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Published on: Grammar

How to Use Subject Pronouns in Spanish Like a Native

Spanish subject pronouns are usually some of the first words you learn on Day 1 of your Spanish class. But are you sure you are using them correctly? And are you sure you understand what they are? 

Today, we’re going to go an extra step so that both beginners and more advanced Spanish students will learn something new about subject pronouns. You’re going to learn absolutely everything you need to know about this type of Spanish pronoun so that you can go out there and sound like a native speaker. 

So get ready, because today is all about Tú y Yo

What are Subject Pronouns in Spanish?

A subject pronoun is a special kind of pronoun that replaces the main subject of the sentence. Before you start getting dizzy looking at all these grammar terms, here is a very easy example using English subject pronouns:

  • John eats pizza. 
  • He eats pizza. 

In both of those examples, John is the subject of the sentence. John is doing the action of the verb (eat). 

In the second sentence, John is replaced by the subject pronoun “He”. And that’s all there is to it! Subject pronouns are just a type of pronoun that you use to replace people and things so that you don’t have to constantly refer to them by their name. 

Subject pronouns are used to make language a little quicker and easier. So it doesn’t matter if you speak Spanish or English, they serve the same purpose. And Spanish speakers, just like English speakers, have some variations in their subject pronouns that are worth mentioning. 

So let’s look at what the Spanish pronouns are: 

Spanish Subject Pronouns

There are actually more pronouns in Spanish than in English, so here is a chart to help you understand each subject pronoun.

Spanish Personal Pronouns English Personal Pronouns
Yo (singular) I
Tú / vos (singular – informal) You 
Usted (singular – formal) You 
Él / Ella (singular) He / She (or It)
Nosotros (plural) We
Ustedes (plural – Latin America) You (you all)
Vosotros (plural – Spain) You (you all)
Ellos / Ellas They

Gender

The first thing to notice when looking over Spanish pronouns is that they are grammatically gendered. If the subject is male, you need to use “Él”, but if the subject is female, then you would use “Ella”. 

If you need to use the word “It” in Spanish, as in an object that is non-human, then you would still use Él or Ella, and what is important is still the grammatical gender. 

Formality 

personal pronouns in spanish
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The next thing to pay attention to is the use of both formal and informal versions of You in singular and plural pronouns. This is something that is absolutely essential in Spanish, otherwise, you could come off as rude or unprofessional. 

There are some differences with this, geographically as well. But as a general rule, if you are speaking to a doctor, a teacher, the elderly, or some other professional, it is appropriate to address them as Usted. You should do this at least at first, especially in Latin America

If, afterwards, the other person wants to tell you that the level of respect is unnecessary, they may tell you, “Me puedes tutear”. Tutear means to use the version of the pronouns. 

Geographic Differences

There are many geographical differences with the pronouns, as you can see. The usage of the subject pronoun Vos is called Voseo. It comes in many different forms, but it is used primarily in many parts of South and Central America. In these places, Vos is used instead of . In areas of Latin America where speakers use Vos with friends, family, and in informal settings, verb tenses also have a specific conjugation. This is a very detailed topic for another day, but just remember – even if you don’t see it in a textbook, Vos is one of the most widely used subject pronouns.

In Spain, the second person plural is Vosotros. This is equivalent to the Southern American “Y’all”.  If you want to study Spanish in Spain, it’s absolutely crucial to understand this form. Although, it isn’t used almost at all in Latin America, where they prefer to use Ustedes as a second person plural.

Another difference with formality is that in Spain, it’s become increasingly common to address workers and professionals with Vosotros, rather than or Usted. For example, if you go to a clothing store, you might say: 

  • Vosotros tenéis esta camiseta en una L

So even if you are talking to one person, you can say Vosotros as a way to be polite. This is because it’s understood that the store worker is representing a business, rather than that one person being responsible for the entire clothing line. And since, in most of Spain, using Usted or Ustedes is seen as too formal in that context, Vosotros is an appropriate way to express respect. 

Mixed Gender Groups

personal subject pronouns in spanish
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This is one of the most controversial parts of the Spanish language. When you are referring to a group of people, you typically need to use Ellos. It doesn’t matter if it is a masculine or mixed-gender group, Ellos is used. 

The only time you would use Nosotras, Vosotras, or Ellas is when you have an all-female set of people. In a masculine or mixed group, it defaults to the grammatically male subject pronoun. 

In recent years, it’s become more common to try to include more inclusive language when referring to a mixed group. 

For this reason, you will see many people say “Ellos y Ellas”, “Nosotros y Nosotras”, etc. This is very common in speech. In written texts, you’ll often see “Ell@s” as a shorthand way of referring to more than one person in a more inclusive way. 

In some regions, other alternatives might come up, as well. For example, you might see Ellxs or Elles, like in the term LatinX that is now used in English. The truth is, there is no 100% globally-accepted way to handle this lack of language inclusivity and you’ll hear many people use different options and some people who prefer to stick to the masculine default.  

You can make your own judgment on that, but as you study Spanish, you should be aware that your word choice is important. 

Other types of pronouns in Spanish

Controversies aside, it’s time to give a brief mention to other types of pronouns in Spanish. You have many kinds of other pronouns that you will see, including:

So even though this article will focus on subject pronouns, try not to get them confused with indirect object pronouns or with direct object pronouns. Sometimes for English speakers, this can be difficult, so focus just on what was mentioned earlier.

