Spanish Parts of Speech (Part 1)

Remember when you were learning grammar in middle school and you would ask yourself, "When are we ever going to need to know this?" Well, the answer is "now." When you speak in your native language you can use words quickly and easily without having to stop and think about how they function. But when you begin to learn a foreign language it's necessary to know what kind of word you're using in order to use it correctly.

Any language has thousands and thousands of words. But not all words are the same; they have different jobs to do. Words are put into different categories or "parts of speech" based on how they function. We use these various parts together to build a sentence. For example, "dog" is a noun, "playful" is an adjective, "barked" is a verb, and "loudly" is an adverb. Put them together and you get a sentence, "The playful dog barked loudly."

Likewise, when using a dictionary it's important to pay attention to what part of speech it is you're looking for. A Spanish/English dictionary entry for the word "school" might look something like this:

school 1 n. escuela, 2 v. amaestrar, 3 adj. escolar.

All three entries mean "school," but one is a noun, one is a verb, and one is an adjective. So which word do you use? It depends on how you want it to function. How do you know? Continue reading...

Spanish Nouns

A noun you may remember is basically any person, place, thing, or idea. Quite often a noun is the subject of the sentence:

The small monkey jumped quickly.

Here "monkey" is a noun because it is the "thing" in this sentence. (It also happens to be the subject.) Some other examples of nouns: child, Argentina, house, and happiness.

Note: Nouns used in examples on this website will be highlighted like this: noun

Using Nouns

In Spanish a noun is called a "sustantivo" and it works the same way as it does in English except for one major difference: gender. That's right, in Spanish nouns are actually classified as either "masculine" or "feminine." Try not to get too wrapped up in figuring out what would make one word male and another word female. It's got nothing to do with X and Y chromosomes. It's a mostly arbitrary system of putting words into one of two categories. So how do you know which is which? It's based on spelling.

Most nouns end either in an "-o" or an "-a." The vast majority of the time words with an "-o" at the end are considered masculine and words ending in "-a" are feminine:

masculine:

burro

libro

océano

zapato

feminine:

camiseta

pantera

revista

tierra

There are some nouns which don't follow this rule (of course) and other nouns which end with a different letter entirely. For those words you'll just have to memorize the gender along with the word.

It's easy to make nouns plural in Spanish. Add "-s" to words ending in vowels, and add "-es" to words ending in consonants:

singular:

teléfono

bicicleta

coche

papel

rey

plural:

teléfonos

bicicletas

coches

papeles

reyes

Spanish Articles

When dealing with nouns you can't get far without talking about articles ("artículos" in Spanish). In English the words "a," "an," and "the" are all articles. We'll start with the "the."

Definite Articles

"The" is what's known as a definite article, because if you use it, you probably have something specific in mind. There's only one way to say "the" in English regardless of the noun (or nouns) involved: e.g. "the book," "the magazine," "the books," "the magazines." But "the" is translated one of four ways in Spanish depending on the gender (masculine or feminine) and the number (singular or plural) of the noun it precedes. Nouns which are masculine and singular are preceded by el, feminine and singular by la, masculine and plural by los, and feminine and plural by las.

 

masculine:

feminine:

singular:

el libro

la revista

plural:

los libros

las revistas

Notice that to make a noun plural you need to change its ending as well as its article. And by the way, definite articles are used much more frequently in Spanish than they are in English.

Indefinite Articles

What about "a" and "an"? These are known as indefinite articles because they are less specific than definite articles. Just like definite articles, there are four possibilities which need to agree in gender and in number with the nouns they refer to: un, una, unos, and unas.

 

masculine:

feminine:

singular:

un libro

una revista

plural:

unos libros

unas revistas

By they way, unos and unas are translated as "some."

Spanish Adjectives

An adjective is most any word that further describes (or modifies, clarifies, qualifies, etc.) a noun. In English adjectives usually come before the noun they modify:

The small monkey jumped quickly.

Here "small" is the adjective in the sentence because it modifies or describes the noun, "monkey." Some other examples of adjectives: good, sixteen, blue, and Chinese.

Note: Adjectives used in examples on this website will be highlighted like this: adjective

Using Adjectives

In Spanish an adjective is called an "adjetivo" and there are several major differences between Spanish and English adjectives. First and foremost adjectives usually come after nouns in Spanish which looks very odd to English speakers.

English:

the red ball

Spanish:

el balón rojo

And secondly, there are (usually) four forms of each adjective whereas in English there is only one. Like articles, adjectives need to agree in number (singular or plural) and in gender (masculine or feminine) with the noun that they modify:

 

masculine:

feminine:

singular:

el libro pequeño

la revista pequeña

plural:

los libros pequeños

las revistas pequeñas

It is important to realize that in order to save space, most dictionaries will only list the masculine, singular adjective. When you look up an adjective in a dictionary, you may need to change the ending to agree with the noun your using. Want to see more adjectives? Check out the List of Adjectives.

Spanish Verbs

The easy way to think of a verb is that it is the action word of the sentence. For example:

The small monkey 

jumped quickly.

Here "jumped" is a verb because it is the action that the subject ("monkey") is doing. However, verbs don't have to be actions, they can also be "states." For example:

The small monkey 
The small monkey 
The small monkey 

is tired.
belongs to the zoo.
seems happy.

Unlike other parts of speech, verbs appear in many different forms based on the subject and the tense of the sentence: speak, spoke, have spoken, will speak, would speak, will have spoken, would have spoken.

Note: Verbs used in examples on this website will be highlighted like this: verb

Using Verbs

In Spanish a verb is called a "verbo." Using a verb is no simple task because in Spanish each verb can take six different forms depending on it's subject, and upwards of 17 forms depending on its "tense" and "mood." That means that most verbs have over 100 different forms depending on how they're being used. The process of changing your verb depending on its subject and tense is known as "conjugating" and there's a whole separate article explaining how it's done: Conjugating Verbs in Spanish.

