Spanish Grammar basic terms

This article accompanies our video lesson on some basic grammatical terms that are very useful to learn Spanish effectively and to understand the reason of many mistakes.

In our online Spanish courses, grammar is not the goal, but a very important tool. Knowing a little grammar helps us a lot to recognize the structure of a language, also it makes Spanish learning easier.

Therefore, in this article we summarize some basic grammatical terms that we will need to learn Spanish effectively.

The author is Dr. Sabine Loeffler, PhD linguist, Spanish teacher since 1992 and director of CELA Spanish School.

We will also address here two common mistakes made by Spanish learners. Namely:

• wrong usage of lo and
• Absence of the preposition “a” in front of persons who are not the grammatical subject in the sentence

Mistakes are normal in learning. Most of the time they are translations from the native language or from another foreign language learned. This mini-grammar analysis, we are doing here, will help to identify the reason of the mistakes and correct them.

We will watch the video lesson first. The lesson lasts about 30 minutes. We share the content of the video lesson in writing in this article. We will also point out other video lessons related to the topic.

Video Lesson Spanish Grammar basic terms:

1. What is a noun?

A noun is a word that names a thing, animal or person.

In Spanish, we have feminine and masculine nouns.

A noun can use an article.

The articles in Spanish are definite: el, la, los, las and indefinite: un, una, unos, unas.

In general, we can say that the words ending in -a, are feminine in Spanish and the words ending in -o are masculine.

There are a few exceptions.

Words ending in -dad, -ción and -sión are always feminine.

The words ending in e, i, u, or consonant have no rule.

Therefore, we always advise our students and the teachers of our Spanish teacher course to write the words always with the article.

In Spanish, only proper nouns are capitalized.

A proper name is for example: Sabine, Luis, Pedro, Madrid, Caracas, Colombia, etc.

The plural, in Spanish, is formed by adding -s to the word that ends in a vowel, and -es to the word that ends in a consonant.

For example:

El libro, los libros
El pan, los panes

Here you can watch the video lesson about the genus of words in Spanish.

Spanish masculine and femenine words:

And, the video about the plural formation in Spanish:

Singular and Plural in Spanish:

2. What is a verb?

A verb is a word that names an action.

The basic form is the infinitive.

In Spanish, there are 3 verb groups:

Verbs on -ar (trabajar),
Verbs on –er (comer) and
Verbs on -ir (vivir).

The verbs are conjugated in different persons and have different tenses.

In Spanish, most verbs end in -ar. The verbs on -er and -ir are fewer, and are, also often irregular.

In Spanish, each tense has different irregular verbs.

Therefore, it is important to learn each tense with the corresponding, most important, irregular verbs.

In Spanish, if there is only one personal pronoun for a conjugation, the personal pronoun is omitted.

For example:

(Yo) soy profesora. (I am a teacher)

This is not possible in English. In Spanish, it is normal. Here we already have a big difference that we have to take into account so that our Spanish sounds Spanish.

We only use “yo” when we want to emphasize it.

The conjugations that have only one personal pronoun are yo, , nosotros and vosotros.

In the third persons, there are several possibilities.

Since this is so, and to avoid misunderstandings, we mention the pronoun or the person doing the action when the verb is in the third person.

María trabaja en una oficina.

If I would say only “trabaja en una oficina”, I could mean él (he), ella (she), or usted (you formal).

For this reason, we often have to indicate in the third person the person or persons doing the action.

However, if it is clear from the previous sentence who is being referred to, the person is generally not mentioned in the following sentence.

María trabaja en una oficina. Es secretaria.

And not:

María trabaja en una oficina. Ella es secretaria.

This is also not possible in English, but in Spanish, it is the norm.

In this video lesson, we explain the conjugation of the verb ser and the personal pronouns in Spanish:

Verb ser and Personal pronouns

And here the conjugation of regular verbs in present tense

Spanish present tense, regular verbs

3. What is an adjective?

An adjective is a word that tells us what a noun is like and answers the question what is the noun like.

For example:

La silla es cómoda. (The chair is comfortable)

¿Cómo es la silla? cómoda

The same rules apply to adjectives as to nouns.

They change in gender and number according to the noun to which they refer.

