Using Personal Subject Pronouns in Spanish

When used, they usually emphasize or clarify

Hispanic female teacher in front of blackboard with Spanish pronouns and conjugated verbs

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Spanish pronouns are usually used much like their English counterparts. The biggest difference is that subject pronouns (ones used to tell who or what is performing the action of the main verb in a sentence) can be omitted where they're required in English.

In other words, subject pronouns in Spanish are used primarily for clarity or emphasis.

The 12 Personal Subject Pronouns of Spanish

  • yo — I
  • — you (singular familiar)
  • usted — you (singular formal)
  • él, ella — he, she
  • nosotros, nosotras — we
  • vosotros, vosotras — you (plural familiar)
  • ustedes — you (plural formal)
  • ellos, ellas — they

These are called personal subject pronouns to distinguish them from the demonstrative pronouns, the equivalent of words such as "this" and "those." There is also a subject pronoun ello, which can be the rough equivalent of "it," but it is rarely used.

Note that even though él, ella, ellos, and ellas usually refer to people or animals, they can on occasion refer to inanimate objects, with the pronoun matching the grammatical gender of the object or objects being referred to.

Vosotros and vosotras are seldom used in most of Latin America, where ustedes can be used even when talking with close friends or children.

How To Use or Omit Subject Pronouns

Because verb conjugation often suggests who or what the subject of a sentence is, one can properly leave out the subject pronoun or put it at various places in the sentence. "Voy a la escuela," "yo voy a la escuela," "voy yo a la escuela," and "voy a la escuela yo" are all grammatically correct ways of saying "I am going to the school" (although the final option would be highly uncommon except if said for poetic effect). But the placement of the pronoun can make a difference in how the sentence is understood.

To see how these pronouns are used, examine the sentences below. Subject pronouns, where used, are in boldface:

  • Mi hermano es muy inteligente. Es doctor. (My brother is intelligent. He is a doctor.) — No subject pronoun is needed in the second sentence, because the subject of the sentence is made clear by the context and the verb form.
  • Mis mejores amigos se llaman Roberto, Ahmad y Suzanne. Son estudiantes. (My best friends are Roberto, Ahmad, and Suzanne. They are students.) — The pronoun is unnecessary in the second Spanish sentence and normally wouldn't be used becauses it is clear who is being referred to.
  • Es fácil comprender el libro. (It is easy to understand the book.) — No pronoun is used to translate an impersonal use of "it."
  • Mi hermano y su esposa son inteligentes. Él es doctor, y ella es abogada. (My brother and his wife are intelligent. He is a doctor, and she is a lawyer.) — In this case, the subject pronouns él and ella are used for clarity.
  • Tú, ella y yo vamos al cine. (You, she, and I are going to the movies.) — Note that in this construction the first-person plural form of the verb (the one that would be used with the equivalent of "we") is used. Thus it is possible to use that verb form without using the pronoun nosotros.
  • Hazlo. (Do it.) Hazlo tú. (You do it.) — In a command such as this, the addition of the subject often has a similar effect to its use in English. Although grammatically not necessary, the addition of the subject serves to place additional emphasis on the subject.
  • Ella canta bien. (She sings well.) Canta bien ella. She sings well. — The pronoun would be used in the first sentence if there's no context to clearly indicate who is being talked about. By placing ella at the end of the second sentence, the speaker is placing a strong emphasis on the pronoun. The emphasis in the second sentence is on the singer and not the singing.
  • ¿Vas a salir? (Are you leaving?) ¿Vas a salir tú? (Are you leaving?) — The first sentence is a simple, uninflected question. But the second one, by adding the subject at the end of sentence, is placing a strong emphasis on the person leaving. One possible translation might be "Are even you leaving?" Or one might render the English as "Are you leaving?" with a stress or emphasis on "you."
  • Nunca va ella al centro. (She never goes downtown.) Ya ha salido él. (He has already left.) — It is common when certain adverbs start a sentence to immediately follow the adverb with the verb, followed by the subject. No special emphasis on the subject is intended. Adverbs often used this way include nunca, ya, bastante, and quizás.
  • — Te amo, dijo él. — También te amo, respondió ella. ("I love you," he said. "I love you too," she responded.) — When reporting what people have said, it is common to use the subject pronoun after verbs such as decir (to say), preguntar (to ask), and responder (to reply). No special emphasis on the speaker is intended. (Note: The dashes in the Spanish sentences are a type of quotation mark.)
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Erichsen, Gerald. "Using Personal Subject Pronouns in Spanish." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Erichsen, Gerald. (2023, April 5). Using Personal Subject Pronouns in Spanish. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "Using Personal Subject Pronouns in Spanish." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).