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Spanish Reflexive Verbs for Your Daily Routine

What are reflexive verbs in Spanish? A reflexive verb is a verb in which the subject (person or thing that completes the action) and object (person or thing that receives the action) are one and the same. In other words, the action "reflects back" onto the subject, or entails something one does to or for him or herself. It is no wonder then, that many of the things we "do to ourselves" in our daily routines (e.g. shaving ourselves, washing ourselves, etc.) fall into the category of reflexive Spanish verbs. 

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Recognizing Spanish Reflexive Verbs 

 

How can we recognize Spanish reflexive verbs? The main way to distinguish reflexive verbs in Spanish is by the fact that they all end in the pronoun se in their infinitive form. To take a very simple example, while the verb hablar means "to talk," hablarse is a reflexive verb meaning "to talk to oneself." However, the translations for reflexive verbs in Spanish aren't always so straightforward. 

 

As we often say just "I shave" or "I wash" in lieu of "I shave/wash myself," the English translations of Spanish reflexive verbs won't always include pronouns like "myself," "yourself," etc. In other cases, the meanings of verbs like parecer (to seem) completely change in their reflexive forms (parecerse means "to look like"). And so, as there are a lot more reflexive verbs in Spanish than in English, many of which may not "seem" reflexive, with increased exposure to Spanish, we will learn which English concepts are expressed with Spanish reflexive verbs.

 

Conjugating Spanish Reflexive Verbs: Reflexive Pronouns

 

To conjugate reflexive verbs in Spanish, we must memorize the reflexive pronouns that correspond to each personal pronoun: yo (I), tú (you), etc.. Reflexive pronouns are most often placed before the verb, which is conjugated "as usual" (in the same way as its non-reflexive form). To demonstrate this, let's take a look at the reflexive pronouns and the simple present conjugation of the regular verb hablar. We will then show you the conjugation of its reflexive form (hablarse).

 

Personal Pronoun Reflexive Pronoun Hablar Hablarse
yo me hablo me hablo
te hablas te hablas
él, ella, usted se habla se habla
nosotros/as nos hablamos nos hablamos
vosotros/as os habláis os habláis
ellos/as, ustedes se hablar se hablan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflexive Verbs in Spanish for Your Daily Routine

 

Now that you know the Spanish reflexive pronouns and how to conjugate reflexive Spanish verbs, let's take a look at some examples of reflexive verbs in Spanish for describing things that many of us do on a daily basis, with lots of instances from our Yabla video library as always! Here is our list of Spanish reflexive verbs for your daily routine: 

 

1. Despertarse

 

The Spanish reflexive verb despertarse means "to wake up":

 

y por la mañana me despierto entre seis y cuarenta y cinco a siete y cuarto. 

and in the morning I wake up between six forty-five and seven fifteen.

Caption 62, Los médicos explican - Diagnóstico: nervios y estrés

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2. Levantarse

 

After waking up, the next step might be levantarse ("to get up" or "get out of bed"):

 

Se levanta muy temprano. 

She gets up very early.

Caption 51, El Aula Azul - Las Profesiones

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In other contexts, the reflexive Spanish verb levantarse could also mean, among other things, "to stand up" or "get up," as from a seat, or even "to rise up against," as in a rebellion. 

 

3. Bañarse

 

The Spanish noun baño means "bath," and the verb bañarse can mean "to take a bath" as well. However, as bañarse can also be the more general "to bathe," a person might even use this verb to express the fact that they are taking a shower! Let's look at an example of this reflexive Spanish verb: 

 

Uno se baña todos los días, mijita.

One bathes every day, my girl.

Caption 41, Muñeca Brava - 33 El partido

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On the other hand, if a person at the beach expresses their desire to bañarse, rather than wanting to wash the sand off of themselves, they are letting you know they would like to take a dip! The Spanish reflexive verb bañarse can also mean "to go swimming," a translation that often comes as a surprise to English speakers:

 

No hay muchas olas grandes como en Atacames.

There aren't many big waves like in Atacames.

Es más tranquilo para bañarse.

It's more peaceful to go swimming.

Captions 62-63, Pipo - Un paseo por la playa de Atacames

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4. Ducharse

 

In the morning, at night, or after the beach, indeed, one might need to ducharse (to take a shower):

 

¿Qué está haciendo Silvia?

What is Silvia doing?

Silvia se está duchando.

Silvia is taking a shower.

Captions 11-12, El Aula Azul - Actividades diarias: En casa con Silvia

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Note that, in this example, the verb ducharse is conjugated in the present progressive tense. As with the present indicative and all other tenses, verbs are conjugated in the exact same way as they would be were they non-reflexive, with the addition of the appropriate reflexive pronoun. 

