Spanish personal pronouns are one of the most complicated topics for our students.
These words are used to replace people, animals, or things without the need to name them, and are very common, both in oral and written Spanish, as they allow us to communicate more fluently.
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However, they don’t have a meaning on their own (it depends on the situation, context and usage), which can make them difficult to learn.
In this article we will try to make this task easier for you by explaining the types of personal pronouns, their uses and the differences with determiners and adverbs.
What are personal pronouns in Spanish and what are they for?
In grammar, pronouns are words that replace another one that has already been used.
Their use avoids repetition in sentences without giving up the construction of a coherent text.
When we talk about personal pronouns, we refer to the participants in a speech, such as people, animals or things.
Therefore, a personal pronoun can refer to or replace:
- First person. Sender of the message.
- Second person. Receiver of the message.
- Third person. Any person/animal/thing that is neither the speaker nor the listener of the message.
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Types of personal pronouns, functions and how to identify them
From a grammatical point of view, personal pronouns can be either stressed or unstressed.
Stressed personal pronouns
Stressed forms (also called dependent) play the role of a subject, direct complement or preposition term, and can be used in different parts of the sentence (alone, without a verb or behind a proposition).
These types of personal pronouns in Spanish have variations, and must always match the verb in gender and number.
Unstressed personal pronouns
Unstressed personal pronouns (or clitics) are followed by a verb form (before or after).
When they follow a verb, they are connected to it to form a word (escúchame, pregúntaselo, díselo, etc.).As for how to identify and recognize personal pronouns and their uses in Spanish, you will find some basic tips here.
Personal pronouns that work as a subject
The easiest personal pronouns to remember are yo, tú, vos, usted, él, ella, ello, nosotros, nosotras, ustedes, vosotros, vosotras, ellos and ellas.
In Spanish, these personal pronouns replace names or nouns, so they can function as subjects of the sentence.
Personal pronouns that work as direct complements
There are other occasions when personal pronouns serve to complete the action of a verb.
In these cases, they work as direct complements and are followed by a noun and a verb.
The direct complement pronouns are “te”, “lo”, “la”, “nos”, “os”, “los” and “las”.
Personal pronouns that work as indirect complements
When personal pronouns indicate the recipient of the action being taken, they replace the indirect complement of the sentence.
Pronouns that function as indirect complements are “me”, “te”, “le”, “nos”, “os” and “les”.
Personal pronouns after a preposition
Another use of personal pronouns is after a preposition.
These pronouns are called “prepositional” and are “mi”, “ti”, “vos”, “él”, “ella”, “usted”, “ello”, “sí”, “nosotros”, “nosotras”, “vosotros”, “vosotras”, “ellos”, “ellas” and “ustedes”.
Table of personal pronouns (complete)
Based on all of the above, the complete list of all the personal pronouns in Spanish is:
- 1st person singular: Yo, me, mí, conmigo
- 1st person plural: Nosotros, nos, nosotras
- 2nd person singular: Tú, te, ti, contigo, usted, vos
- 2nd person plural: Vosotros, vosotras, os, ustedes
- 3rd person singular: Él, lo, le, se, sí, consigo, ella, la, ello, lo
- 3rd person plural: Ellos, ellas, los, las, les, se, sí, consigo
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What is the difference between pronouns, determiners and adverbs?
When doing exercises about personal pronouns, you may have doubts or confuse them with determiners and adverbs, since some words can work in all three ways.
In a very simple way, the difference between a pronoun, a determiner, and an adverb is: pronouns substitute a noun (as we have already seen), determiners accompany a noun (they have gender and number), and adverbs serve as an adjective (they are invariable in gender and number) and can refer to an adjective, verb, or adverb.
We explain it in a simple way:
- Tenemos muchos libros (the word muchos refers to the noun libros, therefore, it is a determiner).
- Nos encanta tener muchos (the word muchos replaces the noun libro, therefore, it is a pronoun).
- Nosotros leemos mucho (the word mucho modifies the verb, so it is an adverb).
These examples can also help you understand the difference between pronouns, adverbs and determiners.
Example 1: demasiado/demasiados
- Compré demasiados vasos (determiner).
- Compré demasiados (pronoun).
- Está demasiado pasado (adverb).
Example 2: bastante/bastantes
- Llegaron bastantes personas (determiner).
- Llegaron bastantes (pronoun).
- Corre bastante rápido (adverb).
Example 3: tanto/tantos
- Hace tanto tiempo que lo vi (determiner).
- Hace tanto que lo vi (pronoun).
- No hables tanto.
7 tips to use Spanish pronouns correctly
Here are some tips to help you learn how to use all the personal pronouns in Spanish in a simple way and avoid some important mistakes:
- Although the personal pronouns él, ella, ellos and ellas are usually used to refer to people or animals, they can also be used to refer to inanimate objects.
- In the third person of the singular, there is a personal pronoun in the neutral form: ello.
- Except for the first and second person of the singular, all the personal pronouns in Spanish that can function as subjects (nosotros, vosotros, él, ella, ellos, ellas) have a gender variation. In addition, these pronouns always agree in gender and number with the verb they follow.
- When the third person forms (él, ella, ellos o ellas) are the subject of a sentence, they can only refer to people. So, in Spanish we would never use the term “ella” to refer to a song. In this case, the pronoun is omitted directly. For example: I listened to C. Tangana’s latest song. I loved it.
- Theoretically, the personal pronoun that replaces the direct complement of the 3rd person masculine singular is “lo”. However, in some regions of Spain, the form “le” is accepted to refer to a person.
- On the other hand, the neutral form “lo” is only used when the prefix of the pronoun is a neutral pronoun (esto, eso, aquello), a whole sentence or the subject of a copulative sentence.
- When the preposition “con” comes before pronouns such as mí, ti and sí, the form “contigo”, “conmigo” and “consigo” are used. Saying “con mí”, “con ti” or “con sí” is an important grammatical error in Spanish.
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