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Spanish subject pronouns: A guide

Alejandro Navarro • Jan 16, 2024 • 7 minutes
Updated Jan 31, 2024
Spanish subject pronouns: A guide
The Graf Method for Spanish Language

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In this volume, we discuss the alphabet, definite and indefinite articles, and verbs ser and estar, among other topics.

In the year 1660 George Fox, a leader of the Quaker movement, published a book with a short, catchy title: A Battle-Door for Teachers & Professors to Learn Singular & Plural; You to Many, and Thou to One: Singular One, Thou; Plural Many, You. 

His motivation was to stand for the correct form of the English language and an egalitarian usage that failed to translate social hierarchies into pronouns. 

You see, English did not always use the word you to address one and all, to declare love for one, or to curse at many. Mr Fox’s book, as we mentioned, was published in 1660, and up until said period, thou, thee, ye, and you roamed the English landscape, each with its own limited scope aimed at singular or plural audiences. 

Then you became a word to be used to address persons of high social standing, such as, “Your Majesty” or of equal social standing. Thou, on the other hand, was downgraded and used when talking to those of lower social standing. Eventually, you became the second-person pronoun both for groups and individuals. If you have taken Level 1 at Berges, this may sound familiar. 


The Spanish pronouns usted and ustedes come from a similar formality as “Your Majesty,” which was “vuestra merced.” With time, this formula lost many consonants and a vowel or two to become usted

Compared to modern-day English, our formal usted feels like a dated reminder of inequality, while the pronoun you is the opposite: egalitarian, easygoing, democratic. As we just read, it wasn’t always this way. 

Learning pronouns

Learning more pronouns might seem complicated, but we must politely point out that most languages have multiple, different pronouns that vary in terms of formality and number; with some practice and a clear breakdown, you can master Spanish pronouns. 

Pronouns are an essential and relatively simple concept. They are words that replace names. We use them to represent individuals in our conversations and statements. 

Sometimes we refer to these individuals as the subject of the verb, sometimes as the object of the verb. Which is why we have personal, or subject pronouns, and we also have object pronouns

Don’t be intimidated by pronouns. What seems simple in our own language, can seem complicated in other languages. But overall, we say the same things, albeit in somewhat different ways. 

How Spanish subject pronouns work

Let’s talk about Spanish subject pronouns in particular and subject pronouns in general. In a conversation we may talk about ourselves, we may talk to others, or we may talk about others

First-person pronouns

We use first-person pronouns to talk about ourselves, either as individuals or as part of a group. The Spanish first-person pronouns are yo and nosotros. 

- Yo vivo con mi hermano Luis. Nosotros vivimos en Brooklyn. 
- Yo trabajo con Nicolás. Nosotros somos profesores. 

The first sentence introduces a subject, yo as well as a person that shares a living space or a profession with the first-person subject.

Through this connection, we can transfer from yo to nosotros. The commonality of living quarters or professional occupations allows the user to extend the statement from the personal to a group that includes him or herself. 

Second-person pronouns

We use second-person pronouns to address others. As explained above, this can be done formally or informally, and those hearing our words may be singular or plural in number. The point is we are talking directly to an individual or a group of people. 

Tú is the friendly, informal way of addressing others. It shares an origin with thou, du (German), tu (Italian and French), and even thum (Hindi) all stemming from a common language known as the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE). Usted as we now know, is a shortening of the phrase vuestra merced. 

In Latin vos means you all but for some reason, it transferred into Spanish as a singular pronoun. It is a regional variation used in Argentina, Uruguay, some Central American countries, and parts of Colombia to replace tú. Fun fact, vosotros is a combination of “you and others” that is “vos y otros.” Who knew? 

Let’s look at some examples. 

- ¿Tú eres de Bogotá? 
- Sí
- ¿Y tú? 
- También 
- ¿Ustedes son hermanas, primas o amigas? 

