The Spanish language
has a range of pronouns
that in some ways work quite differently from English ones.
Here is a cumulative list of personal pronouns from Peninsular, Latin American and Ladino Spanish
. While the pronouns used by Ladino speakers of Spanish are not officially recognized by the Real Academia Española, they are nonetheless still Spanish . Ladino or Judeo-Español, spoken by Sephardic Jews, is different from Latin American and Peninsular Spanish in that it retains rather archaic formations and usage of personal pronouns. Refer to Spanish dialects and varieties
for more information. Latin American Spanish differs from Peninsular Spanish mainly in the usage of vos
in some areas and in the lack of vosotros
, among other things. Note that Latin American Spanish and Ladino are more traditional than Peninsular Spanish in both grammar and vocabulary . The next section explains their usage. Subject personal pronouns are usually omitted due to context, as Spanish is a pro-drop language
, but it is not really rare to see pronouns in written documents and in the spoken language, whether for emphasis or where confusion between conjugations would arise.
Table of Personal Pronouns
|3rd||él, ella, ello, usted/vusted/vusía/vuecencia||se, lo, la||le
|sí, él, ella, ello||con él/ella/usted, etc.|
|nosotros, nosotras||con nosotros/nosotras|
|vosotros, vosotras||con vosotros/vosotras|
|3rd||ellos, ellas, ustedes/vustedes/vusías/vuecencias||se, los, las||les
|sí, ellos, ellas||con ellos/ellas/ustedes, etc.|
Note: Consigo can also be translated as "I get", from the Spanish verb "conseguir". However, consigo is used reflexively, unlike conmigo and contigo.Nominative case (subject, stressed)
- yo, tú, vos, usted/vusted/vusía/vuecencia, él/ella/ello, nosotros/nosotras, vosotros/vosotras, ustedes/vustedes/vusías/vuecencias, ellos/ellasAccusative case (direct object, unstressed, but see below for direct objects preceded by preposition "a")
- me, te, lo/la/se, nos, os/vos, los/las/seDative case (indirect object, unstressed, but see below for indirect objects preceded by preposition "a")
- me, te, le/se, nos, os/vos, les/sePrepositional case (objects and complements preceded by prepositions, except for preposition "con", stressed)
- mí, ti, vos, él/ella/ello/sí, nosotros/nosotras/nos, vosotros/vosotras/vos, ellos/ellas/sí
Observe that for direct and indirect objects, when they are preceded by the preposition a the pronoun will be in the prepositional case instead of in the accusative or dative. Thus, "I saw her" becomes La vi a ella and "He gave it to me" becomes Me lo dió a mí (see also clitic doubling for the use of reduplicated pronouns).Comitative case (prepositional complement preceded by the preposition "con" (with), stressed)
When the preposition is con, the first, second and third person singular take the following forms:
- *con mí → conmigo = "with me"
- *con ti → contigo = "with you"
- *con sí → consigo = "with yourself(formal)/himself/herself/itself" (reflexive)
The other persons do not have distinct comitative case forms and simply take the prepositional case preceded by "con" (e.g., con nosotros, con vosotras, con ella, con ellos...). The plural first and second person forms, connosco and convosco, are archaic forms no longer in use but some vestiges may be found in Ladino variants.Genitive case (possessive)
Adjectival forms (cf. English my, your), unstressed:
- mi / mis
- tu / tus
- su / sus
- nuestro / nuestra / nuestros / nuestras
- vuestro / vuestra / vuestros / vuestras
- su / sus
Pronominal forms (cf. English mine, yours), stressed:
- mío / mía / míos / mías
- tuyo / tuya / tuyos / tuyas
- suyo / suya / suyos / suyas
- nuestro / nuestra / nuestros / nuestras
- vuestro / vuestra / vuestros / vuestras
- suyo / suya / suyos / suyas
The pronoun "vos
" is used by some Latin Americans, particularly in Central America, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, the state of Zulia in Venezuela, and the Andean regions of Colombia, Bolivia, Perú, Ecuador and Chile. There it can be used with the same treatment that "tú" is used (informal and intimate) or in some areas it is employed among equals but not to very close people (couples or family) or to "inferiors" (children, animals etc.), where the pronoun "tú" would normally be used.