 

5. Lavarse

 

The reflexive verb in Spanish lavarse generally means "to wash (oneself)." Let's look at an example: 

 

Por ejemplo, "Yo me lavo".

For example, "Yo me lavo" [I wash myself].

La acción recae sobre la persona

The action falls back upon the person

que realiza la acción.

who carries out the action.

Pero, "Yo lavo los platos".

But, "Yo lavo los platos" [I wash the dishes].

Captions 45-48, Lecciones con Carolina - Verbos reflexivos

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In this informative video about Spanish reflexive verbs, Yabla fan favorite Carolina explains the difference between reflexive and non-reflexive verbs, in this case the verbs lavar (to wash) and lavarse (to wash oneself). Let's look at an additional example: 

 

Yo me lavo las manos. Tú te lavas las manos.

I wash my hands. You wash your hands.

Captions 19-20, Fundamentos del Español - 9 - Verbos Reflexivos

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Unlike in English, where we express the idea of washing one's hands or some other body part with a possessive pronoun (my, your, etc.), this is not the case in Spanish. Instead, we use the definite article for the noun in question, manos (hands), in this case, las (the). Because the reflexive pronoun already indicates that the action is something we do to ourselves, it would be redundant in Spanish to say: Yo me lavo mis manos. As the correct way to express this is "Yo me lavo las manos," it might help you to remember the literal but non-sensical translation: "I wash myself the hands."

 

That said, let's move on to something else that's expressed with the notion of "washing" in Spanish: lavarse los dientes (to brush one's teeth). 

 

6. Lavarse/cepillarse los dientes

 

Lavarse los dientes (literally "to wash one's teeth") is one of saying "to brush one's teeth" in Spanish: 

 

Después, ehm... suelo lavarme los dientes en el baño,

After that, um... I usually brush my teeth in the bathroom,

Caption 3, El Aula Azul - Actividades Diarias

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Different countries, regions, or individuals might instead use cepillarse los dientes, which also means "to brush one's teeth." Let's check out an example in the preterite tense: 

 

Se cepilló los dientes,

He brushed his teeth,

Caption 20, Aprendiendo con Carlos - El microrrelato

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7. Cepillarse el pelo/cabello

 

By extension, the noun el cepillo means "the brush," and we might have a cepillo de dientes (toothbrush) as well as a cepillo de pelo/cabello (hair brush), as in the following caption:

 

Sí... -¿Qué necesitamos para ir allí?

Yes... -What do we need to go there?

El cepillo de dientes.

A toothbrush.

El cepillo del pelo.

A hair brush.

Captions 49-51, Un Viaje a Mallorca - Planificando el viaje

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So, you've probably surmised by now that the verb cepillarse el pelo/cabello means "to brush one's hair."

 

8. Peinarse

 

The verb peinarse can mean "to comb one's hair" with a comb (un peine), "to brush one's hair," or "to do" or "style" one's hair in general:

 

Por eso paró en la playa

That's why she stopped on the beach

para mirarse en el espejo y peinarse.

to look at herself in the mirror and comb her hair.

Captions 21-22, Guillermina y Candelario - Mi Amiga la Sirena

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9. Afeitarse

 

Afeitarse is the verb for "to shave" (oneself, of course)!

 

Vos sabés lo que es todas las mañanas...

Do you know what it's like every morning...

mirarse en el espejo cuando uno se afeita

to look at oneself in the mirror when one's shaving,

Captions 30-31, Muñeca Brava - 8 Trampas

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10. Maquillarse

 

The next step in one's morning routine might be maquillarse (to put on makeup):

 

Aquí, siempre me maquillo para mis conciertos.

Here, I always put on makeup for my concerts.

Caption 47, Ariana - Mi Casa

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Alternatively, one might say Aquí, siempre me pinto para mis conciertos, as pintarse (literally "to paint oneself") also means "to put on makeup." 

 

11. Vestirse

 

Vestirse is the way to say "to get dressed" in Spanish. 

 

Yo salgo y... y te vistes.

I'll leave and... and you get dressed.

Caption 30, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa - Capítulo 2

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Another way to say this might be ponerse la ropa (to put on one's clothes). 

 

12. Sacarse la ropa

 

Although sacarse la ropa is one manner of saying "to get undressed" or "take off one's clothes," there are many other examples of reflexive verbs in Spanish that mean the same thing, including: quitarse la ropa, desvestirse, and desnudarse. Let's look at a couple of examples: 

 

Si "Libertinaje" te saca...