If the adjective in its original form ends in -o, like cómodo, it changes gender:

La silla es cómoda.
El auto es cómodo.

If it ends in another vowel or in consonant, it does not.

La silla es grande.
El auto es grande.

However, it always changes to plural.

Los autos son grandes.

It does not always has to be a verb to use an adjective:

La silla cómoda. (the comfortable chair).

In Spanish, we must always make sure that the adjective matches the noun in gender and number.

4. What is an adverb?

An adverb is a word that tells us how an activity or action is done or performed. It answers the question how is the action done.

For example:

Juan lee rápido. (Juan reads fast)

¿Cómo lee? Lee rápido

The adverb never changes in the sentence. It is unchanging. If I put the sentence in the plural, the adverb stays the same.

Juan lee rápido.
Los chicos leen rápido.

Therefore, you can know if rápido is an adjective or an adverb.

Juan lee rápido.
Los chicos leen rápido

(Rápido is an adverb)

El coche rápido. (the fast car)
La motocicleta rápida. (the fast motorcycle)

Here rápido is an adjective and changes with the noun.

Many adverbs end in -mente in Spanish

I can also say Juan lee rápidamente.

Words ending in -mente are always adverbs.

Here we have two video lessons that deal with the topic of adjectives and adverbs in Spanish

Differences between bien and bueno, mal and malo, muy and mucho:

Difference between adjective and adverb

5. What is the grammatical subject in a sentence?

The subject in a sentence is the person, animal, or thing that does or performs the action.

Back to our previous sentence:

María trabaja en una oficina. (María works in an office)

The action is trabajar. The verb names the action.

We ask who or what does the action to determine the subject in the sentence.

¿Qué o quién hace la acción?
¿Quién trabaja? María

María is the subject in this sentence.

As already mentioned, in Spanish the subject is often already indicated in the verb conjugation.

Trabajo en una oficina.
¿Quién trabaja en una oficina? Yo

Because of the ending -o I know that the subject is yo.

If there is only one possibility for a verb form, the subject is not mentioned. This is not possible in English, but it is normal in Spanish.

No one in Spanish constantly repeats the personal pronoun or the person doing the action.

Except in the third person, because there are several options for the subject. We mentioned this earlier.

In Spanish, when it is known who is doing the action, the subject is not mentioned in the following sentences until the subject changes in the text.

María trabaja en una oficina. Toma el bus para ir al trabajo. Desayuna en la cafeteria…

There are actions in which the action can be imagined figuratively, like trabajar (to work), correr (to run), vivir (to live) and others that are more passive, in which the action cannot be imagined figuratively, like in ser and estar (to be), tener (to have), hay (there is), etc… These are nevertheless actions.

Estoy en mi casa (I am at home)
¿Quién está en casa? yo

The subject is “yo” and is included in “estar” in the conjugation.

“En casa” is just an indication of place.

So always, look for the verb first and ask yourself who or what is doing the action.

In addition, when there is a single personal pronoun for a verb conjugation, as in: yo, , nosotros and vosotros, it is usually not mentioned, unless you want to emphasize it. The exception are the third persons for which there are several possibilities. We have already explained that.

The subject in the sentence is not always at the beginning.


Mañana llega el electricista.

¿Quién llega mañana? El electricista. The subject is not at the beginning of the sentence.

6. What is the accusative object or direct object?

A noun or person can also have another function in the sentence. It can be direct or indirect object.

In this sentence:

Compro una mandarina.

We have the subject:

¿Quién compra? Yo
yo” does the action

The action I do is directed towards a thing, an object, in this case accusative object or direct object.

Who or what am I buying? Who or what is the action I am doing directed at?

¿Qué compro yo? Una mandarina

Una mandarina is direct object in this sentence.

In this video lesson, we explain the Objeto Directo in Spanish

Spanish direct object pronouns:

7. What is the dative or objeto indirecto?

The objeto indirecto or dative object is the person or thing (but usually a person) affected by the action the subject is doing.

For example:

Te compro una mandarina.

The subject is yo, “yo” does the action.

¿Qué compro yo? = una mandarina (is accusative or Objeto Directo)

Te= para ti /a ti (for you/for whom?)

