Personal Pronouns in Spanish Grammar

Introduction

Personal pronouns, or los pronombres personales, identify the subject or object of a verb, whether they are people, animals or things. We can use them to replace a previously-mentioned noun, speak about ourselves, or address other people. The type of pronoun we use depends on the function of that noun in a sentence i.e. subject or object.

Learn how to use Spanish personal pronouns and the difference between prepositional, indirect and direct object pronouns with Lingolia. Then practise in the exercises.

Example

Yo tengo una novia. Ella es muy simpática y a me gusta mucho. Me encanta cantarle canciones con la guitarra. Quizás a ti no gustan, pero ella no las puede dejar de escuchar.

Eres sol y haces feliz.

Para , eres el amor de vida.

y amaremos siempre, ¡oh, sí!

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Overview of Spanish Personal Pronouns

Personal pronouns identify the participants in a discussion. Use the first person to refer to the speaker, the second person to the listener, and the third person to someone outside the conversation. Personal pronouns in Spanish can act as the subject or object of a verb (i.e. who executes the action, who receives it, etc.). Depending on their function, pronouns take on different forms. The table below provides an overview of Spanish personal pronouns.

person subject direct object indirect object prepositional English Translation
singular 1st person yo me I, me
2nd person te ti you (informal)
usted* lo/la le, se usted* you (formal)
3rd person él lo él he, him
ella la ella she, her
plural 1st person nosotros nos nosotros we, us (masculine)
nosotras nosotras we, us (feminine)
2nd person vosotros os vosotros you all (masculine)
vosotras vosotras you all (feminine)
ustedes* los/las les, se ustedes* you all (formal)
3rd person ellos los ellos they, them
ellas las ellas

* Usted and ustedes are formal. They are used to show respect to a conversation partner in Spanish. They can be used in singular and plural together with a verb conjugated in the third person.

voseo

In many Latin-American countries, the pronoun vos is used with the conjugation of the 2nd person plural instead of the pronouns , vosotros and usted/ustedes. This phenomenon is known as voseo. In certain countries such as Argentina, Paraguay, or Uruguay, the -i of the verb ending is also removed in this case (see form in brackets).

Example:
tú cantas → vos cantáis (vos cantás)
usted dijo → vos dijisteis (vos dijistés)
vosotros comisteis → vos comisteis (vos comistés)

Usage

Subject pronouns

The Spanish subject pronouns, or los pronombres personales de sujeto, are summarized in the table below:

subject pronouns example
singular 1st person yo Yo no tengo ni idea.I have no idea.
2nd person
vos
usted
¿Y tú qué necesitas?And what do you need?
Vos tenés razón.you are right.
¿Usted necesita algo más?Do you anything else?
3rd person

él, ella

Ella es la jefa.She’s the boss.
plural 1st person nosotros, -as Nosotras nos marchamos ya.We are leaving.
2nd person vosotros, -as
ustedes
¿Vosotros sois de aquí?Are you from here?
Ustedes esperen fuera, por favor.Please wait outside.
3rd person ellos, -as Ellos no tienen las llaves.They don’t have the keys.

Since the conjugated verb endings in Spanish grammar already indicate person and number, subject pronouns can be left out.

Example:
Yo tengo una novia./Tengo una novia.I have a girlfriend.

However, there are still some cases when it is necessary to use a subject pronoun:

  • to emphasise the subject
    Example:
    Ella es la que es muy simpática.She is the one who’s very nice.
  • when a pronoun is used without a verb
    Example:
    ¿Quién canta canciones? - Yo.Who sings songs? - Me.
  • in comparisons after que
    Example:
    Mi novia es más alta que yo.My girlfriend is taller than me.
  • before certain words such as a, mismo, también, tampoco
    Example:
    Yo mismo no puedo dejar de cantar mis canciones.I myself can’t stop singing my songs.

Object pronouns

In Spanish, we differentiate between stressed and unstressed object pronouns.

