- Change personal nouns into subject pronouns
- Identify the correct conjugations of the verb ser (to be)
¡Ser, o no ser, es la cuestión! As this famous line shows, “to be” might be the most important verb out there, which is why it’s the first verb we’ll cover. The phrase “to be” is in the infinitive, the basic or uninflected form of a verb. In English the infinitive is a phrase that includes “to”: “to speak,” “to write,” “to live,” “to be.” A Spanish infinitive is only one word, and it ends in -ar, or -er, or -ir. When you use verbs in both languages, you will use the form that matches the subject. This is called conjugating a verb. In English, many of our verb conjugations do not change when different subjects are used. For example, “to write”: “I write, you write, they write, we write.” However: “she writes.” In Spanish, the conjugation is more elaborate, with six different verb endings to choose from depending on who is doing the action. The Spanish ser, like the English “to be,” is irregular. This means that the conjugation doesn’t follow the typical pattern. “I am, you are, he is; soy, eres, es“. With irregular verbs, you just have to memorize all the forms. We’ll work on that in this section. In order to understand verb conjugation in Spanish, you’ll also have to learn the subject pronouns. The subject of a sentence is the person, place, or thing performing the action of the sentence. Subject pronouns are words that can be used as the subject of a sentence rather than repeating the noun or name (Click here for an explanation of pronouns in English). In the following section, we’ll work on subject pronouns and the verb ser.
Your new friend, Manuel, is introducing himself and his family and friends. After reading his introduction, answer the questions below.
¡Hola! Me llamo Manuel y soy de Perú. Mi familia no es muy grande. Mi mamá se llama Teresa y ella es de Lima, la capital de Perú y una ciudad grande. Mi papá se llama Roberto y es de Chiclayo, una ciudad pequeña al norte de Lima. Mi mamá es amable y mi papá es generoso. Mis hermanos son Lucas y Marisol, ellos son inteligentes. Somos una familia muy unida (close-knit). Mis mejores amigos son Juan y Rodolfo, ellos son chicos tontos. Ellos son de Cuzco, cerca de Machu Picchu. Pero ahora, nosotros somos estudiantes en la Universidad de Lima. Las clases son difíciles. ¿Cómo es tu familia? ¿De dónde son tus amigos? ¿Eres estudiante también? ¿Cómo son tus clases?
Preguntas de análisis:
Preguntas de análisis:
1. Write down the following forms of the verb “ser”:
2. Based on the text, fill the blanks with the corresponding subject pronouns. ¡OJO! Some of the pronouns are in the text, some you will have to infer.
- Mi mamá: _______________
- Mi papá: _______________
- Juan y Rodolfo: _______________
- Manuel (the writer of the piece): _______________
- Manuel, Juan y Rodolfo (we): _______________
- You (the person being addressed): _______________
- Change personal nouns into subject pronouns
Pronombres de sujeto
Subject pronouns are words that can be used as the subject of a sentence rather than repeating the noun or name of the thing or person who is doing the action. (Click here for an explanation of pronouns in English)
In Spanish, the singular subjects are:
Plural subjects are:
/ nosotras *
/ vosotras **
|you (informal in Spain)|
|ustedes||you (formal in Spain; formal and informal elsewhere)|
*Nosotros (we) has a feminine nosotras that is used when the entire group is composed of females. Likewise, vosotros and ellos have feminine forms vosotras and ellas.
** In Latin America, vosotros is almost unheard of, and ustedes is exclusively used for the plural “you” in both formal and informal speaking.
As society has become more sensitive to questions of gender and sexual identity, people have begun experimenting with ways to adjust the traditional binary-gendered structure of the Spanish language. For now, you should begin by learning the pronouns as used in standard Spanish, as detailed above; click here to explore some of the experiments in gender-neutral language that Spanish speakers have been developing.
