When you learn Spanish, you’re going to spend a lot of time getting familiar with Spanish grammar rules. For many people, the thought of learning grammar isn’t necessarily a pleasant one, and we can’t blame you if you think that way. But Spanish grammar doesn’t have to be a chore to learn; in fact, with the right tools and teachers, it can be a low-friction endeavor and even a fun one!
All languages have grammar, or rules that tell us how to use their individual elements (words) to build longer structures that convey meaning (sentences). Learning grammar is an essential part of learning any new language, and Spanish is no exception! Luckily, once you start to learn how Spanish grammar works, you’ll find out it’s not all that intimidating after all.
Keep reading to learn more about Spanish grammar rules!
How Difficult Is Spanish Grammar?
Is Spanish Grammar Easy?
Many people choose to learn Spanish over other languages because they’ve heard that Spanish grammar is relatively easy to learn. While it’s true that Spanish grammar rules aren’t necessarily hard, they do take patience and practice to master, just like with any new skill.
Some elements of Spanish grammar are known to be more difficult for learners than others are — especially those elements that are more unfamiliar to native English speakers, like complex verb conjugations, a tricky concept many Spanish learners have trouble mastering.
You might struggle with some aspects of Spanish grammar and breeze through others. A lot of what you’ll find easy depends on the language or languages you already speak and how similar they are to Spanish. And you can’t forget that everyone learns differently, so the parts of Spanish grammar that give you trouble might be a piece of cake for someone else, and vice versa.
Is Spanish Grammar Similar To English?
Spanish grammar is similar to English grammar in many ways that make it fairly easy to make connections between the two languages. Both Spanish and English have the same parts of speech — like verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives and prepositions, for example — and the two languages often treat these parts of speech in the same ways.
But there are certain ways Spanish grammar rules differ from those of English. You might have heard that unlike English, Spanish is a gendered language, meaning each noun — not just every person — has an associated gender classification that shows up in the language. More on that below. And gender in Spanish affects Spanish adjectives, which change their endings to match the gender and number of the nouns they refer to.
As mentioned above, there’s also the topic of Spanish verbs, which require a bit more manipulation to use correctly than English verbs do. Spanish verb conjugation, or changing verb endings according to specific rules, is somewhat of a foreign concept to English speakers, making it a major point of difference between the two languages.
If all of this sounds a little confusing, don’t fret! Part of getting better at Spanish is practicing Spanish grammar rules that might not make much sense at first. But you’ll soon get the hang of them with just a little effort.
Introduction To Spanish Grammar: What Are Spanish Grammar Rules?
Along with Spanish vocabulary, you’ve got to know Spanish grammar to be able to use the language. In order to express ideas and form sentences in Spanish, you need to understand and follow Spanish grammar rules.
Basic Spanish Sentence Structure
The primary parts of the Spanish sentence are the subject, the verb and the object(s). For the most part, Spanish grammar follows the subject-verb-object word order as English does. For example, in a sentence like Yo quiero comida, the pronoun yo (“I”) is the subject, quiero (“want”) is the verb and comida (“food’”) is the object of that verb.
The order of other words in a Spanish is generally the same as in an English sentence, with some exceptions. In Spanish grammar, for example, adjectives usually follow the nouns they describe instead of coming before them, like they do in English. And object and reflexive pronouns like “him,” “herself” and “us” must come before the verb in many cases.
But Spanish can be a little more flexible, too, than English in the order of words in the sentence. In many cases you can even leave out the subject if the context and the ending of the verb make it clear who’s doing the action. And forming questions doesn’t often require moving around words and adding auxiliary words like “do” or “does” like English requires.
Spanish Verbs And Spanish Verb Tenses
Perhaps one of the most important parts of Spanish grammar is knowing how to use Spanish verbs — and that means knowing how to deal with Spanish verb conjugations. While verb conjugations technically exist in English as well, there aren’t nearly as many, so learning them (and how and when to use them) takes time and discipline in Spanish.
For many students who are just learning about conjugations, this infamous system of changing Spanish verb endings is the legend of ghost stories, the stuff of scary dreams. But don’t worry; every Spanish student who’s ever been overwhelmed by the prospect of learning Spanish verb conjugations has made it out alive!