  • The unstressed object pronoun is always used with a verb.
    Example:
    Me encanta cantarle canciones.I like singing songs to her.
  • The stressed object pronoun doesn’t need a verb – it comes after a preposition.
    Example:
    Yo escribo canciones para ella/ti.I write songs for her/you.
  • We also use the stressed object pronoun to emphasise the object in particular. In this case, however, we need to use the unstressed object pronoun as well.
    Example:
    A mí me encanta cantar canciones.I like singing songs. (emphasis on I)

Direct or Indirect Object

If we want to replace a noun with an object pronoun, first we need to figure out if it’s a direct or an indirect object.

In a sentence with two objects, this is easy, because we can recognise the indirect object by the preposition a before the noun. In this case, the indirect object is usually a person and the direct object is a thing.

Example:
Ruben gave his girlfriend a flower. (To whom?)
Ruben ha regalado una flor a su novia.
→ Ruben le ha regalado una flor.
→ Ruben la ha regalado a su novia.
→ Ruben se la ha regalado.

It gets more complicated if there is only one object and it’s a person – because the accusative for people also takes an a. In this case, all we can do is check if the non-human object is used with a as well.

Example:
Conozco a Ruben. → Le/Lo conozco.I know Ruben./I know him.
Conozco sus canciones. → Las conozco.I know his songs./I know them.

conocer algo/a alguiento know/be familiar with someone/something → direct object (accusative)

La guitarra pertenece a Ruben. → Le pertenece la guitarra.The guitar belongs to Ruben. → The guitar belongs to him.
La cuerda pertenece a la guitarra. → Le pertenece la cuerda.The string belongs to the guitar. → The string belongs to it.

pertenecer a algo/a alguiento belong to someone/something → indirect object (dative)

When in doubt, just check a dictionary, where the letters vi (intransitive verb) tell us that here it can only be an indirect object. If instead we see the letters vt (transitive verb), that means we’re either dealing with a direct object or a sentence with two objects, in which case we can easily recognise the indirect object (see above).

Placement of Object Pronouns

  • With conjugated verbs and the negative imperative, the unstressed object pronoun comes before the verb.
    Example:
    Me encanta cantar canciones.I like to sing songs.
    No me cantes canciones.Don’t sing me any songs!
  • In sentences with an infinitive or gerund, we can either attach the pronoun to the infinitive/gerund or else place it before the conjugated verb. In order to keep the pronunciation from changing, an accent sometimes has to be added in this situation.
    Example:
    Quiero cantar otra canción. → La quiero cantar./Quiero cantarla.I want to sing another song. → I want to sing it.
    Estoy cantando canciones. → Las estoy cantando./Estoy cantándolas.I sing songs. → I sing them.
  • In the positive imperative, the unstressed object pronoun is always added to the imperative form. Sometimes we have to add an accent in order to keep the emphasis the same.
    Example:
    ¡Canta las canciones otra vez! → ¡Cántalas otra vez!Sing the songs again! → Sing them again!
  • If we are using both a direct and an indirect object as pronouns, the indirect object-pronoun comes before the direct object-pronoun.
    Example:
    ¿Dónde has comprado la guitarra? – Me la regaló mi madre.Where did you buy the guitar? – My mother gave it to me.
    in Spanish: My mother gave me it.
  • Two pronouns that both begin with l cannot follow each other. If the indirect and direct object-pronouns must be used one after the other in the 3rd person, the indirect object-pronoun (le/les) becomes se.
    Example:
    Canto canciones a mi novia. → Se las canto.I sing songs to my girlfriend. → I sing them to her.
    in Spanish: I sing her them.
    (not: Le las canto.)

Enclitic Pronouns

When a pronoun is directly attached to the end of the verb, we call it an enclitic pronoun (in Spanish: pronombre enclítico). If there are two enclitic pronouns, the indirect object pronoun comes before the direct object pronoun.

  • after an infinitive verb
    Example:
    Quiero comprar un regalo. → Lo quiero comprar. → Quiero comprarlo.
    Quiero comprar un regalo a María. → Se lo quiero comprar. → Quiero comprárselo.
  • after a gerund
    Example:
    Estoy cantando una canción. → La estoy cantando. → Estoy cantándola.
    Estoy cantando una canción a María. → Se la estoy cantando. → Estoy cantándosela.
  • after a verb in the imperative (For the imperative, pronouns are always enclitic – they can never come before the verb.)
    Example:
    Trae los libros. → Traelos.
    Trae los libros a la profesora. → Traeselos.