Ladino speakers use "vos" as well, only that they employ it with the same treatment as "usted" is used. In fact, Ladino speakers do not use "usted" at all because "vos" implies the same respect that it once had in Old Spanish. In Ladino, "tú" is used towards anyone in an informal manner.
The use of vusted and vuestra merced
The variant vusted/vustedes is mostly a regionalism of some South American countries. It is common to hear it in isolated areas of Colombia
. It is archaic for other speakers of the language because it is an older form of the diminutive for vuestra merced. In Colombia it is not rare to hear people use "su merced" for usted or vusted. It is used interchangeable by most users however. It can be used to replace a person's name as well, e.g. when speaking to an older man named Miguel, one could say, "Su merced, ¿por qué no vienen vusted y sus nietos a mi casa esta tarde?"
Vuestra merced and vuestras mercedes ("Your mercy" and "your mercies") are the origin of usted, usarcé and similar forms that are conjugated in the third person to address the second one. They are mostly confined to period works now. (Some point that the formation of usted might also have been influenced by Arabic ustādh, "professor", together with vuestra merced.)
The use of vosotros
The pronoun vosotros
is completely absent in Latin America except among some speakers of Ladino, or written legal language, in countries like Venezuela, Curaçao, Cuba, Mexico, or Argentina. It is still used as the second-person, familiar plural for most people in Spain, except in some southwestern regions and in most of the Canary islands, and is the only form used by the Sephardic Jews that speak Ladino.
While Spanish is no longer widely spoken in the Philippines, vosotros is widely used among those who do speak it. Additionally, vosotros is taught in Spanish language courses.
In Equatorial Guinea, vosotros and its normal conjugations are used in daily speech.
Forms based on vosotros and vos are used in many Spanish-based creole languages.
In Chavacano, spoken in the Philippines, vo is used alongside tu as a singular second-person pronoun in Zamboangueño, Caviteño, and Ternateño. In Zamboangueño, evos is also used.
For the plural, Zamboangueño has vosotros while Caviteño has vusos.
Papiamento, spoken in Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao, maintains boso (singular) and bosonan (plural).
Since it was used with slaves, the forms that seemed disrespectful in the rest of America were common.
is the equivalent of I
, where it is concords in first person singular.
In Spanish slang, el menda
/ la menda
can be used as an emphatic I
, concording with a third person verb, but its use is receding.
The use of le/les
The pronouns le
(singular) and les
(plural) are used to replace the indirect object of a sentence. In some dialects, le
can be used for the plural too. As an exception, when the direct object is also replaced by a pronoun (lo/los, la/las
) the indirect object is replaced by the pronoun se
, in both singular and plural.
- Le di el libro. = "I gave the book to her/him."
- Se lo di. = "I gave it to her/him."
As a general rule, the unstressed third-person object pronouns in Spanish are lo, la, los, las
. This is the current position of the Real Academia Española
. This is a reasonable generalisation given that it is true in over 90% of cases in over 90% of the Spanish-speaking world. However, it is helpful to take note of the various exceptions to this general rule whereby le/les
rather than lo, la, los, las
are used. Note however that this use is rather modern and often found only in part of Spain whereas the use of lo, la, los, las
is considered more traditional.
Theoretical basis for the use of direct-object le/les
There are various diachronic and synchronic reasons for the use of le/les
for direct objects. To understand why there is vacillation and hesitation in usage, it is helpful to understand these often-conflicting linguistic forces.a) Masculine e
There is a strong tendency in Spanish, inherited from Latin, for pronouns and determiners to have a set of three different endings for the three genders. These are: -e
or ∅ for masculine pronouns, -a
for feminine pronouns and -o
for neuter pronouns.
Thus, we have éste, ésta, esto, ése, ésa, eso; aquél, aquélla, aquello; el, la, lo; él, ella, ello.
In this context, it would make sense to say le vi "I saw him" for any masculine noun, la vi "I saw her/it" for any feminine noun, and lo vi "I saw it" when no noun is being referred to. The use of "le" as the direct object pronoun is only used in Spain and it can only mean "him" Le vi. Use "lo" for things. ¿Tienes tu libro? Sí, lo tengo.