Whom do I buy the mandarine? To you te

In Spanish, very often the questions for the accusative or dative agree with English, but not always.

In this article, we will not go deeper into this topic. We will dedicate a separate article to the theme.

In this video, we explain the indirect object pronouns in Spanish:

Spanish indirect object pronouns

And in this lesson, the position of both pronouns, dative and accusative in the sentence.

Spanish position of the pronouns in the sentence

8. Incorrect use of lo

A direct object pronoun like lo, la, los, or las can never be the subject in a sentence.

For example:

Mi apartamento es bonito. Lo está en el centro.

The subject in the first sentence is mi apartamento.

Question: ¿Qué o quién es muy bonito?

Mi apartamento. Bonito is an adjective.

Subject in the second sentence is also mi apartamento ¿qué está en el centro?
Mi apartamento.

Mi apartamento is not mentioned in the next sentence because the subject is already known from the first sentence. We have already explained that.

Since this is not possible in English, we cannot say: “My apartment is beautiful, is in the center”, we want to insert something, because the word “it” from English is missing.

Therefore the mistake with “lo” as subject. Lo is accusative and not subject.

Correct in Spanish is:

Mi apartamento es bonito. Está en el centro.

We have to remember that. Lo, la, los, las are pronouns in the accusative and cannot be the subject in the sentence.

9. Use of the preposition “a” before persons that are object in the sentence

In Spanish, when a person is not the subject in the sentence, the preposition “a” must always precede it.

Juan visita a sus padres.

First, we have to go to the verb and ask who is doing the action. ¿Quién hace la acción? ¿Quién visita? Juan

Juan is the subject. Sus padres (his parents) are persons, but are not the subject in the sentence, so “a” must precede them, always.

If a person is not the subject in the sentence, the preposition “a” must precede it in Spanish

If you avoid these two mistakes (8 and 9) , you will have good Spanish from the beginning. A little grammar helps a lot to understand the structure of a language.

10. What is a pronoun?

In part, we have already answered this question. A pronoun replaces a noun or a name. Depending on the function, there are subject pronouns; yo, , él, ella, usted, nosotros, nosotras, vosotros, vosotras, ellos, ellas, ustedes. Reflexive pronouns: me, te, se, nos, os, se, Accusative pronouns: me, te, lo, la, nos, os, los, las, Dative pronouns: me, te, le, nos, os, les, Possesive pronouns, etc.

Here we have a video lesson on reflexive pronouns:

Spanish reflexive verbs:

11. What is a preposition?

Finally, in our grammar review, we will briefly mention prepositions.

Prepositions are small words that explain the relationship between words or sentence elements.

There are many, and it is not easy to learn them, because they cannot be translated literally. The usage also depends on the verb and the function of the words in the sentence.

But since prepositions are words, they have a meaning as such.

We will mention the one we explained in the video.

The preposition “a” in Spanish means movement in place and time and is often used with verbs of movement, such as ir (to go, to drive).

Voy a casa de Juan. A →
Vamos a trabajar el fin de semana.

The preposition en is the opposite there is no movement and therefore we often find en together with the verb estar.

Estoy en mi casa.
Las cervezas están en el refrigerador.

The preposition “de” has very many meanings. Among others, that something belongs to someone, so it is possessive:

La casa de Juan (Juan´s house)
Los alumnos de Sabine (Sabine’s students)

We also use “de” to explain what something is made of:

El vaso de plástico.
La taza de cerámica.

Now that we have refreshed the grammar, we can understand and take note of many differences between Spanish and English.
It is always very important to observe the use of the language.

In our courses, grammar is not the goal but an important tool, as well as the teacher and the teaching material.

At our school we offer complete online Spanish courses for all levels. The courses consist of 12 lessons per level. Each lesson has written explanations with explanatory videos, exercises with solutions for self-control, exercises to be sent in and corrected by the teacher, comprehension videos, interesting texts, vocabulary exercises, many pronunciation exercises, and much more. Feedback from the teacher is constant via email and voice message. The courses cost US$ 260 per level. For students who also want to do some conversation, we offer online lessons via videoconference. On our main page, you can find detailed information.

Muchas gracias y hasta la próxima clase.
CELA Spanish School Online

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