Unit 2: Basics

2.8 Subject Pronouns

Subject pronouns are the most common and the first of various sets of pronouns you will see.

Note that Spanish has four different ways of expressing “you,” because like all other Romance languages (and some non-Romance languages, e.g., German) it has both familiar (informal) and formal modes of address.

  • Tú and vosotros are the familiar forms and are in general used to address children, close friends, people of one’s own age and animals.
  • Usted and ustedes are mainly used with one’s elders, people not known well, in business, and to show respect. There can, however, be substantial differences to these guidelines, depending on country, region, social, class, mental, or emotional state, and other special situations.
  • Vosotros is used only in Spain and, as those reading Spanish are most likely to see it only in fiction and poetry from there, it is not studied in this textbook, although the verb forms corresponding to it will be listed. In the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, ustedes is used as the plural form of the familiar “you” (as well as of the formal “you”).
Singular Plural
yo – I nosotros/as – we
– you (fam. s.) vosotros/as – you (fam.pl.)
él, ella – he, she, it ellos, ellas – they (m. and f.)
usted (Ud., Vd.) – you (form. s.) ustedes (Uds., Vds.) – you (form. pl. [fam. pl. in L.A.])

More Information on Subject Pronouns

  • For usted and ustedes, the Ud. and Uds. abbreviations are most commonly used, but you may see the Vd. and Vds. abbreviations in older texts.
  • The forms nosotras and vosotras are only used for all-female groups.
  • As verb endings (studied in section 3.1 and after) in the first and second persons always differ from each other, subject pronouns are routinely omitted in Spanish and many times are used only for emphasis, such as in this example:
    • Yo soy el inocente y tú eres el culpable.
    • I’m the innocent one and you’re the guilty one.
  • In the third persons, as each verb form can refer to any one of multiple subjects, the tendency is to use subject pronouns more often for clarification. However, in the third persons, once the antecedent is known, the subject pronoun is routinely omitted:
    • María está en clase hoy. Es una estudiante muy popular y diligente. Y es de una familia pobre.
    • María is in class today. She’s very popular and diligent student. And she is from a poor family.
  • Always be sure to find or deduce what is the subject when translating. If it is not apparent, look for the previous noun antecedent, and chances are you have found it. The frequent omission of subject pronouns makes reading and translating in Spanish somewhat more challenging at times.


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