Omit personal pronouns Spanish: Don’t overuse personal in real-life conversations

DON’T USE Personal Pronouns in Spanish (or maybe do?)

ALEX
Maura, ¿tú crees que yo uso muchos pronombres personales?
(Maura, do you think I use a lot of personal pronouns?)
MAURA
Un poco, sí.
(A little bit, yes.)
ALEX
¿Y cómo hago para quitarlos?
(And how do I get rid of them?)

Have you ever wondered the same as Alex? Pronouns in Spanish can get crazy for sure. Luckily for you personal pronouns like yo (i), (you), ustedes (plural you), etc, are the simplest of the pronouns in Spanish.

I’m Maura from Spring Spanish, and today you’ll understand how natives use personal pronouns without a doubt. Once you do, you’ll be one step closer to sounding natural in Spanish no matter who’s listening. And who knows? Maybe one day, you’ll be the one saying: omit personal pronouns Spanish!

¡Empecemos!

1. The rule of thumb of using pronouns

MAURA
El truco está en la conjugación de los verbos. La conjugación cambia por persona. Así que, eso es lo que nos dice quién o de quién se está hablando. Por tanto, usar el pronombre es redundant.
(The trick is in the conjugation of the verbs. The conjugation changes per person. So, that’s what tells us who or whom is being talked about. Therefore, using the pronoun is redundant.)
ALEX
O sea ¿me tengo que aprender todas las conjugaciones?
(Meaning, do I have to learn all the conjugations?)
MAURA
No, sólo tienes que familiarizarte con las terminaciones.
(No, you just need to familiarize yourself with the endings.)
ALEX
¿Cómo así?
(How so?)

Using pronouns to start each sentence or action does feel awkward to us. It’s one of those tellers that identify non-natives. No que eso sea importante. (Not that that’s important.) It just lets you know how little we use these pronouns in comparison to other languages. Especially English since conjugations in English barely change depending on the pronoun, which is why you’d need the pronouns in English way more than you would in Spanish.

Las conjugaciones en español siguen patrones generales que pueden ayudarte a clasificar estos pronombres. (Conjugations in Spanish follow general patterns that can help you categorize these pronouns.)

Generally speaking most verbs will follow this pattern:

  • Quiero comer más sano de ahora en adelante. (I want to eat healthier from now on.): Vowels at the end of verbs are a sign of Yo (I) and also of Él, Ella and Eso (He, She, It). Generally speaking, and -O at the end is a sign of “yo” (I).
  • ¿Vienes más tarde? (Are you coming later?): -S at the end of verbs are a sign of (You).
  • Dice que no sabe. (She/He says she/he doesn’t know.): Generally speaking, an -E an the end would be a sign of any third person pronoun like Él, Ella, Eso. (He, She, It.)
  • Buscamos y buscamos pero no conseguimos una opción más barata. (We searched and searched but could not find a cheaper option.): This -MOS has to be the most identifiable one. Every time, it’ll be a “nosotros/nosotras” (we).
  • Llamaron ayer, pero no les contestaron. (They/Plural You called yesterday, but there was no answer.): -N at the end of verbs is a sign of either Ustedes or Ellos/Ellas (Plural you, They).

CHUNK ALERT

I bet you didn’t know that “¿cómo así?” (how so?) is a very, very common variation of “¿cómo?” (how?) that many Latin American use. O sea, quizás sí sabías. (I mean, maybe you did know.)

Personally, I don’t think I use it that much, but I do hear it all the time. Bottom line, it’s quite normal so don’t let the “así” (so) confuse you.

Hay muchos más chunks esenciales que ya deberías saber. (There’s many other essential chunks you should already know.) To make sure you do, click that link in this box below and get our free Chunking Kit which is precisely a curated list of essential chunks in Spanish.

2. Using pronouns to avoid ambiguity

ALEX
Pero, ¿sí se tienen que usar a veces, no?
(But, they do have to be used sometimes, don’t they?)
MAURA
Claro, hay varias razones por las cuales siempre usaríamos el pronombre.
(Of course, there are several reasons why we would always use the pronoun.)
ALEX
Es que si no los usan nunca, es súper confuso.
(It’s just that if they never use them, it’s super confusing.)
MAURA
Sí, hay momentos en los que no usarlos genera mucha confusión. De hecho, evitar la ambigüedad es una de las razones para usarlos.
(Yes, there are times when not using them generates a lot of confusion. In fact, avoiding ambiguity is one of the reasons for using them.)

As we saw in the previous section some pronouns do share conjugations. Particularly Ustedes and Ellos/Ellas (Plural You, They); and Él, Ella y Eso (He, She and It). Clearly every now and then a story involves different characters. To avoid confusion, we would use the corresponding pronoun in these instances:

  • Cuando yo era pequeña, jugaba en la calle con mis amigos todo el día. (When I was little, I played in the street with my friends all day.): You can see two verbs here “era” (was) and “jugaba” (played). I don’t need to say “yo” (I) both times, but I do need to say it the first time. Otherwise the person listening could ask: ¿cuándo quién era pequeña? (when who was little?) since “era” (was) could also be: ella, él era (he, she was).
  • Estefanía y Rodrigo se mudaron juntos hace poco. Él solía vivir en Paraguay. (Estefania and Rodrigo recently moved in together. He used to live in Paraguay.): If I don’t say “Él solía vivir” (He used to live) no one could know if I’m talking about him or her just by that “solía” (used to).
  • ¿Ellos cenaron? (Did they have dinner?): if I don’t say “ellos” (they) the person listening doesn’t know if I mean “ustedes” (plural you) or “ellos/ellas” (they).