First, we start with an infinitive. Spanish verbs exist in what’s known as the infinitive form, what English speakers would think of as a verb in the “to (verb)” form — like “to do,” “to eat” or “to sleep,” for example. All of these Spanish infinitives end in one of three endings: -ar (like the verb cantar, “to sing”), -er (like beber, “to drink”) or -ir (like vivir, “to live”).
Conjugating a verb in Spanish means changing the ending of the verb to match the subject (so, who or what is doing the action of the verb) and the tense (when in time the action is happening). Depending on whether you’re speaking Latin American or European Spanish, there are either 5 or 6 different verb endings in the present tense alone.
Here’s an example for a verb in the present tense: take a regular verb ending in -ar, like hablar (“to speak”). If the pronoun yo (“I”) is the subject, or the one doing the speaking, you drop the -ar ending from the verb and add the ending -o, giving yo hablo, or “I speak.” For the pronoun tú (“you”), hablar becomes tú hablas, or “you speak.”
Each potential subject has its own special conjugation, or verb ending, associated with it, and this applies for all verbs, whether they end in -ar, -er, or -ir — though the conjugations are slightly different for each ending.
Learning Spanish verbs requires practicing verb conjugations for each possible combination of subject — including the pronouns just mentioned — and of the verb tense, which refers to when the action of the verb takes place, like the past, the present or the future (though there are several more Spanish verb tenses than just these three). Add on to that that verbs can also have different “moods” that distinguish among subjective thoughts, objective facts and commands, and you’ve got dozens of potential verb endings for a single Spanish verb, all depending on how you’re using it in a sentence.
Two of the most useful Spanish verbs are ser and estar, which both mean “to be” but are used in two different contexts. The verb ser is used for more permanent conditions, qualities and characteristics — like one’s place of origin, name, occupation or personality — whereas estar is reserved for more fleeting, temporary states of being, like one’s location, position, moods and emotions and continuous actions.The distinction between ser and estar is one of the first topics you’ll learn in Spanish grammar, so you’ll surely get lots of practice with the concept.
You’ll also get to know special “modal” verbs that turn a basic verb into a more complex verb phrase that expresses necessity or possibility, for example — verbs like "should" and "can." They are conjugated and come before an infinitive form of another verb. So, if we take the sentence Nosotros podemos cantar ahora, or “We can sing now,” we see that the verb poder (“can” or “to be able to”) is conjugated (podemos, for the subject nosotros) but the main verb comer (“to eat”) remains an infinitive.
Spanish verbs seem daunting at first, but the patterns that govern them are pretty regular, and you’ll get the hang of them in time. Of course, there are persky irregular verbs, too, but learning them is just part of the process.
Spanish Nouns And Spanish Articles (And Spanish Gender)
Just like in English, one of the key elements of Spanish grammar is the Spanish noun, which describes a thing, person, place, idea, quality or action. Spanish nouns are important because in many cases they indicate who or what is doing the action of the verb (the subject) — or who or what is having that action done to it (the object). They are fundamental parts of a Spanish sentence!
According to Spanish grammar, all Spanish nouns have a number (singular or plural, a concept which also exists in English) and a gender (masculine or feminine).
Talking about number and gender of Spanish nouns isn’t too complicated. To start, the fact that nouns in Spanish grammar can be singular or plural is a familiar idea to English speakers. In most cases, to form a plural noun Spanish speakers add an -s to the end of a singular noun, just like in English. So the word meaning “book,” libro, becomes libros, and the word manzana, meaning “apple,” becomes manzanas. For words ending in a consonant like color (“color”) or nivel (“level”), you add the ending -es to give colores and niveles, for example. Not too hard, right?
When we say that Spanish nouns have gender, it doesn’t mean that every person, place, object or idea is inherently male or female; it’s just a system of categorization that exists in Spanish grammar (and in that of many other world languages). You can think of gender as a “type” or even “genre” of noun if that’s helpful. Often, Spanish gender maps to words in ways that align with biological sex; mujer (“woman”) is a feminine noun, whereas hombre (“man”) is a masculine noun. But sometimes these gender assignments can be pretty arbitrary; why is vestido (“dress”) masculine while masculinidad (“masculinity”) is feminine? Why is silla (“chair”) feminine while sofá (“sofa”) is masculine? A major part of learning Spanish nouns involves memorizing their gender classifications, so it’s important to practice this concept.