An initial exchange is carried out between individuals using the informal tú. The person asks two different individuals the same question, and when he wants to find out about the connection between them he switches to ustedesThey are from Bogotá and ustedes is used to address two or more people of formality or familiarity, as Latin America uses only this (you plural) pronoun. 

Let’s consider the last bit of that conversation but with Spaniards. The participants are friendly, informal among themselves. Hence the choice of tú and vosotras.

- ¿Tú eres de Madrid? 
- Sí
- ¿Y tú? 
- También
- ¿Vosotras sóis amigas, primas o hermanas? 

Let’s change the subjects in the conversation, and imagine a young person talking to his friend’s grandparents. 

- ¿Usted es de Madrid? 
- Sí
- ¿Y usted? 
- También
- ¿Ustedes viven en Pozuelo de Alarcón?
- Sí, tenemos una casa enorme. ¿Dónde vive usted?  

While using the informal tú and vosotros is common in Spain, there is also a formal side to conversations there. Those in the know may recognize the name Pozuelo de Alarcón. It is a part of Madrid where perhaps such distances are properly observed due to wealth and class. 

Let’s try the conversation again, this time with a different part of town. 

- ¿Usted es de Madrid? 
- Sí
- ¿Y usted? 
- También
- ¿Ustedes viven en Pozuelo de Alarcón? 
- Ni locos, capullo. Vivimos en Lavapiés. Vamos a tutearnos. ¿Dónde vives tú? 

The verb tutear literally means to choose tú as the pronoun to address each other. 

A group of people chatting at a party

Third-person pronouns

Last but not least, we have third-person pronouns. We use them to talk about people, ideally when they are not present. It’s not nice to talk about people when they are standing in front of you. But present or not, we talk about others - friends, relatives, partners, classmates, teachers, etc - and not always to others. 

Third-person pronouns are gendered. Él and ella are he and she respectively. These pronouns replace the names or descriptions of people you have introduced into the conversation. 

- Mi amigo Diego tiene una máscara y una capa. Creo que él es Zorro.  
- Mi amiga Diana siempre desaparece (disappears) cuando hay problemas y peleas. Creo que ella es la Mujer Maravilla (Wonder Woman).

The plural third-person pronouns ellos and ellas stand in for two or more people who have been similarly introduced into a conversation. Ellas applies to groups of female-identifying individuals only. Ellos, at least in strictly grammatical terms, applies to groups of individuals that are strictly male-identifying, or groups of mixed gender. 

- Lucía y Rosa viven en Brooklyn. Ellas corren una hora en Prospect Park todos los días. 
- Juan y Manuela viven en Astoria. Ellos van a restaurantes griegos todo el tiempo. 

Using subject pronouns in questions and answers

Learning to pair pronouns and conjugated verbs in questions and answers is essential to developing fluency. 

Second-person pronouns in the question get first-person pronouns in the answer and the verb conjugation changes accordingly. 

- ¿Tú eres de Colombia? 
- Sí, yo soy de Bogotá
- ¿Ustedes son de Barcelona? 
Nosotros somos de Sitges. 

If a question is about a third person, the answer includes the exact same third person pronoun and conjugation

- ¿Pedro es contable? 
- No, él es ingeniero
- ¿Lucía y Sara son hermanas? 
- No, ellas son amigas


Remember, we use pronouns to talk about ourselves, yo, nosotros; to others, tú, usted, ustedes, vosotros; and about others, él, ella, ellos,ellas. 

Also, keep in mind that pronouns are likely to be used in pairs. Second-person pronouns talk directly to others, who then respond in the first person. Third-person pronouns are used to talk about others, so the pronouns don’t change in the back and forth of the conversation. 

Learning another language means using your brain in new and challenging ways. We hope this article helped you understand a bit more about Spanish pronouns and how, after all, they are not so different from English pronouns. 

Alejandro Navarro
Alejandro Navarro

Alejandro Navarro is a former Spanish language instructor at Berges Institute.

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