This gives us a set like the above: le, la, lo.b) Indirectness for humans — general
Spanish has a tendency, discussed at Spanish prepositions, to treat as indirect objects those direct objects which happen to refer to people. In this context, it would make sense to say le/les vi "I saw him/her/them" when referring to people and lo/la/los/las vi "I saw it/them" when referring to things.b1) Indirectness for humans — respect for the interlocutor
The general tendency to use indirect objects for people is intensified when the speaker wishes to convey respect. The third person in Spanish can be used as the second person to mean "you". In this context, it would make sense to use lo/la/los/las vi "I saw him/her/it/them" when one is speaking about a third party or an object, but le/les vi "I saw you" when the pronoun is intended to represent usted/ustedes.b2) Indirectness for humans — contrast with inanimate things
The general tendency to use indirect objects for people is intensified when the subject of the sentence is not human, thus creating a contrast in the mind of the speaker between the human and the thing. In this context, it would make sense to say la halagó "he flattered her" when the subject is "he" referring to a person, but le halagó "it flattered her" when the subject is "it", a thing.b3) Indirectness for humans — humanity otherwise emphasised
The general tendency to use indirect objects for people is intensified when the humanity of the person who is the object of the sentence is emphasised by the way the verb is used. In this context, it would make sense for a subtle distinction to be made between lo llevamos al hospital "we took/carried him to the hospital" when the patient is unconscious and le llevamos al hospital "we took/led him to the hospital" when the patient is able to walk.b4) Indirectness for humans — with impersonal se
The general tendency to use indirect objects for people is intensified when impersonal se is used instead of a real subject. This is to avoid the misinterpretation of the se as being an indirect object pronoun. In this context, it would make sense to say se le lee mucho "people read him/her a lot" if "se" means "people" and "le" means "him/her", and reserve se lo/la lee mucho "he/she reads it a lot for him/her" for sentences in which the "se" is not impersonal.
Direct-object le/les in practice
All of the theoretical reasons for using le/les
detailed above actually influence the way Spanish speakers use these pronouns, and this has been demonstrated by various surveys and investigations.
Extreme preference for le/les is a dialectalism known as leísmo; however, not all use of direct-object le/les is dialectal. Some instances of it are universal across the educated Spanish-speaking world.
Let us first look at dialectal extremes. There is leísmo (covered under point a above) motivated by the tendency towards masculine e in uneducated Madrid speech. This actually used to be quite standard, and the Real Academia only stopped endorsing it in the 1850s. We therefore find in old texts:
- Unos niegan el hecho, otros le afirman = "Some deny the fact; others assert it" (B. Feijoo, mid-eighteenth century)
Such speakers would say le afirman in reference to a word like el hecho, la afirman in reference to a word like la verdad, and lo afirman only in reference to a general neuter "it".
The second extreme leísmo is the one motivated by the second point mentioned: the tendency to use indirect objects for people. This is noticeable in North-Western Spain, especially Navarre and the Basque Country, where regional speech uses le vi for "I saw him/her" and lo/la vi for "I saw it". The same phenomenon is sporadically heard elsewhere, e.g. in Valencia and Paraguay.
Now let us look at less extremely dialectal cases. For the majority of educated speakers in Spain and parts of Latin America, neither of the two tendencies (a or b) is enough on its own to justify the use of le/les; but together they are. Thus, speakers who would reject sentences like le vi for "I saw it" and le vi for "I saw her" would nevertheless accept and use le vi for "I saw him". Indeed, this use of le to mean "him" is so common in standard Castilian speech that some would call the use of lo vi to mean "I saw him" an example of loísmo/laísmo, i.e. the dialectalism whereby lo is overused. The Real Academia's current line is that le for "him" is officially "tolerated".
A case on which the Academy is silent is the tendency described in point b1. It is perfectly common in educated speech in many parts of the world to distinguish between no quería molestarlo "I didn't mean to bother him" and no quería molestarle "I didn't mean to bother you". Those Spaniards who wouldn't just say le anyway for the reasons explained in the last paragraph are likely to use le in this case. Butt & Benjamin (1994) says that their Argentinian informants made this distinction, whereas their loísta Colombian informants preferred molestarlo always.