If "Libertinaje" takes off your.....

te invita a sacarte la ropa,

invites you to take off your clothes,

Captions 4-5, Bersuit Vergarabat - EPK

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Y se desnuda poco a poco y se convierte en tu piel

And she gets naked little by little and she becomes your skin

Caption 6, Reik - Inolvidable

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As you can see, the more literal "to get naked" might be an alternate translation for desnudarse. 

 

13. Acostarse 

 

We're finally getting to the end of our daily routine, when it's time for us to acostarnos (go to bed): 

 

Tranquilícese, vaya a acostarse y deje de pensar en imposibles.

Calm down, go to bed, and stop thinking about impossible things.

Caption 31, Muñeca Brava - 48 - Soluciones

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14. Dormirse

 

And finally, once in bed, it's time to fall asleep! While the non-reflexive dormir means "to sleep," dormirse means "to fall asleep." 

 

Me dormí pensando en ti; pensando en ti, me desperté

I fell asleep thinking about you; thinking about you, I woke up

Caption 10, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa

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More Reflexive Verbs in Spanish 

 

Of course, this is just a partial list of reflexive verbs in Spanish that might be applicable to our daily routines. There are a lot more common reflexive verbs in Spanish that describe things one might do on a daily basis, including secarse (to dry oneself off), sentarse (to sit down), sentirse (to feel), emocionarse (to get excited), encontrarse con alguien (to meet with someone), acordarse de (to remember), olvidarse (to forget), sonreírse (to smile), reírse (to laugh), despedirse (to say goodbye), irse (to leave), and many, many more! 

 

For additional information on Spanish reflexive verbs, check out this video from the series Fundamentos del Español. And don't forget to leave us your suggestions and comments.

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Making Comparisons in Spanish - Part 1

Despite the old saying that "Las comparaciones son odiosas" (Comparisons are odious), the truth is that they are often necessary. Whether you need to decide on a vacation destination, select a present for a loved one, or weigh the pros and cons of any situation, comparisons will be a part of your decision-making process. That said, let's learn some useful language for that purpose. 

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Unlike English, Spanish does not modify adjectives with the addition of suffixes (e.g. the English -er and -est) for comparative purposes. Instead, adjectives are accompanied by comparative structures to indicate equality, inequality, or difference in degree between one or more people, ideas, or things. Since there is plenty to learn on this topic, this lesson will deal with inequality, while part two will cover comparisons of equality and superlatives

 

Comparisons of Inequality

 

For comparisons of inequality, the word that specifies what the comparison is about will be preceded by más (more) or menos (less). One might compare qualities (adjectives), ways of doing something (adverbs), or even nouns as in the sentence: La canasta roja tiene más manzanas que la verde (The red basket has more apples than the green one). Let's take a look at some common comparative structures involving adjectives, adverbs, and nouns, and some examples of each:

 

1. más/menos + adjective + que

 

La vida a esta altitud se hace más difícil que en el frondoso pinsapar.

Life at this altitude becomes more difficult than in the dense Spanish fir forest.

Caption 64, Tecnópolis - Sierra de las nieves

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Este libro es menos interesante que el otro.

This book is less interesting than the other one.

Caption 72, Karla e Isabel - Comparativos

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As you may have inferred from these examples, the comparative particle que is the equivalent of than in English. In addition, the video in our second example above introduces several comparative structures with examples and is thus worth viewing in conjunction with this lesson. 

 

2. más/menos + adverb + que 

 

Les inyectaba hormonas para que crecieran más rápido.

She would inject them with hormones so that they would grow faster.

Caption 45, Kikirikí - Animales

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Note that, in this case, the comparative particle que is not present since the second term of the comparison is not mentioned. In addition, remember that, although the adverb rápidamente does exist, we often use rápido as an adverb as well as an adjective in the same way as the English word fast, depending upon whether it modifies a noun or a verb in a sentence. 

 

3. más/menos + noun  + que

 

As we saw in the introduction, this structure can also be used with nouns. In this case, it is worth mentioning that while, according to traditional English usage rules, "fewer" should be used for countable objects while "less" should be employed with singular mass nouns (i.e. salt), this distinction does not exist in Spanish. That said, menos will be used for both countable and uncountable nouns in Spanish. 

 

Ten en cuenta que los productos en tamaño familiar,

Take into account that family-sized products,

sean de lo que sean,

whatever they are,

generan menos residuos por unidad de producto.

generate less waste per product unit.

Captions 51-53, 3R - Campaña de reciclaje

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Since the Spanish verb tener años (literally "to have years") is used to express the idea of someone being a certain age, the expression Tengo más años que mi hermana (literally "I have more years than my sister") is equivalent to saying "I am older than my sister." The following example is similar:

 

Yo tengo un año menos que tú.

