods.
The Spanish subjunctive can be used with both forms of the conditional. The most common one is the simple conditional. Remember that to conjugate regular -ar, -er and -ir verbs in the conditional, you add the endings -ía, -ías, -ía, -íamos, -íais, -ían to the infinitive form of the verb. You may want to refresh your knowledge of the Spanish conditional and keep your conjugation charts handy for this lesson.
The simple conditional is usually combined with the pretérito imperfecto de subjuntivo (imperfect subjunctive). It is one of the most common ways to express wishes in Spanish. Incidentally, this is one of the few cases in which you can use subjunctive as the main or indepented clause of a compound sentence in Spanish:
Quisiera que el coche tuviera GPS.
I would want [I wish] the car had GPS.
Compare this to the use of simple present indicative with present subjunctive, which we learned in our first lesson:
Quiero que el coche tenga GPS.
I want the car to have GPS.
Which is very different from not using subjunctive at all:
Quiero que el coche tiene GPS.
I want the car has GPS.
ERROR! You can't say this in Spanish. You must use subjunctive as in the first two examples. English can't get away with it either, at least not using present indicative, as shown in the equally wrong translation. The infinitive is acceptable in English ("yes, I want the car to have GPS"), but not Spanish: saying sí, quiero que el coche tener GPS is even worse! Don't do it.
Let's go back to simple conditional and subjunctive. You can also use the simple conditional with the pretérito pluscuamperfecto del subjuntivo (pluperfect subjunctive). Since this is a compound tense that's kind of fancy, is not very common to combine it with simple conditional. But it happens. Let's use the same example with the verb querer (to want):
Querría que el coche hubiera tenido GPS.
I would want [I wish] the car had had GPS.
And it gets fancier than that. Spanish has two forms of conditional, a simple one and a compound form that uses the verb haber (to have) plus participio (-ado, -ido, -to, -so, -cho endings): the conditional perfect. You can use it with pluperfect subjunctive. These expressions are not common since you can always use a more simple construction. But here are two examples:
With the imperfect subjunctive (seen above):
Habría querido que el coche tuviera GPS.
I would have wanted the car had GPS.
With the pluperfect subjunctive is even less common:
Habría querido que el coche hubiera tenido GPS.
I would have wanted the car had had GPS.
To end this lesson we want to share with you some cases in which Spanish uses subjunctive in simple sentences, short expressions that are very commonly uses in everyday life. Spanish is not precisely well known for having short expressions, but one of our readers helped us realized how beautiful these are:
¡Que te vaya bien!
¡Que todo se solucione!
¡Que salga el sol!
In fact, if you look closely, these short expressions are just using implicitly the verbdesear ( "to wish" or "to hope"):
¡[Deseo] que descanses! I hope you have some rest.
¡[Deseo] que te vaya bien! I hope you do well.
¡[Deseo] que llueva! I hope it rains.
¡[Deseo] que todo se solucione! I hope everything gets solved.
¡[Deseo] que salga el sol! I hope the sun comes out.
Which makes them a classic case of present indicative combined with present subjunctive.
As promised, let's continue our lesson on the subjunctive by analyzing model sentences to learn how to combine it with other moods. You can read our previous lesson on subjunctive and indicative here.
You can combine the imperative (which is only conjugated in the present tense) with two different tenses of the subjunctive. The easiest and the most common case is when you use the imperative with the present subjunctive. Here are two examples (remember we're using bold for the subjunctive and underline for the other moods):
Tú haz lo que quieras y yo también.
You do whatever you want and so do I.
Caption 51, Jugando a la Brisca - En la calle - Part 1
Y decile a tu amigo que deje de llamarme Vicky.
And tell your friend to quit calling me Vicky.
Caption 19, Muñeca Brava - 1 Piloto - Part 4
Keep in mind that deci (tell) is typically Argentinian. In other countries you would hear di (tell): dile a tu amigo (tell your friend).
But going back to the subjunctive, let's analyze the meaning of the expression in the last example. Spanish uses the subjunctive here because what has been said is in the realm of possibilities (in this case, is the expression of a desire) not in the realm of facts. So you can't say dile que me deja de llamarme Vicky—this is incorrect because the indicative deja (he quits) is reserved to state facts, as in tu amigo deja de llamarme Vicky (your friend quits calling me Vicky). Another way to phrase the same request could be dile a tu amigo que no me llame Vicky (tell your friend not to call me Vicky). Note that instead of using the verb dejar (to quit) we use a negation plus the verbllamar (to call) in present subjunctive (llame). Again, you could not possibly use the indicative mood here and say dile a tu amigo que no me llama Vicky. This is incorrect— well, at least if what you want to express is a desire or a request. We say this because you know how context changes everything. For the pure pleasure of curiosity, consider an expression in which this last construction could happen, for example: dile a tu amigo que no me llama Vicky que venga a mi fiesta (tell your friend who doesn't call me Vicky to come to my party). See? We use the indicative llama (he calls) to express that it's a fact that he doesn't call Victoria "Vicky," and then we use the subjunctive venga (to come) because it states Victoria's desire for him to come to her party.
But let's not torture ourselves with games and let's see the second case of imperative combined with subjunctive, this time the pretérito perfecto (equivalent to present perfect subjunctive) which is a compound tense that uses the auxiliary verb haber (to have):
Haz lo que te hayan dicho los doctores.
Do whatever the doctors have told you.
Dame lo que hayas cocinado.
Give me whatever you have cooked.
Dime lo que María te haya contado.
Tell me whatever Maria has told you.
This is not exactly an easy tense, right? Compare these sentences with the following ones that use the imperative with the present subjunctive (reviewed first in this lesson):
Haz lo que te digan los doctores.
Do whatever the doctors tell you.
Dame algo de lo que cocines mañana.
Give me some of what you cook tomorrow.
Dime lo que María quiera.
Tell me whatever Maria wants.
The good news is that you can find ways to get away without using the pretérito perfecto del subjuntivo. For example, you can just use the simple past indicative. It's much less... let's say sophisticated, because the subtle meaning of indeterminacy that the subjunctive gives to the expression (which in English is expressed using the word "whatever") gets lost. Still, the past indicative gets the job done:
Haz lo que te dijeron los doctores.
Do what the doctors told you.
Dame lo que cocinaste.
Give me what you cooked.
Dime lo que María te contó.
Tell me what Maria told you.
Part 3 of this series will tackle the use of the conditional paired with subjunctive.