The Academy is also silent on the tendency described in b2; however, it is universal across the Spanish-speaking world. In a questionnaire given to 28 Spaniards in the Madrid region, 90% preferred la halagó for "he flattered her" and 87% preferred le halagó for "it flattered her". García (1975) reports a similar but less extreme tendency in Buenos Aires: only 14% of García's sample said él le convenció for "he convinced him" (the rest said él lo convenció). With an inanimate subject, a slight majority (54%) said este color no le convence.
García reports Buenos Aires natives differentiating between lo llevaron al hospital and le llevaron al hospital depending on how active the patient is, although anecdotal evidence suggests that Argentinians are more loísta than this, and would prefer lo in both cases.
Point b3 is also backed up by the fact that many Latin Americans distinguish between le quiero "I love him" and lo quiero "I want him" (or indeed "I want it").
Prepositions with multiple personal pronouns
In some cases, if the object of a preposition is more than one pronoun, the preposition has to be repeated or a plural pronoun must be used.With para
- Not normative: *Este vino es solamente para mí y tú.
- Este vino es solamente para mí y para ti. = "This wine is only for me and (for) you."
- Este vino es solamente para nosotros. = "This wine is only for us."With con
- Not normative:
- *El gato va conmigo y tigo.
- *El gato va con mí y tú.
- *El gato va conmigo y tú.
- El gato va conmigo y contigo. = "The cat goes with me and with you."
- El gato va con nosotros. = "The cat goes with us."
- Near the speaker ("this"): éste, ésta, esto, éstos, éstas (from the Latin ISTE, ISTA, ISTVD)
- Near the listener ("that"): ése, ésa, eso, ésos, ésas (from the Latin IPSE, IPSA, IPSVM)
- Far from both speaker and listener ("that (over there)"): aquél, aquélla, aquello, aquéllos, aquéllas (from the Latin *ECCV ILLE, *ECCV ILLA, *ECCV ILLVD)
N.B.: According to a decision of the Real Academia from the 1960s, the accents on these forms are only to be used when necessary to avoid ambiguity with the demonstrative determiners. However, the normal educated standard is still as above. Foreign learners may safely adhere to either standard.
Note also that there is never an accent on the neuter forms esto, eso and aquello (which do not have determiner equivalents).
The main relative pronoun
in Spanish is que
, from the Latin QVID
Others include el cual
covers "that", "which", "who", "whom" and the null pronoun in their functions of subject and direct-object relative pronouns.
- La carta que te envié era larga = "The letter [that] I sent you was long" (restrictive relative pronoun referring to direct object)
- La carta, que te envié, era larga = "The letter, which I did send you, was long" (non-restrictive relative pronoun referring to direct object)
- La gente que no sabe leer ni escribir se llama analfabeta = "People who can't read or write are called illiterate" (relative pronoun referring to subject)
- Esa persona, que conozco yo muy bien, no es de fiar = "That person, whom I know very well, is not to be trusted"
When the relative pronoun is the object of a preposition, the definite article is added to que
, and this agrees for number and gender, giving us el que
, la que
, los que
, las que
and the neuter lo que
. Note that in English we have two options: the preposition can go to the end of the sentence, or we can put it right before the relative pronoun "which" or "whom".
- Ella es la persona a la que le di el dinero = "She's the person [that/who/whom] I gave the money to" / "She's the person to whom I gave the money"
- Es el camino por el que caminabais = "It's the path [that] you were all walking along" / "It's the path along which you were all walking"
In some people's style of speaking, this definite article may be omitted after a, con and de, particularly when the antecedent is abstract or neuter:
- La aspereza con [la] que la trataba = "The harshness with which he treated her"
- No tengo nada en [lo] que creer = "I haven't got anything to believe in" / "I have nothing in which to believe"
After en, the article tends to be omitted if precise spatial location is not intended.
- Lo hiciste de la misma forma en que lo hizo él = "You did it [in] the same way [that/in which] he did it" (note also how "in" with the word forma is translated as de when used directly, but then changes to en when used with the relative pronoun)
- La casa en que vivo = "The house I live in" (as opposed to the following:)
- La casa en la que estoy encerrado = "The house inside which I am trapped"
Lo que has a slightly different meaning from el que, and is usually used as the connotation of "the thing that" or "what".