I am a year younger than you.

Caption 12, Clara y Cristina - Saludar

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Although the position of the noun in these examples is different, they demonstrate the additional point that prepositional object pronouns like and ti cannot be used in comparatives as the second object of comparison (immediately after que). For example, while in English, one can say either "My sister is younger than I am" or "My sister is younger than me," Mi hermana es más joven que mí is unacceptable in Spanish, while Mi hermana es más joven que yo is the correct way to express this. 

 

Intensifying or Mitigating Difference

 

Sometimes, the difference between the objects, people, or ideas being compared is so big or so small that formulas that include intensifiers such as mucho/muchísimo/tanto + más/menos or mitigators like un poco/poquito + más/menos can help to express this. 

 

Y eso también lo habéis comprado más barato de lo normal.

And that also you have bought cheaper than what's normal.

Pero muchísimo más barato, ochenta por ciento más barato, una cosa así.

But way cheaper, eighty percent cheaper, something like that.

Captions 14-15, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos

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No es tanto más grande que yo.

She's not that much older than me.

Caption 31, Muñeca Brava - 7 El poema

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De Los Cabos sí queda un poquito más lejitos,

From Los Cabos, it's a little bit further,

un poquito más de dos horas.

a little bit over two hours.

Captions 73-74, Alan x el mundo - Mi playa favorita de México!

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Parallel Comparative Structure 

 

The parallel comparative structure, cuanto más + adjective/adverb, más/menos, is also useful in Spanish. The common English expression, "The sooner, the better," for example, translates as: Cuanto antes, mejor.  

 

Cuanto más sucia, menos le[s] pagáis. -Claro.

The dirtier it is, the less you pay them. -Of course.

Caption 81, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa

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Irregular Adjectives/Adverbs

 

A few adjectives and adverbs have irregular comparative forms and don't fall into the typical patterns using más/menos + adjective/adverb + que:

 

Adjective: buen/a (good)      Comparative: mejor (better) 

Adjective: mal/a (bad)          Comparative: peor (worse)

 

Es una buena cantante (She's a good singer).

Es mejor cantante que Mariana (She is a better singer than Mariana).

 

Es un mal alumno (He is a bad student).

Es peor alumno que Juan (He is a worse student than Juan).

 

Interestingly, when the adjectives mejor/peor describe how good or bad one is at something, their forms are irregular. However, when referring to good and evil, their regular comparative forms come into play:

 

Es más malo que el diablo.

He is more evil than the devil.

 

The following adverbs, however, have only an irregular comparative:

 

Adverb: bien (well)           Comparative: mejor (better) 

Adverb: mal (badly)          Comparative: peor (worse)

 

María canta mejor que su hermana.     

María sings better than her sister.

 

Let's conclude with some additional examples of regular and irregular comparatives from our Yabla video library:

 

Tres aspirinas. -Bueno, tomá algo más fuerte que te haga mejor.

Three aspirins. -Well, take something stronger that makes you better.

Caption 61, Muñeca Brava - 43 La reunión

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Mal. Peor que la semana pasada.

Bad. Worse than last week.

Caption 7, El Aula Azul - La Doctora Consejos: Subjuntivo y condicional

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That's all for this first part of our lesson on comparatives. We hope it has been clear, and don't forget to send us your questions, comments, and suggestions¡Hasta la próxima!

How to Use Prepositional Pronouns in Spanish

In an interview appearing in the Spanish series, 75 minutos, we can hear a beautiful gypsy voice singing the following:

 

Me dormí pensando en ti; pensando en ti, me desperté

I fell asleep thinking about you; thinking about you, I woke up

Soñé contigo, estoy sin ti y así llevo to' mi vi'a

I dreamed about you, I am without you, and I carry on like that all my life

Captions 10-11, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa

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Do you see that "ti" in the example above? That's a prepositional pronoun, or pronoun that follows a preposition. As prepositional pronouns may have been outshone in your studies by the complexity of object pronouns (me, te, se, le, etc.), let’s focus on them for a change.

 

A Look at Prepositional Pronouns in Action

When pronouns follow prepositions, they take on a special form in the first and second person singular, as follows:

 

Tú sabes que una fiesta sin mí no es una fiesta

You know that a party without me is not a party

porque yo soy el alma de las fiestas.

because I am the soul of parties.

Caption 19, Club 10 - Capítulo 1 - Part 2

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He sentido un flechazo por ti.

I felt love at first sight with you.

