Spanish Sentence Structure: Build Your FIRST SENTENCES IN SPANISH
Just started learning Spanish? In today’s beginner lesson, I, Mariana from Spring Spanish, am going to show you how to build tus primeras oraciones en español (your first Spanish sentences), plus sample sentences you can steal from us, so you can start using them in conversations right away!
Ready? Here’s your first, easy, sentence…
Yo soy mexicana (I’m Mexican)! This is a useful sentence to introduce yourself in Spanish. Now, what’s the structure?
- Yo = I (both in English and Spanish these are personal pronouns and both are our SUBJECT)
- soy = am (both are the VERB to be conjugated in the first-person singular)
- mexicana = Mexican (both are adjectives and our COMPLEMENT: they say something about the subject, in this case about me)
You could replace mexicana with something else, like yo soy alemana (I am German), yo soy china (I am Chinese), or even yo soy abogada (I am a lawyer).
The following sentences follow the same pattern, but with different personal pronouns:
- Tú eres estadunidense. (You are US American.)
- Ella es colombiana. (She is Colombian.)
- Nosotros venimos de Venezuela. (We come from Venezuela.)
- Ustedes vienen de Irlanda. (You guys come from Ireland.)
- Ellas estudian español. (They study Spanish.)
Pronouns may be omitted in Spanish
Here’s another one about myself with a slightly different structure: Tengo treintaiún años (I’m thirty-one years old). Can you tell what the structure is?
- Tengo = I am (this is our SUBJECT, I, and VERB, am, combined: more on that in a second, lit. “I have”)
- treintaiún años = 31 years old (this is our COMPLEMENT, it says something about the subject, I)
You might be thinking, why isn’t she saying soy treaintaiún años if she just said that soy means “I am”? Well, that’s because in Spanish, age is something you have, not something you are… and tengo comes from tener (to have Spanish), in the first-person singular.
No hay una regla gramatical para esto (There’s no grammar rule for this), it’s just the way things are said in Spanish. And this is why learning Spanish through chunks (like “tengo treintaiún años”) is so important and will definitely make your life easier!
Now, what I want you to focus on here is that, strictly speaking, there’s no subject in the sentence Tengo treintaiún años because I’m omitting the pronoun yo (I), which we said is the SUBJECT, right?
First of all: saying yo tengo treintaiún años is also grammatically correct, but it’s much more common to leave out the pronoun yo.
This is something that happens very often in Spanish, and the reason is that la conjugación nos dice de quién estamos hablando (conjugation tells us who we are talking about), so we don’t need the pronoun anymore.
Note: This is different in English! Since almost every pronoun conjugates the same (I eat, you eat, we eat, etc), with only she/he/it conjugating differently than the rest (I eat, she eats), most of the time it’s impossible to tell who you are talking about si no mencionas el pronombre personal (if you don’t mention the personal pronoun).
In this case, tengo only goes with yo. So, there is an IMPLICIT SUBJECT, but the sentence structure is essentially the same:
(IMPLICIT YO) + TENGO + 31 AÑOS
[IMPLICIT SUBJECT + VERB + COMPLEMENT]
The exact same thing happens in the following examples:
- Tienes fiebre. (You have a fever.) (= Tú tienes fiebre)
- Tenemos hambre. (We are hungry.) (= nosotros tenemos hambre)
- Tienen ganas de viajar. (You guys / They want to travel.) (= ustedes/ellos tienen ganas de viajar)
- Tiene muchísimo sueño. (S/he is very sleepy.) (= ella/él tiene muchísimo sueño)
- Usted tiene muchas canas. (Formal you have a lot of gray hair.)
These sentences are using the verb tener, which usually means “to have”, but could also mean “to be” or “to want”. How do you know when to use which? It always depends on the context! It’s difficult to give rules for this, so your best bet: listen to a lot of Spanish native speakers to get used to the sentence structure, and learn the chunks they use by heart.
Lots of examples
Now, como predico con el ejemplo (since I practice what I preach), it’s time to listen to a native speaker (AKA me) saying lots of Spanish sentences. To make this a bit more useful, let’s have a look at 10 sentences that will come in handy for you when speaking with a native speaker for the first time:
- Mi nombre es Mariana. (My name is Mariana.)
- Tengo treintaiún años. (I am 31 years old.)
- Nosotras venimos de México. (We come from Mexico.)
- Ellos hablan alemán. (They speak German.)
- Tú quieres aprender español. (You want to learn Spanish.)
- Ustedes ven nuestros videos. (You guys watch our videos.)
- Tenemos mucha suerte. (We are very lucky.)
- Ella vive en Inglaterra. (She lives in England.)
- Yo trabajo con Spring Spanish. (I work with Spring Spanish.)
- Tiene muchísimo frío. (S/He is very cold.)
By the way, you will find flashcards for all of these examples in our Inner Circle. To find out more about it, check out the link in the description.
Based on what we’ve covered today, let’s do a quick recap! So, what’s the basic sentence structure in Spanish?
SUJETO + VERBO + COMPLEMENTO
(SUBJECT + VERB + COMPLEMENT)
As in, Yo soy mexicana (I’m Mexican) or Venimos de Inglaterra (We come from England).
There’s a subject in these two sentences; the difference is that it is IMPLICIT in the second one (nosotros is hidden inside the verb venimos).
The subject (when it’s there) is followed by a VERB (soy and venimos) and the verb is followed by a COMPLEMENT. Pretty straight-forward, right?
I know this was a lot to take in! So, there will be no quiz, instead, there will be some homework. Try to tell the structure of the following sentences. Write your answers in the comments section. I’ll be happy to provide you with feedback!
- Yo como pizza. (I eat pizza.)
- Ella vive en Inglaterra. (She lives in England.)
- Tenemos hambre. (We are hungry.)
- Tienes fiebre. (You have a fever.)’
- Ellos vienen de Alemania. (They come from Germany.)
With these sentences you are well-equipped to start speaking Spanish. ¿Ves? El español no es tan difícil después de todo, ¿cierto? (See? Spanish is not so hard after all, is it?)