- Lo que hiciste era malo. - The thing that you did was bad.
- Lo que creí no es correcto. - What I believed isn't right.
Splitting "lo que" and adding an adjective in between changes the meaning slightly.
- Lo importante es que tenemos hogar. - What's important is that we have a home.
- Lo mejor es que pierdas peso. - The best thing is that you lose weight (for the time being).
The pronoun el cual
can replace [el] que
. It is generally more emphatic and formal than [el] que
. Note that it always includes the article. It derives from the Latin QVALIS
It has the following forms: el cual, la cual, los cuales, las cuales and the neuter lo cual.
For subjects & direct objects
It can be used as a formal, emphatic replacement for que
in non-defining clauses, for either subjects or direct objects. The fact that it agrees for gender and number can make it clearer to what it refers. The fact that it cannot be used for defining clauses also makes it clear that a defining clause is not intended.
- Los niños y sus madres, las cuales eran de Valencia, me impresionaron = "The children and their mothers, who were from Valencia, impressed me" (los cuales would have referred to the children too, and not just their mothers)
When used for direct objects, the personal a is required if the antecedent is human.
- Esa persona, a la cual conozco yo muy bien, no es de fiar = "That person, whom I know very well, is not to be trusted"
As the object of a preposition
It can be used as a formal, emphatic replacement for el que
, usually in non-defining clauses, as the object of a preposition (including a
representing the indirect object). There are three main situations in which this happens.
First, it can be purely a matter of high style. This is used sparingly in Spanish, and so foreigners should avoid over-using it.
- Es el asunto al cual se refería Vd. = "It is the matter to which you were referring"
In more everyday style, this might be phrased as:
- Es el asunto al que te referías = "It's the matter you were referring to"
Second, el cual is often preferred after propositions of more than syllable (para, contra, entre, mediante...) and after prepositional phrases (a pesar de, debajo de, a causa de, frente a, en virtud de, gracias a, por consecuencia de...).
- Un régimen bajo el cual es imposible vivir = "A régime under which it is impossible to live"
- Estas cláusulas, sin perjuicio de las cuales... = "These clauses, notwithstanding which..."
Third, el cual is preferred when it is separated from its antecedent by intervening words. The more words that intervene, the more the use of el cual is practically obligatory.
- Es un billete con el que se puede viajar [...] pero por el cual se paga sólo 2€ = "It is a ticket that you can travel with [...] but for which you pay just €2"
The pronoun quien
comes from the Latin QVEM
, "whom", i.e. the accusative of QVIS
It too can replace [el] que in certain circumstances. Like the English pronouns "who" and "whom", it can only be used to refer to people.
It is invariable for gender, and was originally invariable for number. However, by analogy with other words, the form quienes was invented. Quien as a plural form survives as an archaism that is now considered non-standard.
It can represent a subject. In this case it is rather formal and is largely restricted to non-defining clauses.
Unlike el cual, it does not indicate gender, but it does indicate number, and also specifies that a person is referred to.
- Los niños con sus mochilas, quienes eran de Valencia, me impresionaron = "The children with their rucksacks, who were from Valencia, impressed me" (The use of quienes makes it clear that los niños is referred to. Que could refer to the rucksacks, the children, or both. Los cuales would refer to either the children or both. Las cuales would refer only to the rucksacks.
For direct objects
" is required for direct objects because quien
always refers to people.
- Esa persona, a quien conozco yo muy bien, no es de fiar = "That person, whom I know very well, is not to be trusted" (formal; que would be more usual)
As the object of a preposition
is particularly common as the object of a proposition when the clause is non-defining, but is also possible in defining clauses.
- Ella es la persona a quien le di el dinero = "She's the person to whom I gave the money"
- José, gracias a quien tengo el dinero, es muy generoso = "José, thanks to whom I have the money, is very generous"
Donde, a donde, como & cuando
The etymology of these words is as follows. The Latin VNDE
, meaning "whence" or "where from" gave onde
, which lost the "from" meaning over the centuries and came to mean just "where". This meant that, to say "whence" or "where from", the preposition de
had to be added. This gave d'onde
. Again, the meaning was eroded over time until it came to mean just "where". Prepositions were therefore added once again. So, nowadays, we have donde
for "where" and a donde
for "where to", amongst others. Note that all this means that, etymologically speaking, de donde
is the rather redundant "from from from where", and a donde
is the rather contradictory "to from from where".