Caption 7, Cortometraje - Flechazos

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Note that, unlike the possessive adjective mi (e.g. Mi nombre, or "My name"), the prepositional pronoun  has a graphic accent (tilde) whereas ti does not. 

 

In contrast to the first and second persons, the other persons utilize the same form as the subject pronoun (él, ella, nosotros, etc.) and do not require any special form:

 

Es un poco estresante para nosotros.

It's a bit stressful for us.

Caption 6, Animales en familia - Un día en Bioparc: Cachorro de leopardo

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No, estoy hablando de ella.

No, I'm talking about her.

Caption 22, Muñeca Brava - 41 La Fiesta

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O en los brazos de ella.

Or in her arms.

Caption 21, El Ausente - Acto 3 - Part 8

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Reflexive Use of the Third Person

The third person is the only grammatical person to employ a specific form exclusively for reflexive use: . Although this form does not indicate gender or number, these aspects are apparent (and the agreement with the subject achieved) with the words mismo(s) and misma(s), which often follow the prepositional pronoun sí when expressing the idea of "himself" or "herself." 

 

Agente, Pierre Bernard no habló mucho de sí mismo.

Agent, Pierre Bernard didn't talk much about himself.

Caption 24, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa - Capítulo 4

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 can also come after the preposition entre in the third person plural to express the idea of "with each other," as follows:

 

Entonces, ellas son amigas entre sí, también.

So, they are friends with each other also.

Caption 48, Clase Aula Azul - Información con subjuntivo e indicativo

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However, entre can be also followed by the subject pronouns yo and tú:

 

Pues lo que está sucediendo

Because what's happening

es entre tú y yo

is between you and me

Captions 26-27, Vivanativa - Si tú me quieres

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Conmigo, Contigo, and Consigo

 

Soñé contigo, estoy sin ti / I dreamed about you, I am without you

 

Considering the fact that pronouns do not often merge with the prepositions that preceed them, you may have wondered why conmigo, contigo and consigo are written as a single word. The fact is that the prepositional pronouns , ti, and have special forms when used with the preposition con.

 

Quédate conmigo

Stay with me

Caption 42, Carlos Baute y Marta Sanchez - Colgando en tus manos

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Bailar contigo y perdernos esta noche

Dancing with you and losing ourselves tonight

Caption 9, Monsieur Periné - Bailar Contigo

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Porque si no, muchas personas

Because otherwise, many people

tienen conflictos consigo mismas.

have conflicts with themselves.

Captions 2-3, Natalia de Ecuador - Los tipos de temperamento

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Some years ago, a politician in Latin America gained notoriety after saying conmigo o sinmigo, an egregious error for a native speaker of Spanish, let alone a public figure! Now that you have read this lesson, you can rest assured that contigo no tendremos ese problema (we won’t have that problem with you). We hope you liked this lesson, and don't forget to send us your comments and suggestions. ¡Hasta la próxima!

The Many Nuances of Spanish Subject Pronouns

In this lesson, we will talk about Spanish subject pronouns. Let’s first review what subject pronouns are and enumerate the subject pronouns in English.

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What is a subject pronoun in Spanish?

Since the definition of a subject pronoun is "a word that takes the place of a noun acting as the subject of a clause or sentence," we must first understand what a subject is.

 

Most simply stated, the subject of a sentence is what it's about, the noun that is being or doing something. Here are some examples of sentences with their subjects indicated beneath them: 

 

Samantha is studying Spanish.         

Subject:  Samantha 

    

The tango is a beautiful dance.        

Subject: Tango

 

Marina, Liam and I went to the movies.    

Subject: Marina, Liam and I

 

Edison is from the Dominican Republic.    

Subject: Edison

 

The chocolates taste amazing.

Subject: The chocolates

 

In order to avoid, for instance, repeating “the chocolates” over and over in a paragraph where we wish to thoroughly describe them, we could replace the subject, “the chocolates,” with the subject pronoun, “they.” Below, within the structures of the previous sentences, the subjects have been replaced with their equivalent subject pronouns:

    

She is studying Spanish.

 

It is a beautiful dance. 

 

We went to the movies.

 

He is from the Dominican Republic.

 

They taste amazing. 

 

Subject pronouns in English and Spanish

A complete list of the English subject pronouns is as follows: I, we, you, he, she, it, they. 