There are patterns of certain word endings that can clue you in to which gender they might be assigned; for example, nouns that end in -o are often masculine (like el teléfono, or “the telephone”), while nouns that end in -a are often feminine (like la cara, or “the face”). But be wary of words that defy this pattern, like the masculine word el problema (“the problem”) or the feminine word la mano (“the hand”). Spanish gender can be a tricky concept to master for this reason!
A noun’s gender and number classifications help us understand which Spanish articles — the words we’d call “the,” “a,” “an” and “some” in English — to use before that noun. The four Spanish definite articles (meaning “the”) are:
- el (singular, masculine)
- la (singular, feminine)
- los (plural, masculine)
- las (plural, feminine)
That means if we’re talking about a feminine noun like mujer (“woman”) or idea (“idea”), and we want to describe a specific woman or a particular idea, we’d say la mujer (“the woman”) or la idea (“the idea”). If we’re talking about more than one specific woman or idea, we’d get las mujeres (“the women”) and las ideas (“the ideas”). The same goes for masculine nouns; el libro (“the book”) and el ojo (“the eye”) become los libros (“the books”) and los ojos (“the eyes”) in the plural.
If you’re referring to an unspecified noun or group of nouns, you’d use an indefinite article instead. The four Spanish indefinite articles (meaning “a,” “an” or “some”) are
- un (singular, masculine)
- una (singular, feminine)
- unos (plural, masculine)
- unas (plural, feminine)
So, we’d say una mujer to talk about “a woman” (not any one woman in particular) and unas mujeres for “some women.” And similarly, un libro would mean “a book,” whereas unos libros would refer to “some books.”
Figuring out how to use Spanish nouns is vital to learning Spanish grammar rules, so stick with it even the concept takes some getting used to.
Just like in English, Spanish pronouns stand in for Spanish nouns. They come in handy when you’re talking about yourself (“I am happy!”) or about someone you’re talking to (“Who are you?”).
They’re particularly useful when a speaker doesn’t want to keep repeating the same noun over and over. For example, assume you say a sentence like La mujer es mi amiga, or “The woman is my friend.” If you want to keep talking about the same woman, without reusing the noun la mujer, you can use a Spanish pronoun — in this case, ella, or “she.” Thus, you could say something like La mujer es mi amiga. Ella tiene dos hermanas. (“The woman is my friend. She has two sisters.”)
Spanish pronouns are extremely common in the Spanish language, just as they are in English. They often exist as subjects of sentences — like in the sentence Ella tiene dos hermanas. The subject pronouns in Spanish are:
- yo (“I”)
- tú (“you”) (singular, informal)
- él (“he”)
- ella (“she”)
- usted (“you”) (singular, formal)
- nosotros/nosotras (“we”)
- vosotros/vosotras (“you all”) (plural, informal) (Spain only)
- ellos/ellas (“they”)
- ustedes (“you all”) (plural, formal or informal in Latin America) (formal only in Spain)
As mentioned above, each Spanish pronoun or group of pronouns has its own associated verb conjugation for each Spanish verb, so it’s important to learn them all.
You might have noticed that there are multiple ways to say “you.” Spanish grammar rules require you to make a distinction between the informal and formal versions of the pronoun “you,” depending on whom and how many people you’re talking to. The informal tú is reserved for singular people you have a familiar, personal relationship with, like a friend, a sibling or someone younger than you. The more formal usted is appropriate when speaking to a boss, an elder or someone in a position of authority, for example. The form ustedes is used to refer to a group of multiple people; in Spain, it’s the formal pronoun, but in the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, it’s used both formally and informally. The forms vosotros and vosotras are only used in Spain to speak to a group of people informally.
When Spanish pronouns serve as the object of a sentence, they take different forms and in most cases come before the verb. In a sentence like El perro me ama, or “The dog loves me,” the direct object pronoun me (“me”) comes before the verb ama (“loves”).
Spanish pronouns in this pre-verb position sometimes even refer back to the subject and are called reflexive pronouns. In the sentence Él se llama Marco, or “He calls himself Marco,” the reflexive pronoun se refers to the same person as the subject él and comes before the verb llama, or “calls.”
Pronouns can even be possessive, telling us who is the owner of a certain noun. Instead of saying el libro de nosotros (literally, “the book of us” or “the book of ours”), you can say nuestro libro (“our book”). If you’re talking about la idea de Roberto (“the idea of Roberto”), you could opt for su idea (“his idea”), as long as the context makes clear whom you’re talking about.
