New to Spanish? To feel comfortable reading, speaking, and writing, you’ll need to master one very crucial grammar element: pronouns.
Languages use pronouns to enhance fluidity, reduce repetition, and enable speakers to express ideas more efficiently. Understanding how to use them is key to speaking Spanish with sophistication, as opposed to constantly repeating words or using pronouns incorrectly because you don’t know how they work.
In this guide, we will explore the nine types of Spanish pronouns that you’ll encounter in everyday speech. Plus, you’ll learn how Rosetta Stone can accelerate your mastery of Spanish pronouns without the need for rote memorization.
What are Spanish pronouns?
Before we define Spanish pronouns, let’s make sure we understand what pronouns are in English. Evolved from the Latin term pronomem (literally, “for-name” or “in place of a name”), pronouns in English have French origins resulting from the Norman Conquest.
A pronoun is simply a substitute for another word. This helps us refer to someone or something without using their specific name or description repeatedly, allowing us to express ideas more smoothly, maintain a flow in conversation, convey information more succinctly, and avoid redundancy.
In Spanish, pronouns function in a similar way: They enable us to refer to people, objects, or ideas without continuous repetition. By mastering the nine types of Spanish pronouns with the guide below, you will gain the ability to express yourself more fluently and navigate conversations with ease.
The 9 different types of Spanish pronouns
1. Spanish subject pronouns
Subject pronouns are used to indicate the subject of a sentence. The subject of a sentence is the thing or person performing the verb (action).
- Roberto y yo somos amigos. Nosotros jugamos fútbol juntos. = Roberto and I are friends. We play soccer together.
|él, ella, usted
he, she, you (formal)
they, you (formal)
- Tú eres mi mejor amigo. = You are my best friend
- Él cocina muy bien. = He cooks very well
- Nosotros tenemos un perro. = We have a dog.
2. Spanish direct object pronouns
Direct object pronouns replace the direct object in a sentence. The direct object is the thing or person receiving the action.
You can easily identify the direct object by filling in the blanks of this question: “What/whom” does “subject” “verb?”
In this case: What do I (subject) see (verb)? I (subject) see (verb) “him.” “Him” is the direct object.
- La vi en el parque. = I saw her in the park.
- ¿Lo encontraste? = Did you find it?
- Los quiero invitar a la fiesta. = I want to invite them to the party.
3. Spanish indirect object pronouns
Indirect object pronouns replace the indirect object—the person or thing to whom or for whom the action is done.
- She gave me a book. = Me dio un libro.
- Les dije la verdad. = I told them the truth.
- Te presté mi libro. = I lent you my book.
- Le compré un regalo. = I bought her a gift.
It is necessary to know that, if there is an indirect object in the sentence, we must include the indirect object pronoun even if the indirect object is explicitly mentioned.
- “El médico le recetó los medicamentos al paciente. = The doctor prescribed the medications to the patient. (“The doctor prescribed to him the medications to the patient.”)
Combining indirect object pronouns and/or reflexive pronouns with direct object pronouns
Just like you would in English, Spanish will sometimes require you to replace more than one noun with an object pronoun. In those cases, it is important to bear in mind the rules outlined below.
In Spanish, the order of pronouns in a sentence with verbs conjugated in the indicative, negative imperative, or subjunctive moods should always be as follows:
- indirect object pronoun + direct object pronoun + verb
- Él me lo dio. = He gave it to me.
In this sentence, me is the indirect object pronoun (referring to the person receiving the action) and lo is the direct object pronoun (referring to the thing being given). They are placed before the verb dio (gave).
If the appropriate indirect object pronoun is le or les and is followed by the direct object pronouns lo, la, los, or las, the indirect object pronoun will change to se.
All you have to remember is that le or les combined with lo, la, los, or las, become se + lo/la/los/las, like in the examples below:
- Se lo di. = I gave it to him/her/you.
- El médico se los recetó. = The doctor prescribed them to him/her.
- Ana se lo preparó. = Ana prepared it for him/her.
Mastering the combination of indirect object pronouns with direct object pronouns may require practice, but it will significantly enhance your ability to express complex ideas and communicate more effectively in Spanish.
4. Spanish prepositional object pronouns
Prepositional object pronouns are used after prepositions to indicate the object of the preposition.