Now, stick with me till the end if you want to know how this pronouns can help you be super polite in Spanish.

3. Using pronouns for emphasis

MAURA
Énfasis es otra buena razón para usar los pronombres.
(Emphasis is another good reason to use pronouns.)
ALEX
¿Y cómo sé si tengo que hacer énfasis o no?
(And how do I know if I need to emphasize or not?)
MAURA
Eso es lo bueno. A diferencia del problema de ambigüedad, el énfasis es una decisión. La mayor parte del tiempo tú decides si quieres hacer énfasis en la persona.
(That’s the beauty of it. Unlike the ambiguity problem, emphasis is a decision. Most of the time you decide whether or not you want to emphasize the person.)
ALEX
¿Cuándo lo harías tú, entonces?
(When would you do it, then?)

Though this is not a rule, I do think we use pronouns for this reason very often. Here are some instances where I would surely use them for emphasis:

  • ¡Yo no fui! Yo no he salido de casa hoy, así que no pude haber dejado la puerta abierta. (It wasn’t me! I didn’t leave the house today, so I couldn’t have left the door open.): Every time blame is been adjudicated, natives start using pronouns like crazy. No space for any doubt if there’s blame to take.
  • Ella sabe perfectamente cómo cuidar a un gato. (She knows perfectly well how to take care of a cat.): You could omit the “ella” (she) of course. But, if you want to be super clear and remark on her knowledge, then using “ella” (she) would do that for you.
  • ¡Haz lo que tú quieras! (Do whatever you want!): Both argumentative or empowering expressions tend to use pronouns for emphasis since they are emphatic themselves. This “haz lo que tú quieras” could be both an answer to an argument or an encouragement. Depende de cómo se diga. (It depends on how it’s said.)
  • Quédate tranquila. Yo pago. (Stay calm. I’ll pay.): With things like this, it is a bit weird to just say “pago”. You could think about this as emphasis or, shortness. Extra officially, I do think that if the sentence is that short, we would use the pronoun nonetheless. Other examples of this could be:
    • Ella sí sabe, pregúntale. (She does know, ask her.)
    • Yo voy, ¿tú vas? (I’m going, are you?)

4. Using pronouns to change topics

MAURA
También es importante usar los pronombres cuando cambias de tema o contrastas información sobre más de una persona.
(It is also important to use pronouns when changing the subject or contrasting information about more than one person.)
ALEX
Es como para evitar ambigüedad igual, ¿no?
(It’s like to avoid ambiguity as well, right?)
MAURA
Más o menos, pero no siempre es por ambigüedad.
(More or less, but it’s not always because of ambiguity.)
ALEX
Entonces ¿cómo funciona?
(Then how does it work?)
MAURA
Siempre que estés enumerando cosas que hacen distintas personas, por ejemplo. O sea: “Ayer yo salí de casa temprano y ellos se quedaron durmiendo.”
(Whenever you are listing things that different people do, for example. Like: “Yesterday I left home early and they stayed sleeping.”)

Here are more examples of using pronouns when we change the topic or contrast different people:

  • Ellos son geniales. Ella es de Bolivia y él es de Panamá. (They are great. She’s from Bolivia and he’s from Panama.)
  • Ni tú, ni yo, ni ellos, sabemos qué va a pasar mañana. (Neither you, me, nor them, know what’s going to happen tomorrow.)
  • Siempre me han gustado los animales. ¿Ustedes creen que eso es raro o es lo normal? ( I’ve always liked animals. Do you think that’s weird or normal?)

5. Using pronouns for politeness (only with usted or ustedes)

MAURA
Lo último que se me ocurre es que los usamos siempre que queremos ser más educados.
(The last thing that comes to mind is that we use them whenever we want to be more polite.)
ALEX
¿Qué? Yo creo que yo nunca he hecho eso.
(What? I don’t think I’ve ever done that.)
MAURA
¡Claro que sí! ¿No te acuerdas ayer cuando hablaste con mi papá por teléfono?
(Of course you do! Don’t you remember yesterday when you talked to my dad on the phone?)

Yesterday…

ALEX (on the phone)
¡Hola, Señor René! ¿Cómo está usted?
(Hello, Mr. Rene! How are you?)
MAURA’S DAD (on the phone)
Unintelligible speech
ALEX (on the phone)
Todo bien, aquí con su hija aprendiendo español.
(All good, here with your daughter learning Spanish.)

I’m sure you know “usted” (formal you) is mostly our formal form of “tú” (you). But, know that using it, even when it’s not necessary, is also a sign of politeness. It would usually happen when we talk to older people than us. It’s a sign of respect. It can also happen with “ustedes” (plural you) though remember that this “ustedes” is not formal in Latin American. Solo es plural (It’s just plural.) In Spain, though, this “ustedes” would be formal since they use “vosotros” on a regular basis.

Object pronouns are some of the most annoying pronouns you’ll find! Luckily Paulísima has a few videos on the subject. Part I is right here for you to take a next step in mastering Spanish pronouns. Click the image on the screen to get there. ¡Gracias por estar aquí y nos vemos! (Thank you for being here and see you!)

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