Spanish grammar

From Academic Kids

Template:Spanish Spanish is a relatively inflected language, with a two-gender system and about fifty conjugated forms per verb, but no noun declension and limited pronominal declension.

The Real Academia Española traditionally dictated the rules of the Spanish language, but since the 1960s its prestige has declined. Its decisions are taken as suggestions by the educated and ignored by the uneducated. This article first describes the most formal and standard rules that modern Spanish works by, and then goes on to detail deviations from these that one might encounter in local or colloquial varieties of the language, such as pienso de que... or la dije que....



Main articles: Spanish verbs, Spanish conjugation and Spanish irregular verbs.

Verbs are one of the trickiest areas of Spanish for foreigners as they are fairly complex, with over fifty conjugated forms per verb.


Main article: Spanish nouns

Spanish has nouns that express concrete objects, groups and classes of objects, qualities, feelings and other abstractions. As in English, all nouns are either countable or uncountable (not to imply that the distinction is always clear-cut) and, unlike English, also have a conventional grammatical gender (masculine or feminine). Countable nouns inflect for number (singular and plural). See the main article for further information.


Main article: Spanish adjectives

Generally speaking, Spanish uses adjectives in a similar way to English and most other Indo-European languages. Unlike in English, Spanish adjectives usually go after the noun they modify, and they agree with what they refer to in terms of both number (singular/plural) and gender (masculine/feminine). See the main article for further information.


Main article: Spanish determiners

Spanish uses determiners in a similar way to English. The main difference is that that they "agree" with what they refer to in terms of both number (singular/plural) and gender (masculine/feminine).

Here are some determiners: este (esta, estos, estas); ese (esa, esos, esas); aquel (aquella, aquellos, aquellas); el (la, los, las, lo); un (una, unos, unas); mi (mis), tu (tus), su (sus), nuestro (nuestra, nuestros, nuestras), vuestro (vuestra, vuestros, vuestras); mucho (mucha, muchos, muchas); poco (poca, pocos, pocas); otro (otra, otros, otras)...

See the main article for further details.


Main article: Spanish pronouns

Spanish has a range of pronouns that in some ways work quite differently from English ones. They include: yo, tú, usted, él, ella, ello, nosotros, vosotros, ustedes, ellos, ellas, esto, eso, aquello etc. See the main article for further details.


Main article: Spanish prepositions

The Spanish language has a relatively large number of prepositions, and does not use postpositions. The following list is traditionally recited:

A, ante, bajo, cabe, con, contra, de, desde, durante, en, entre, hacia, hasta, mediante, para, por, según, sin, so, sobre, tras.

This list includes two archaic prepositions (so and cabe), but leaves out two new Latinisms (vía and pro) as well as a large number of very important compound prepositions. See the main article for further information.


Cleft sentences

A cleft sentence is one formed with the copular verb (generally with a dummy pronoun like "it" as its subject), plus a word that "cleaves" the sentence, plus a subordinate clause. They are often used to put emphasis on a part of the sentence. Here are some examples of English sentences and their cleft versions:

  • "I did it." → "It was me/I who/that did it."
  • "You'll stop smoking through willpower." → "It's through willpower that you'll stop smoking."

Spanish does not usually employ such a structure in simple sentences. The translations of sentences like these are readily analysable as being normal sentences containing relative pronouns. Spanish is capable of expressing such concepts without a special cleft structure thanks to its flexible word order.

For example, if we translate a cleft sentence such as "It was John who lost the keys", we get Fue Juan el que perdió las llaves. Whereas the English sentence uses a special structure, the Spanish one does not. The verb fue has no dummy subject, and the pronoun el que is not a cleaver but a nominalising relative pronoun meaning "the [male] one that". We can freely play with the word order of the Spanish sentence without affecting its structure. For example, we can say Juan fue el que perdió las llaves ("Juan was the one who lost the keys") or El que perdió las llaves fue Juan ("The one who lost the keys was Juan"). As can be seen from the translations, if this word order is chosen, English stops using the cleft structure (there is no more dummy "it" and a nominalising relative is used instead of the cleaving word) whilst in Spanish no words have changed.

Here are some examples of such sentences:

  • Fue Juan el que perdió las llaves. = "It was John who lost the keys."
  • Son sólo tres días los que te quedan. = "It is only three days that you have left."
  • Seré yo quien se lo diga. = "It will be I/me who tells him."
  • Son pocos los que vienen y se quedan. = lit. "It's not many who come and stay"

Note that it is ungrammatical to try to use just que to cleave such sentences as in English.

  • *Fue Juan que perdió las llaves. (incorrect)

When prepositions come into play, things become complicated. Structures unambiguously identifiable as cleft sentences are used. The verb ser introduces the stressed element and then there is a nominaliser. Both of these are preceded by the relevant preposition. For example:

  • Fue a mí a quien le dio permiso. = "It was me that he gave permission to", lit. "It was to me to whom he gave permission.")
  • Es para nosotros para quienes se hizo esto. = "It's us that this was made for", lit. "It's for us for the whom this was made"
  • Es por eso por lo que lo hice. = "That's why I did it", more literally: "It's because of that that I did it", or completely literally: "It's because of that because of which I did it."
  • Es así como se debe hacer = "It's this way that it must be done", lit. "It's this way how it must be done" (como replaces longer expressions such as la forma en que)

This structure is quite wordy, and is therefore often avoided by not using a cleft sentence at all. Emphasis is conveyed just by word order and stressing with the voice (indicated here withing bolding):

  • Me dio permiso a . = "He gave permission to me"
  • Se hizo esto para nosotros. = "This was done for us"
  • Por eso lo hice. = "I did it because of that"
  • Se debe hacer así = "It must be done this way"

In uneducated speech in Spain, or casual speech in Latin America, the complex cleaving pronoun is often reduced to que, just as it is reduced to "that" in English. Foreign learners are advised to avoid this.

  • ?Fue a mí que le dio permiso.
  • ?Es para nosotros que se hizo esto.
  • ?Es por eso que lo hice.
  • ?Es así que se debe hacer

In the singular, the subordinate clause can agree with either the relative pronoun or with the subject of the main sentence. However, in the plural, only agreement with the subject of the main sentence is acceptable. Therefore:

  • Yo fui el que me lo bebí = "I'm the one who drank it" (agreement with subject of main sentence)
  • Yo fui el que se lo bebió (same translation, agreement with el que)
  • La que lo soy yo = "I'm the one who knows" (agreement with subject of main sentence)
  • La que lo sabe soy yo = (same translation, agreement with la que)
  • Somos los únicos que no tenemos ni un centavo para apostar = "We're the only ones who haven't got a cent to bet" (agreement with subject of main sentence) (from dialogue of García Márquez novel)
  • Vosotras sois las que lo sabéis = "You girls are the ones who know" (agreement with las que)

External link

  • Lista de Errores (


no:Spansk grammatikk


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