It is important to remember that in Spanish, unlike in English, we do not change a subject pronoun to an object pronoun when the pronoun is the object of a preposition, unless the object is “yo” (which changes to mí) or the object is “tú,” which changes to ti. as you can see in the chart below.
These exceptions (mi and ti) are known as tonic pronouns, because of the change in pitch or tone within a sentence. Because of this change in tone, and to differentiate it from the homophonic possessive pronoun “mi,” we add an accent mark in the i in the prepositional object pronoun “mí” even though it is a monosyllable, which otherwise would never take an accent mark.
|él, ella, usted
|Ellos, ellas, ustedes
- Tengo un regalo para ti.= I have a present for you.
- Esto es importante para ella. = This is important for her.
- Vamos a cenar sin ellos. = We’re going to have dinner without them.
Note that when dealing with the object of the preposition con (with), mí and ti will become –migo and -tigo, respectively, all in one word.
- Quiero pasar más tiempo contigo. = I want to spend more time with you.
5. Spanish Reflexive Pronouns
Reflexive pronouns indicate that the object of the sentence is the same as the subject, or in other words, that the subject is performing an action on themselves.
The words “reflexive” and “reflective” (like a mirror) both stem from the Latin verb flectere (“to bend”), plus the prefix “re-,” which means “again.” This verb is also related to words like “flexion” and “flexible,” which will help you understand its origin. Think of something bending back to itself, like one’s reflection in a mirror.
- Yo me veo en el espejo. = I see myself in the mirror.
- Me levanto temprano todas las mañanas. = I wake up early every morning. (I “lift myself” early every morning)
- Nos divertimos mucho en la fiesta. = We had a lot of fun at the party. (We “diverted ourselves” a lot at the party)
- Él se cepilla los dientes después de cada comida. = He brushes his teeth after every meal. (He “brushes himself the teeth” after every meal.)
Note the literal translations of the expressions in the examples above. These should help you understand why we use these pronouns in Spanish, even if we would not use them in English.
This is another reason why immersion and practice are so crucial to mastering Spanish. Only after becoming familiar with this type of construction will it become natural to you.
Remember that in Spanish, we use a reflexive verb even if the object is not the exact same as the subject, but a part of it.
In the last example “he” (the subject) brushes “his teeth” (the object) not himself, yet in Spanish, since his teeth are part of him, we say “Él se cepilla (brushes himself) los dientes” (“the teeth”) replacing the object in English (“his teeth”) with “himself” (“se“) and the possessive pronoun “his” (“sus“) in “his teeth” with the article “los” (“He brushes himself the teeth”).
This is another aspect of reflexive verbs that can often stump students! By analyzing why we say things the way we do, you can build a deeper understanding of both your native language and your target language.
Why is se the only reflexive pronoun that differs from Spanish object pronouns?
You may have noticed that Spanish reflexive pronouns overlap with direct object pronouns, with one exception: third person pronouns.
Instead of lo, los, la, and las, the reflexive pronoun for both singular and plural third person is se. Let’s take a look at why we need unique pronouns for reflexive use:
- He sees him. = Él lo ve.
- He sees himself. = Él se ve.
What would be the problem here if I say “Él lo ve,” (using the same object pronoun, just like in the other reflexive examples) to say that “he sees himself”?
The problem is that we wouldn’t be talking about the same person (i.e., a reflexive construction) but a different third person. That is why the third person, in both singular and plural forms, uses the pronoun se instead of using their respective object pronouns, like we would do with any other subject.
6. Spanish Relative Pronouns
Relative pronouns are used to provide additional information about a noun and establish a relationship between the main clause and the relative clause.
In contrast to other pronouns introduced above where the object pronoun may refer to previously known information not explicitly mentioned, relative pronouns connect both clauses, which requires that the main clause explicitly defines the relative clause that immediately precedes it.
the one that
the ones that
the one that
the ones that
- De todas sus películas, la que hizo con Anya Taylor-Joy es mi favorita. = From all his movies, the one that he made with Anya Taylor-Joy is my favorite.
- No como tacos generalmente, pero los que vende Lucas son deliciosos. = I don’t generally eat tacos, but the ones that Lucas sells are delicious.