The tendence goes forward with the vulgar form ande
) often used for "where".
In the Ladino dialect of Spanish, the pronoun onde is still used, where donde still means "whence" or "where from". In Latin America, isolated communities or rural areas still retain this as well.
Como is from QVOMODO, "how", the ablative of QVID MODVS, "what way".
Cuando is from QVANDO, "when".
Location & movement
can be used instead of other relative pronouns when location is referred to.
is a variant that can be used when motion to the location is intended.
- El lugar en que / en el que / en el cual / donde estoy = "The place where I am" / "The place that I'm in"
- Voy a[l lugar] donde está él = Voy al lugar en el que está él = "I'm going [to the place] where he is"
- Iré [al lugar] adonde me lleven = Iré al lugar al que me lleven = "I'll go wherever they take me" / "I'll go to whatever place they take me to"
can be used instead of other relative pronouns when manner is referred to.
- La forma/manera en que / en la que / como reaccionasteis = "The way that / in which / how you all reacted" (En que is the most common and natural, like "that" or the null pronoun in English; but como is possible, as "how" is in English.)
Note that for some reason mismo tends to require que:
- Lo dijo del mismo modo que lo dije yo = "She said it the same way [that] I did"
tends to replace the use of other relative pronouns when time is referred to, almost always in non-defining clauses.Non-defining:
- En agosto, cuando la gente tiene vacaciones, la ciudad estará vacía = "In August, when people have their holidays, the town will be empty"Defining:
- Sólo salgo los días [en] que no trabajo = "I only go out the days I'm not working"
Note that just que, or at the most en que, is normal with defining clauses referring to time. En el que and cuando are rarer.
"Cuyo" is the formal Spanish equivalent for the English pronoun "whose." However, "cuyo" is inflected for gender and number (cuyos
(m. pl.), cuya
(f. sing.), or cuyas
(f. pl.)) according to the word it precedes. Observe the following example:
- Alejandro es un estudiante cuyas calificaciones son siempre buenas. = Alejandro is a student whose grades are always good."
We can see in the above example that the gender and number of "cuyo" have changed to "cuyas" in order to match the condition of the following word, "calificaciones" (f. pl.)
However, it should be noted that "cuyo" cannot be used as an interrogative pronoun, but rather one should use the form "cúyo". In the Americas "de quién" is ofter used instead of "cúyo" source
- "¿De quién es este libro?" or "¿Cúyo libro es este?" ("Whose book is this?")
In practice, cuyo is reserved to formal language.
A periphrasis like Alejandro es un estudiante que tiene unas calificaciones siempre buenas. is more common.
Cuyo is from CVIVS, the genitive (possessive) form of QVI.
Note on relative and interrogative pronouns
Note that relative pronouns often have corresponding interrogative pronouns.
"¿Qué es esto?" - "What is this?"
"Ese es el libro que me diste." - "That is the book that you gave me."
In the second line, que was helping to answer what Qué was asking for, a definition of "this".
Below is a list of interrogative pronouns and phrases with the relative pronouns that go with them.
- A quién-whom/a quien-whom
- De quién-whose, of whom/cuyo-whose, of whom
Reflexive pronouns and impersonal se
The reflexive pronoun
is used with pronominal verbs, also known as reflexive verbs. These verbs require the use of the reflexive pronoun, appropriate to the subject. The forms are as follows:
Some transitive verbs can take on a reflexive meaning, such as lavar (to wash) and lavarse (to wash oneself). Other verbs have reflexive forms which do not take on a reflexive meaning, such as ir (to go) and irse (to go away). Some verbs only have reflexive forms, such as jactarse (to boast).
- Butt, John; & Benjamin, Carmen (1994). A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish (Second Edition). Great Britain: Edward Arnold. ISBN 0-340-58390-8
- García, Érica C (1975). The Role of Theory in Linguistic Analysis: The Spanish Pronoun System. Amsterdam-Oxford: North-Holland. ISBN 0-444-10940-4