Now, let’s take a look at how the English subject pronouns correspond to their Spanish counterparts:

 

- First person (singular / plural): EN: I / we | SP: yo / nosotros, nosotras

- Second person (singular / plural): EN: you / you | SP: tú, usted, vos / vosotros, vosotras, ustedes

- Third person (singular / plural): EN: he, she, it / they | SP: él, ella / ellos, ellas

 

Looking at them side by side, you may notice that there are far more Spanish subject pronouns than English ones due to the many nuances they express when compared to their less specific English equivalents. Some differences you may notice between the English subject pronouns and the Spanish ones are as follows: 

 

1. The first person plural (“we” in English) in Spanish distinguishes between masculine and feminine in the sense that, if the “we” refers to a group of only males or a mixed group of males and females, nosotros is used, whereas if the group is all female, nosotras is employed. Since English does not make this distinction, nothing can be told about the gender of the group upon simply hearing a sentence beginning with “we.”

 

2. The second person singular (“you” in English) has three different Spanish translations: , usted, and vos. So, what’s the difference between them? Generally speaking, and vos are employed similarly to address people with whom one is more familiar — a less formal “you” — whereas usted is a more formal and respectful “you,” typically reserved for people we don’t know as well or, for example, for our elders.

 

Keep in mind that while is more commonly employed as the informal “you” in many Spanish-speaking countries, vos is typically used in other countries or regions. In contrast, the English subject pronoun “you” can be employed regardless of the relationship we have with the person we are addressing, their age, or the formality of the situation.

 

3. The second person plural also has several distinctions in Spanish not present in English. Whereas “you” is both singular and plural in English, Spanish requires a different subject pronoun to indicate that more than one person is being spoken to. Ustedes, vosotros and vosotras are the three second-person plural subject pronouns in Spanish, which take both gender and formality/familiarity into account.

 

In most Spanish-speaking countries, ustedes is the only second person plural subject pronoun utilized and can thus be used regardless of the formality of the situation or the gender of the people being addressed. Things are different in Spain, where usted would be used to address a single person in a more formal situation. Ustedes would then be its extension when addressing more than one person.

 

Speaking familiarly, with , the plural used in Spain would be vosotros and vosotras. These second person plural pronouns work the same way as the first person plural pronouns, nosotros and nosotras: ​​Vosotros ​is used to address more than one male or a mixed group, familiarly,​ while vosotras will refer to more than one female. 

 

4. The same kind of situation presents itself in the third person plural. The English “they” does not consider gender, but its Spanish equivalents ellos and ellas, do take gender into account, just as nosotros/nosotras and vosotros/vosotras do. Ellos is used for an all-male or mixed group, while ellas is used for more than one female. 

 

What about "it" in Spanish?

The English subject pronoun “it” generally replaces a subject that isn't a person or animal. Since there is no such subject pronoun in Spanish, how is the idea of “it” expressed? Let’s look at an example from a Yabla Spanish video: 

 

¿El favorito mío? Y el dulce de leche bombón. Es mi debilidad.

My favorite? "Dulce de leche bombon." It's my weakness.

Captions 35-36, Buenos Aires - Heladería Cumelen

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You can see that, although we would say “It’s my weakness” in English when referring to the yummy dulce de leche ice cream, “it’s” being a contraction of “it is,” in Spanish, the “it” is simply omitted, and the verb, “es” (the third person singular conjugation of ser, or “to be”) is sufficient.

 

Because of this, a common error for Spanish speakers learning English is to try to replicate this structure in English by saying or writing something like, “Is my weakness.” However, this is not grammatically sound and, although it is often acceptable to omit a subject pronoun in Spanish, the same is not so in English, where the “it” is indeed necessary. 

 

Let’s look at one more example:

 

Pero cuando llueve no hay otro remedio.

But, when it rains, there isn't any other choice.

Caption 86, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa

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Note that in English, since “it” in this example does not actually refer to anything concrete (does not replace a particular word), it is known as a “dummy” (or expletive or pleonastic) pronoun, which is still necessary to express this idea correctly. In contrast, in Spanish, the verb “llueve” (the third person singular conjugation of llover, or “to rain”) can simply be used without a pronoun to express the idea of “it.”

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Omitting the subject pronoun

Even in cases which don’t involve “it,” due to the more specific manner in which Spanish verbs are conjugated according to their subject pronouns, it is not always necessary to write out the subject pronoun:

 

Mientras leo el diario, respondo los correos electrónicos.

While I read the newspaper, I respond to emails.

Caption 9, GoSpanish - La rutina diaria de Maru

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Although this could also be written as Mientras yo leo el diario, yo respondo los correos electrónicos, the first-person singular verb conjugations leo and respondo let us know that the subject pronoun is yo, and thus, it's not necessary to include it.

 

This is not the case in English, as the subject pronoun “I” is indeed necessary in order for the sentence to make sense (“While read the newspaper, respond to e-mails” would definitely not fly). One reason for this is that verb tenses in English tend to be much less specific to their subject pronouns. 

