Spanish Grammar Rules

Grammar might not have been your favorite subject in high school, but when learning Spanish, grammar is most definitely your friend! Grasping some of these basic grammar rules will give you a better, overall understanding of the Spanish language and a leg up on your road to mastering it.

Spanish Word Order

You’re in luck because word order in Spanish is much more flexible than in English. The word order of a Spanish sentence is as basic as:

subject + verb + rest of sentence

Example:
Juan corre en el parque. → Juan runs in the park.

However, whereas in English, “Juan runs in the park” is the only grammatically acceptable sentence, in Spanish, all of the following sentences are acceptable:

Corre Juan en el parque. (verb + subject + rest of sentence)
En el parque Juan corre. (rest of sentence + subject + verb)
Corre en el parque Juan. (verb + rest of sentence + subject)

Word Order when Forming Questions in Spanish
Similarly, when forming questions in Spanish, the structure can be very flexible. In all of the examples below, the meaning of the sentences is the same, “Is Carlos a lawyer?”

¿Carlos es abogado?
¿Es Carlos abogado?
¿Es abogado Carlos?

Note: Spanish questions always begin with an inverted question mark.

When we add question words like, dónde (where), cuándo (when), qué (what) and por qué (why), they always stay next to the verb in the sentence. However, the rest of the sentence structure, including where the subject goes, remains flexible. Look at the examples below:

¿Dónde están mis llaves? → Where are my keys.
Mis llaves, ¿dónde están? → My keys, where are they?

Regular Verbs in Spanish

Verbs might be the single most important focus of the Spanish language as there are so many ways to express one idea just through verb usage and conjugation. This makes the Spanish the language both eloquent and beautiful, but also tricky for the Spanish beginner. Not to worry though! Below you will find a basic breakdown of how verbs work.

Infinitives
All regular verbs have an infinitive form that ends in either -ar, -er or -ir.

Example:
hablar → to talk
comer → to eat
escribir → to write

Conjugations
These verbs are then conjugated based on the subject and tense of the sentence. The -ar, -er and -ir ending is dropped and you are left with the base form of the verb, to which you then add the corresponding ending.

Example:
hablar (infinitive form) = habl (base form) = Yo hablo (I talk)

Now, brace yourself - there are 32 tenses (including both indicative and subjunctive) in Spanish, while English has only 13. But not to worry, you will only use about half of these tenses on a regular basis.

Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

Reflexive verbs are used when the object and subject are the same person. In other words, the person doing the action is the same person receiving it. Although reflexive verbs do not exist in English, the concept does, as we have the expressions myself, yourself, himself herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves and themselves. Reflexive infinitive forms always have “se” tacked onto the end of them to express that the reflexive pronoun must be used when conjugating.

Infinitive Forms of Reflexive Verbs

bañarse → to bathe oneself
ponerse → to put on oneself
cepillarse → to brush

Reflexive Pronouns

me → myself
te → yourself
se → himself/herself
nos → ourselves
os → yourselves (Spain)
se → themselves/yourselves (Latin America)

Examples of Conjugated Reflexive Verbs

Me baño. → I bathe myself.
Me pongo los zapatos. → I put on my shoes (on myself).
Me cepillo los dientes. → I brush my teeth (on myself).

Most reflexive verbs can also be used in their non-reflexive form which can change the meaning.

Example:
cuidar a alguien - to take care of someone
cuidarse - to take care of oneself

Me cuido bien. → I take good care of myself.
Cuido a mis hijos. → I take care of my children.

Gender in Spanish

In Spanish, all nouns have a gender - either masculine or feminine. For English speakers, who have never dealt with the gender of nouns in their mother language, it can be a little tricky to answer the question, is that thing feminine or masculine? To help make the process easier, there are some basic rules to follow.

Remember that all nouns are expressed using the definite article that matches in gender and number.

el → singular masculine article
la → singular feminine article
los → plural masculine article
las → plural feminine article

Examples:

el perro → the male dogs
los perros → the male dogs
la gata → the female cat
las gatas → the female cats

General rules to follow when trying to figure out the gender of a noun:

  1. Most nouns that end in “o” are masculine and nouns that end in “a” are feminine.
    1. la mesa → the table
    2. el vaso → the glass
  2. For people and animals, you must change the ending of the noun to match the gender of the person or animal you are talking about.
    1. el gato/la gata → male/female cat
    2. el abuelo/la abuela → grandfather/grandmother
  3. Letters of the alphabet are feminine while numbers and dates are masculine
    1. la (letra) “b” → the (letter) “b”
    2. el 24 de abril → the 24th of april
  4. Days of the week are masculine while months are normally expressed without a definite article (note: neither days of the week or months are capitalized in Spanish)
    1. el lunes, el martes, el miercoles → Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday
    2. enero, febrero, marzo → January, February, March

Adjectives in Spanish

Spanish speakers are very descriptive and thus, it is important to be familiar with the correct use of adjectives in Spanish. There are two key rules that you must remember:

  1. Adjectives come after the noun that they modify. This is different from English where the adjective comes before.

    Example:
    La casa antigua tiene 100 años. → The old house is 100 years old.

  2. Adjectives must agree in gender and in number with the noun they are modifying.

    Example:
    Los platos blancos. → The white plates.
    La nina alta. → The tall girl.

Demonstrative Adjectives in Spanish

When learning a new language, new vocabulary is acquired over time. Therefore, knowing some basic demonstrative adjectives in Spanish can help you get through a situation where you don’t know or have forgotten a word.

este/esta/estos/estas → this, these
ese/esa/esos/esas → that, those (things that are close in distance or time to you)
aquel/aquella/aquellos/aquellas → that, those (things that are far in distance or time to you)

Examples:
¿Cuánto cuesta estos? → How much do these cost?
Estos son mios. → These are mine.
¿Puedo ver esa camisa? → Can I see that shirt?
Aquel día, estaba muy feliz. → That day I was really happy.

Prepositions in Spanish

There are far fewer prepositions in Spanish than there are in English so you’re in luck! Here are some of the most basic and common prepositions in Spanish (although, there are a total of 26):

a → to, at
en → in, into, by
con → with, to
de → from, of

There are no prepositional phrases in Spanish. For example, to get out of the car, to get into the car, and to get onto the car, each have specific verbs in Spanish (bajarse del coche, subirse al coche, ponerse encima del coche).

Although this is a just a brief introduction to some of the major grammar rules in Spanish, it is a great starting point for your Spanish learning! If you want to learn about breaking Spanish grammar rules, check out some popular Spanglish words.

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