More detailed explanation of the subject pronouns in Spanish
English subject pronouns are divided into the following categories: first person – the person speaking, second person – the person spoken to, and third person – the person spoken about. These categories are further divided into singular and plural. While a similar structure is used in Spanish, there are differences in the way that certain subject pronouns are used.
While the first person singular yo works very much like the “I” in English, the first personal plural “we” has two forms in Spanish based on the gender composition of the group. If the group and speaker are all females then the nosotras form is used, but if there is a single male in the group, then the nosotros form is required. While the Spanish Academy of Languages has suggested recently that this be changed to agree with the gender of the majority, adoption of this will likely take some time in mainstream culture.
- Yo soy director. (I am a director.)
- Yo soy canadiense. (I am Canadian.)
- Nosotros somos directores. (We (male or male+female) are directors.)
- Nosotras somos directoras. (We (all female) are directors.)
Unlike English, Spanish has four forms for “you” based on number and the speaker’s familiarity with the person or persons who are being addressed.
The formal forms usted and ustedes are used to address anyone who you don’t know well or individuals for whom you should show respect or deference based on their age, seniority, or position (for example doctors, lawyers, your boss or a new acquaintance).
- Usted es el presidente. (You (formal singular) are the president.)
- Usted es muy inteligente. (You (formal singular) are very intelligent.)
- Ustedes hablan inglés. (You (formal plural) speak English.)
- ¿Ustedes son ingenieros? (Are you (formal plural) engineers?)
The familiar or informal forms tú (singular) and vosotros/as (plural) are used with anyone that you are on close terms with, for example your family, friends, children, pets, or anyone that you would feel comfortable in calling by their first name only. The vosotros/as form is utilized strictly in Spain and is not used in Latin America; in its place the Latin Americans use the ustedes form. Vosotros like “nosotros” also has to agree in gender based on the composition of the group.
- Tú eres mi amigo. (You (familiar singular) are my friend.)
- Tú eres muy inteligente. (You (familiar singular) are very intelligent.)
- Vosotros habláis inglés. (You (familiar plural: Spain) speak English.)
- ¿Vosotros sois ingenieros? (Are you (familiar plural: Spain) engineers?)
- Ustedes hablan inglés. (You (familiar plural:LA) speak English.)
- ¿Ustedes son ingenieros? (Are you (familiar plural:LA) engineers?)
There are circumstances when you will choose to break the formal vs. informal conventions, however, these alter the meaning of what you are saying.
In corporate settings it is always a good idea to use the formal until the individual requests that you use the informal with them. Unlike in the U.S., business interactions in the Spanish speaking world are formal. The use of first name as a sign of friendliness in U.S. and Canadian business interactions is often seen as a sign of disrespect in the Spanish speaking world.
The third person always agrees in gender and number with the person being talked about. Like nosotros/as, the masculine plural ellos is used with groups that include a male, while ellas is used with groups made up of entirely females.
- Él es mi amigo. (He is my friend.)
- Ella es mi amiga. (She is my friend.)
- Ellos son mis amigos. (They (at least one male) are my friends.)
- Ellas son mis amigas. (They (all female) are my friends.)
Contributors and Attributions
- Young Man. Authored by: Daniel Capelani. Located at: https://unsplash.com/photos/gRslJX1S4h0. License: Other. License Terms: Unsplash License
- En contexto: Los pronombres de sujeto / El verbo ser. Authored by: SUNY Oneonta with Lumen Learning. Provided by: SUNY Oneonta. License: CC BY: Attribution
- Los pronombres sujetos (detailed explanation). Provided by: Athabasca University. Located at: https://ocw.lms.athabascau.ca/mod/page/view.php?id=3122. Project: Beginner Spanish OER. License: CC BY: Attribution
- Yo soy usted album cover. Located at: https://youtu.be/1wEqRbLVHW8. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license
- Gramu00e1tica: Los pronombres de sujeto. Authored by: SUNY Oneonta with Lumen Learning. Provided by: SUNY Oneonta. License: CC BY: Attribution