Spanish Adverbs

An adverb is a little difficult to define, but one of its main functions is to modify or describe a verb:

The small monkey 

jumped quickly.

"Quickly" is the adverb in this example since it describes how the monkey jumped. Adverbs can also modify adjectives and even other adverbs:

The very small monkey 
The small monkey 

jumped quickly.
jumped incredibly quickly.

In the first sentence "very" is an adverb because it describes the adjective "small." In the second sentence "incredibly" is an adverb that modifies another adverb, "quickly."

Some other examples of adverbs: honestly, carefully, always, and slowly.

Note: Adverbs used in examples on this website will be highlighted like this: adverb

Using Adverbs

In Spanish an adverb is called an "adverbio." Adverbs in Spanish are similar to adverbs in English in that they are often derived from adjectives. In English we can usually recognize these adverbs by their "-ly" endings. But there are a substantial number of adverbs which don't follow this rule: e.g. "well," "never," "very," and "tomorrow."

In Spanish we can create many adverbs by adding "-mente" to the feminine singular form of an adjective:

adjective:

adverb:

rápida (quick)

lenta (slow)

completa (complete)

fácil (easy)

rápidamente (quickly)

lentamente (slowly)

completamente (completely)

fácilmente (easily)

However, there are many adverbs which do not follow this pattern: e.g. "bien," "nunca," "muy," and "mañana." Want to see more adverbs? Check out the List of Adverbs.

Spanish Pronouns

Simply put, pronouns are words that replace nouns. Why replace a noun? Well, consider this quote from the lovable Ralph Wiggum: "Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and the baby looked at me."

Like most things Ralph says, this sentence is awkward. In this case it's because he keeps saying "babies" over and over again when he ought to be substituting pronouns instead: "Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the them and it looked at me."

Pronouns are useful for replacing larger words or concepts once they've been introduced so they don't have to be repeated. Pronouns can be subject pronouns, object pronouns (both direct and indirect), and reflexive pronouns. (There is also a class of pronoun called "possessive pronouns" which we won't get into here.)

Subject Pronouns

Consider these two sentences:

The small monkey 
It 

jumped quickly.
jumped quickly.

In the second line "it" is a subject pronoun which has replaced the subject, "the small monkey."

Some other examples of subject pronouns: I, you, he, she, we, and they.

Object Pronouns

Consider these sentences:

The small monkey 
The small monkey 

The small monkey 
The small monkey 

bit the other monkey.
bit him.

jumped quickly for the trainer.
jumped quickly for her.

In the first example "him" is a direct object pronoun which replaces the direct object "the other monkey." In the second example "her" is an indirect object pronoun which replaces the indirect object "the trainer."

Some other examples of (direct and indirect) object pronouns: me, you, her, it, us, and them.

Reflexive Pronouns

Consider:

The small monkey 

saw himself in the mirror.

In this sentence "himself" is a reflexive pronoun which replaces the concept of "the small monkey."

Some other examples of reflexive pronouns: myself, yourself, herself, and themselves.

Note: Pronouns used in examples will be highlighted like this:  

subject pronoun

direct object pronoun

indirect object pronoun

reflexive pronoun

Using Pronouns

In Spanish a pronoun is called a "pronombre." Subject pronouns work the same as in English. Learning to use object pronouns can be tricky as you first need to learn what type of object you're dealing with. To learn more about pronouns read Subject Pronouns in Spanish, Reflexive Verbs, and/or Direct & Indirect Object Pronouns.

Spanish Prepositions

A preposition is a word which shows some relationship between two parts of a sentence. A preposition together with an "object of the preposition" creates a "prepositional phrase." Some examples:

She slept in the bed.
He traveled by train.
They left at four o'clock.
The watch is under the chair.

Fun Fact: The preposition de is the most common word in Spanish.

The underlined part of each sentence is a prepositional phrase which starts with a preposition ("in," "by," "at," and "under") and ends with an object of the preposition ("the bed," "train," "four o'clock," and "the chair").

Some other examples of prepositions: on, near, across, with, of, and toward.

Using Prepositions

Using prepositions in Spanish is easy because they work the same way as they do in English:

Ella durmió en la cama.
Él viajaba por tren.
Ellos salieron a las cuatro.
El reloj está bajo la silla.

See also: Using Por and Para

However, it can also be very difficult to translate prepositions. Many Spanish prepositions can be translated various ways into English and vice versa. En can be translated "in" or "on." A can mean "to" or "by." And both of them can be translated "at." The most famous (or infamous) example of this problem is por and para. You need to know from the context of the sentence which preposition to use. There are also idiomatic expressions that need to be learned: él soñaba con tener una vida mejor means "he dreamed about having a better life."

Your best bet for dealing with prepositions is to have a good Spanish/English dictionary with you as you learn the language. Speaking of which, here's a List of Prepositions.

Note: You cannot end a sentence with a preposition in Spanish (and you probably shouldn't do so in English either). For example:

incorrect:

correct:

Necesito a alguien para ir con.
I need someone to go with.

Necesito a alguien con quien ir.
I need someone with whom to go.

Spanish Conjunctions

A conjunction is a word that connects phrases and clauses together. The most famous English conjunction is "and" but there are others:

I understand English and Spanish.
She wants a car or a bike.
He doesn't talk much but he reads a lot.

Some other examples of prepositions: either, neither, therefore, besides, and although.

Using Conjunctions

For the most part conjunctions work the same in Spanish as they do in English:

Yo entiendo inglés y español.
Ella quiere un coche o una bicicleta.
Él no habla mucho pero lee bastante.

Want to know more? Here's a List of Conjunctions.

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