 

To reiterate this idea, let’s contrast the English present and past verb tenses with their Spanish equivalents:

 

ENGLISH (present / past):

I speak / spoke

You speak / spoke

He speaks / spoke

She speaks / spoke

It speaks / spoke

We speak / spoke

You speak / spoke

They speak / spoke

 

SPANISH (present / preterite):

Yo hablo / hablé

Tú hablas / hablaste

Vos hablás / hablaste 

Él, ella, usted habla / habló

Nosotros/as hablamos / hablamos

Vosotros/as habláis / hablasteis

Ellos/as, ustedes haban / hablaron

 

You may notice that the English present tense conjugations are limited to just “speak” (for “I,” “you,” “we” and “they”) and “speaks” (for “he,” “she” and “it”), while there is no variation whatsoever for the past tense, which regardless of the subject pronoun, is “spoke.”

 

In Spanish, on the other hand, we see a total of seven different conjugations in the present tense and six in the preterite, a revelation which may seem daunting to many English-speaking students of Spanish! And those are just two out of the fourteen Spanish verb tenses.

 

To conclude, let’s look at one last example:

 

Y, ¿va a pedirle a Lisa Bernal que sea su pareja en la fiesta?

And, are you going to ask Lisa Bernal to be your date at the party?

Caption 1, Los Años Maravillosos - Capitulo 6

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Unlike the previous case in which the verb conjugations leo and respondo were specific to the Spanish subject pronoun, yo, this one is a bit more ambiguous, as the verb conjugation va (of the verb ir, or “to go”) could correspond to the Spanish subject pronouns él, ella, or usted. So, if this sentence were encountered in isolation, the possible translations could be as follows: 

   

- And, is he going to ask Lisa Bernal to be his date at the party?

- And, are you going to ask Lisa Bernal to be your date at the party?

- And, is she going to ask Lisa Bernal to be her date at the party?

- And, is it going to ask Lisa Bernal to be its date at the party?

 

Although the last option does not seem logically plausible, how do we know which one of the others is correct in the absence of a subject pronoun? Context. Often in print or video media or even in conversation, the subject is introduced in a previous sentence.

 

However, since this is the first sentence in this video, we are left to infer from the characters’ subsequent dialogue that the correct translation is, “And, are you going to ask Lisa Bernal to be your date at the party?” where Kevin’s friend, Fede, is addressing him as “usted” (as a side note, even close friends and family members often address one another as “usted” in certain parts of Colombia). 

 

Although many beginning Spanish students might feel overwhelmed by the multitude of Spanish subject pronouns and the task of having to conjugate verbs based upon them, we hope that this lesson has shed some light on some of the many fascinating differences between subject pronouns in English and Spanish. And don't forget to send us your comments and suggestions.

 

Ser vs Estar - Yo estoy

How much you learn about the proper use of ser and estar (both meaning "to be") depends on your exposure to how real Spanish is spoken by real people. This lesson focuses on how a person can use estoy (“I'm” —the first-person singular form of estar in the present tense) to talk about himself or herself.
 

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The present tense of the verb estar (to be) is estoy. You can use it combined with an adjective (or a participiothe -ado, -ido, -to, -so, -cho endings and their feminine and plural forms, used as an adjective) to express your current state of mind, body, or soul:

 

...Yo estoy listo ya... ¿Dónde está el perro?

...I'm ready now... Where's the dog?

Caption 108, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 5

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It's very common, for example, to use estar to talk about emotions, convictions, and beliefs:
 

Bueno, pero estoy muy contenta. Pasa.

Well, but I am very happy. Come in.

Caption 12, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 6

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Yo creo que sí. -Estoy convencido que poco a poco vamos a... a buscar alternativas.

I think so. -I am convinced that little by little we are going to... to look for alternatives.

Captions 64-65, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 5

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You can use any other regular adjective as well. Some examples are below:
 
Estoy limpio - I'm clean.
Estoy enferma - I'm sick.
Estoy sola - I'm lonely.
 
At this point it's useful to compare the possible meaning of similar phrases using ser instead of estar. Note how, by using ser instead of estar, the adjective becomes an intrinsic characteristic of the subject:
 
Soy limpio - I'm a clean person.
Soy enferma - Incorrect, it’s better to say soy una persona enferma "I'm a sick person," or even just estoy enferma (I’m sick), because this phrase can also mean “I’m a sick person” given the appropriate context.
Soy sola - Incorrect, it’s better to say soy una persona solitaria (I'm a lonely person).
 