When to Use Subject Pronouns in Spanish

Alright, now to get on to the fun stuff. You’ve got all the pronouns memorized and you know which ones you want to use. Now it’s time to figure out when to use them. 

Here are all the times when you should be using these kinds of personal pronouns in Spanish. 

To emphasize the subject

spanish personal subject pronouns
Image by Antoni Shkraba via Pexels

This is one of the most important cases. If you need to emphasize who the subject is, or the subject is unclear, then you should use a pronoun. Here are some examples to look at:

  • Las dos personas son muy listas y ella es abogada. – The two people are very smart and she is a lawyer.
  • Él es la persona que más admiro.He is the person who I most admire.
  • Ellos son los que son de Colombia.They are the ones that are from Colombia.
  • Teníamos la cena preparada, pero yo quería cenar fuera. – We had dinner ready, but I wanted to eat out.

In each of these examples, the subject pronoun is included either to clarify something or to draw emphasis. In the first sentence, Ella is included to specify that she, out of the group of two people, is the lawyer. 

In the last sentence, you can see that the yo is included to emphasize that I, out of the group of Nosotros, wanted to eat out. 

So anytime you need to add extra emphasis, you can include the subject pronoun. 

Pronoun without a verb

Sometimes in responses to questions, you can just use a pronoun without the verb. This is to avoid repetition of the same verb. You can do this because languages naturally like to make things quicker and easier, so you can just use the pronoun without the verb in situations where it’s clear. 

  • “¿Quién quiere tarta?” “¡Yo!” – “Who wants cake?” “Me! / I do!” 
  • “¿Quién canta muy bien?” “Él – “Who sings really well?” “Him / He does.

In both of these cases, you don’t need to add the verb as well, but instead can simply respond with the subject pronoun.

But be careful! As you can see, many native English speakers respond to these situations with the direct object pronoun, rather than the subject pronoun. It is an interesting trait of English speakers, especially because you would never say “Me want cake”, but you might respond to that question with “Me!”.

That is why it’s a good idea to understand the Spanish grammar of what you’re saying, rather than translating over word-for-word.

Comparisons after que

This is a pretty obvious case. Anytime you want to make a comparison with the word Que, then you can use a subject pronoun rather than the person’s name. For example

  • Alba es más alta que yo. – Alba is taller than me / I am.
  • José es más fuerte que nosotros. – José is stronger than us / we are.
  • María corre menos que ellos.  – María runs less than them / they do.
spanish subject pronouns
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Sometimes before Mismo, Tampoco, and También

This is a combination of adding subject pronouns for clarity and emphasis, it just so happens that these words often trigger them. It’s not always necessary, but many times you should use the pronouns before these words, especially if there is a change in subject or you want to stress something. 

  • Yo mismo me encargo de hacerlo.I’ll handle it myself. 
  • Ellos tampoco quieren ir de viaje.They don’t want to go on the trip either. 
  • Nosotros también tenemos un coche rojo.We also have a red car. 

Just remember, then when you use these words to respond to questions or statements, you have to make sure that your response makes sense. For example:

  • “Quiero ir a Francia” “Yo también.” – “I want to go to France” “Me too / I also do.”
  • “Me gusta Francia” “A mí también.” – “I like France” “Me too / I also do.”

In the second example, when you respond to statements like, “Me gusta”, “Me encanta”, etc., remember that you are using indirect object pronouns, not subject pronouns. 

Change of subject

If there is a change of subject, you must use a subject pronoun for clarity. If you have a long sentence, it helps keep things clear:

  • Juan y Laura se fueron de viaje, pero luego tuvieron que volver porque Juan no tenía su pasaporte y ella no estaba muy contenta. – Juan y Laura went on vacation, but they had to come back because Juan forgot his passport and she wasn’t very happy. 

So not only does the subject pronoun keep things easier to understand, it’s also necessary in a context like this. 

In a conversation, you should also do the same thing. For example, if your friend is telling you a story, and you want to contribute with a similar event that happened to you, then you have to include the pronoun, otherwise, it sounds like you weren’t listening to them.

spanish personal pronouns
Image by Helena Lopes via Unsplash

As an attribute

For today, just think of “attribute” as something that you use with the verbs Ser, Estar, and Parecer. There’s more to it than that, but let’s not get too crazy for now. 

So you would say sentences like:

  • Sí, soy yo. – Yes, that’s me. 
  • Él es él. – He is who he is. 

Those aren’t translated literally, but instead it gives the same meaning. 

When Not to Use a Spanish Subject Pronouns

You should not use a Spanish subject pronoun when you continue to talk about the same subject multiple times in a row. Since the verb conjugation is unique to each subject pronoun, it’s not necessary. 

Think of this as “language economy”. We are only going to use the pronouns if it’s necessary to spend that energy. So you’ll get something like this:

Ayer, (yo) fui al supermercado y yo encontré a mi ex, pero yo no quería hablar con él. Entonces, yo me fui corriendo para que él no me viera y yo no me di cuenta de que aún yo tenía el carrito en las maños y yo tuve que volver a entrar a pedir disculpas al manager. 

All of the pronouns in bold are unnecessary and should be removed! They are all obvious, so there’s no reason to include them. The first Yo is optional, depending on the context. Either way, we want to make languages easier, so get rid of redundant words! 

You’re all done!

You’ve done it! Whether you are a beginner or an advanced learner, you probably learned something new about subject pronouns in Spanish. And now that you’ve mastered this concept, show us that you can use them like a real native! Go ahead and sign up for a free private class or a 7-day free trial of our group classes so you can practice what you learned.

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