- La que preparó mi abuela estaba deliciosa. = The one that my grandmother prepared was delicious.
7. Spanish Indefinite Pronouns
Indefinite pronouns refer to non-specific people or things.
- Alguien te llamó. = Somebody called you.
- Alguien dijo que estabas buscando un trabajo. = Somebody said you were looking for a job.
- Ninguno quiso hacerlo. = Nobody (“not one” / “none of them”) wanted to do it.
- Nadie sabe la respuesta. = Nobody knows the answer.
8. Spanish Possessive Pronouns
Possessive pronouns indicate ownership or possession.
- El libro es mío. = The book is mine.
- El perro es nuestro. = The dog is ours.
- El bolígrafo es suyo. = The pen is his/hers.
- Estas gafas son tuyas. = These glasses are yours.
9. Spanish Demonstrative Pronouns
Demonstrative pronouns correspond to the English pronouns “this” and “these,” and are used to point out specific people or things.
While you may have originally learned that Spanish demonstrative pronouns take an accent mark over their first letter, the Real Academia Española (RAE) no longer considers the accent mark to be correct, even in cases of ambiguity. Therefore, never put an accent mark on a demonstrative pronoun—at least until the RAE changes their mind again and switches it back.
- Este es mi coche. = This is my car.
- Esa es mi casa. = That is my house.
- Aquellos son mis zapatos. = Those are my shoes.
- Esos son nuestros amigos. = Those are our friends.
Este and ese are incredibly similar and can often generate confusion among students! To remember which is which, we recommend using this phrase:
This and these have T’s; that and those don’t.
Important Spanish grammar concepts to remember
Applying gender rules to pronouns
As you would with any other part of speech, remember that Spanish uses grammatical gender, and this applies to pronouns as well. Therefore, remember to always use a feminine pronoun to replace a feminine noun and a masculine pronoun to replace a masculine noun.
Gender-specific pronouns usually have an “o” (like Mario) as their last vowel when they are masculine (i.e., lo, los, ellos), or an “a” (like Maria) when they are feminine (i.e., la, los, las).
- Pablo es mi amigo y lo veo cuando puedo. = Pablo is my friend and I see him when I can.
Using formal and informal pronouns
Spanish has formal and informal pronouns used to address a second person. The idea behind this is that it would be rude and informal to address somebody directly, using the second person.
Therefore, when we speak formally, we think of the person we are addressing as a third person, which is why we use formal subject pronouns like usted and ustedes (ustedes is also used informally in Latin America and the Canary Islands) for replacing the subject, and third person object pronouns when replacing the object.
- ¿Puedo ayudarlo, señor? = Can I help you, sir?
Knowing when to omit pronouns
Unlike in English, Spanish does not require the use of explicit subject pronouns in speech. As a matter of fact, not omitting subject pronouns when they are known would sound like the equivalent of stressing the pronoun in English!
Instead, use a tacit subject in Spanish by conjugating the verb to match that subject but without explicitly using a subject pronoun to refer to it.
- ¡Necesito practicar los pronombres! = I need to practice the pronouns!
Mastering Pronouns for Fluent Expression
Understanding and mastering Spanish pronouns is crucial for effective communication. Pronouns play a vital role in enhancing fluency, reducing repetition, and conveying ideas more efficiently. Achieving a confident use of pronouns can only be attained once you possess a clear understanding of the purpose of each word you use within the context of a sentence. The most effective way of doing this is through immersion!
Rosetta Stone offers comprehensive, scaffolded lessons for Spanish learners at every skill level. Through Dynamic Immersion and supplemental learning activities like Stories, you can practice using pronouns in authentic contexts and develop a deeper understanding of their usage.
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced learner, Rosetta Stone provides a proven method to unlock your full potential in the language!
Written by Diego Rodríguez
Polyglot copywriter, linguist, multi-instrumentalist, and Rosetta Stone user himself, Diego has worked as language coach and copywriter for companies such as Coca-Cola, Turner Broadcasting, Rolls Royce, and more. After a brain tumor nearly killed him and left him unable to speak, his drive to relearn his five languages simultaneously left him a renewed passion for them, as well as a deeper understanding of how they work and relate to one another.