You can combine estoy with the gerundio (-ando / -endo / -iendo endings) to talk about your actions, about what you are doing. The combination with haciendo, the gerundio of the verb hacer (to do) is very common:
 

Yo estoy haciendo el control de calidad del producto.

I'm doing the quality control of the product.

Caption 4, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 20

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But you can combine estoy with any other gerundio, for example cogiendo, the gerundio of coger (to grab, to pick):
 

Hasta que no palme estoy cogiendo castañas.

As long as I don't croak, I'm picking chestnuts.

Caption 6, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 5

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You can use estoy with a complement that denotes space to specify your location. The combination with an adverb of place is common:
 

Por eso estoy aquí, porque me han dicho...

That's why I am here because they have told me...

Caption 85, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 15

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And also with the preposition en (in):
 

Eh... Ahora mismo estoy en Málaga, estoy de vacaciones.

Um... Right now I'm in Malaga, I'm on vacation.

Caption 2, Arume - Málaga, España - Part 1

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The verb estoy can also be combined with certain prepositions to express a wide array of ideas. For example, you can use it with the preposition de to talk about your role or position in a certain context:
 

Eh, y... estoy de acuerdo con, con Denisse ahí,

Uh, and... I agree (literally, "I'm in accord") with, with Denisse there.

Caption 24, Belanova - Entrevista - Part 3

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No, luego, cuando acaba la campaña estoy de camarero.

No, after, once the season ends, I work as a waiter.

Caption 61, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 13

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Eh... Ahora mismo estoy en Málaga, estoy de vacaciones.

Um... Right now I'm in Malaga, I'm on vacation.

Caption 2, Arume - Málaga, España - Part 1

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You can combine the verb estoy with the preposition por  and a verb in infinitive (-er, -ar, -irendings) to talk about what you are about to do:
 
Estoy por ganar el juego de scrabble. 
I'm about to win the Scrabble match.
 
Estoy por terminar. Espérenme, por favor.
I'm about to finish. Please, wait for me.
 
You can use estar and the preposition para to talk about purpose, function, etc.
 
Aquí estoy para servir
I'm here to serve.
 
Here's an interesting example from our catalog of videos:
 

o estoy para dirigir cine tal vez.

or maybe, I'm suited to direct a movie.

Caption 68, Arturo Vega - Entrevista - Part 1

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There are many other ways in which you can use the verb estoy; these are just some of the most common ones. For now, we recommend you practice these expressions, maybe try transforming them into the past or future tenses!  Our next lesson in this series will focus on how soy (the first-person singular form of ser in the present tense) can be used to talk about oneself.

En qué quedamos...

One of our latest videos includes an example of an interesting way to pose a question:
 

¿En qué le puedo ayudar?

How can I help you?

Caption 6, Cita médica - La cita médica de Cleer

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In this example, the combination of the preposition en (in, on) and the interrogative word qué (literally “in what”) means how (cómo)Even though the expression cómo puedo ayudarle (how can I help you) exists in Spanish, using en qué instead is a very common choice for native speakers, especially when the expression is meant to be a greeting. In fact, it can be argued that there's a subtle difference between saying ¿en qué puedo ayudarle? (literally "what can I help you with") and ¿cómo puedo ayudarle? (how can I help you): the first one is a polite greeting, while the second one is a general question. Compare the following examples:
 
Hola ¿en qué puedo ayudarle? - Quiero ordenar a domicilio.
Hi, how can I help you? -I want to order for delivery.

¿Cómo puedo ayudarle, tía? - Ayúdame a rebanar el pan.
How can I help you, Aunt? -Help me slice the bread.
 
But that’s not the only meaning of en qué. Here’s a notable example:

 

Oye, y ¿en qué trabajas?

Hey, and what do you do [for a living]?

Caption 82, Ricardo - La compañera de casa

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 En qué can also be used to ask about a location. It's roughly equivalent to dónde (where):
 

¿En qué lugar se enamoró de ti?

In what place did he fall in love with you?

Caption 7, Marc Anthony - Y cómo es él

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 En qué can also be used to talk about time. It's roughly equivalent to cuándo (when):
 
¿En qué momento sucedió?
When (in what moment) did it happen?
 
There are many fixed questions that use en qué. The question en qué consiste is worth learning:
 

¿En qué consiste tu trabajo, Paco?

What does your job consist of, Paco?

Caption 42, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa

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Finally, there are also idiomatic expressions that use en qué. For example, en qué quedamos (literally "in what we agreed”):

 

¿En qué quedamos? ¿Va a tener una herencia o no?

What did we settle on? Is he going to have an inheritance or not?

Caption 46, Muñeca Brava - 30 Revelaciones

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Expressions

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