Though Spanish verbs and Spanish nouns and pronouns are perhaps the most important part of Spanish grammar rules to get to know, you can’t forget about Spanish adjectives! These are words that describe the properties and characteristics of nouns — properties like color (amarillo, or “yellow”), size (pequeño, or “small”), shape (largo, or “long”) or someone’s personality (amable, or “friendly”), to name just a few.
Adjectives in Spanish must “agree” with the nouns they modify. This means that Spanish adjective endings must reflect the gender (so, masculine or feminine) and the number (singular or plural) of the noun to which they refer. Unlike in English, in all but a few cases a Spanish adjective comes after the noun it is describing.
For example, an adjective like rojo (“red”) can describe a singular, masculine noun like el libro (“the book”) to give us el libro rojo (“the red book”). But if the noun is feminine, like la mesa (“the table”), we get the expression la mesa roja (“the red table”). If the nouns are plural, the adjective endings change to reflect that, and we get expressions like los libros rojos (“the red books”) and las mesas rojas (“the red tables”).
You'll soon get the hang of how to use Spanish adjectives and Spanish nouns with repeated exposure. It's one of the earliest skills you'll practice as you start learning Spanish!
Adverbs in Spanish modify adjectives, verbs or other adverbs. They usually tell us how, in what way or by what means an action is completed or the degree of intensity of a given adjective. You can recognize Spanish adverbs because they often end in the suffix -mente, sort of like the English ending -ly. For example, the adjective rápido means “quick,” and rápidamente means “quickly.” Similarly, fácil means “easy,” and fácilmente means “easily.”
Some other common Spanish adverbs and adverb phrases include:
- ahora (“now”)
- más tarde (“later”)
- nunca (“never”)
- siempre (“always”)
- bien (“well”)
- mal (“badly,” “poorly”)
- muy (“very”)
- bastante (“enough”)
- aquí (“here”)
- allí (“there”)
Of course, there are many more Spanish adverbs than these, and being able to use them will carry you a long way and add flavor to your language when you’re learning to speak Spanish.
Prepositions are words that describe relationships in time and space between two or more ideas, people, or things (so, nouns). It’s important to learn Spanish prepositions when you’re getting the grasp on Spanish grammar rules. Luckily, they have no gender or number, so you don’t have to learn many different forms!
To describe spatial relationships, there are several common Spanish prepositions you’ll want to know. Here are just a few examples:
- encima de (“on top of”)
- debajo de (“below”)
- al lado de (“next to”)
- fuera de (“outside of”)
- dentro de (“inside of”)
- en (“in,” “on,” “at”)
- entre (“between”)
There are also Spanish prepositions to help you talk about relationships in time:
- antes de (“before”)
- después de (“after”)
- hasta (“until”)
- desde (“since,” “from”)
And then there are plenty of other useful Spanish prepositions you’ll want to know as well:
- con (“with”)
- sin (“without”)
- de (“of”)
- según (“according to”)
- a (“to” or “at”)
- por (“for,” “because of,” “in exchange for”)
- para (“for,” “in order to”)
When it comes to Spanish prepositions, you’ll want to learn as many as possible to help you expand your language skills and capabilities. Their meanings can be slightly different from their English translations, so it’s important to practice using them in the right contexts. Many Spanish students spend a long time just figuring out when to use por or para, both of which can mean “for”!
Practicing Spanish Grammar With Babbel
Learning Spanish with Spanish grammar exercises doesn’t have to be boring or anxiety-inducing at all. In fact, Babbel makes mastering Spanish grammar interactive, engaging and much more fun!
Babbel is designed to help guide you through all the elements of Spanish grammar, from the simplest to the most complex.
Our courses help you deepen your understanding of Spanish grammar using in-depth lessons created by language experts and teachers.
Babbel’s Spanish grammar exercises are designed to strengthen your skills in the four areas of language learning — reading, writing, speaking and listening — and make sure the content you’re learning is committed to your long-term memory. Helpful tips along the way help you reinforce what you’re learning by making connections in new ways.
And almost every lesson features a simulated real-life dialogue to help you put what you’re learning about Spanish grammar into context in the sorts of conversations you’d be having with native speakers.
Try getting a handle on Spanish grammar with a free Babbel Spanish lesson!