Spanish/Lessons/Introducción a la gramática

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Lesson 3 — Introducción a la gramática
Aconcagua mountain in the Argentinian Andes.

Articles[edit | edit source]

As in many languages, every noun in Spanish has a gender: it is either masculine or feminine. For example, gato ("cat") is masculine and mesa (table) is feminine. Almost all nouns ending in -o are masculine, most words ending in -a are feminine. The gender of unliving things is arbitrary and must be memorized, or looked up. Do not try to figure out what is "feminine" about the word mesa; it doesn't work that way.

In English we have two types of articles: the definite article ("the") and the indefinite article ("a" or "an"). Spanish does too, but there are 4 forms of each, depending on the number and gender of the noun.

Definite articles[edit | edit source]

Spanish Grammar • Introducción a la gramática
The definite article El artículo definido

masculine singular el el hombre the man
plural los los niños the boys
feminine singular la la mujer the woman
plural las las niñas the girls

Indefinite articles[edit | edit source]

Spanish Grammar • Introducción a la gramática
The indefinite article El artículo indefinido

masculine singular un un hombre a man
plural unos unos niños some boys
feminine singular una una mujer a woman
plural unas unas niñas some girls

When we want to turn a noun into plural, we follow these rules:

  • If the noun ends in a vowel add -s Example: un gato (a cat); unos gatos - (some cats).
  • If the noun ends in a consonant add -es. Example: el papel (the sheet of paper); los papeles (the sheets of paper).

Fortunately, the gender of Spanish nouns is usually pretty easy to work out. Some very simple rules-of-thumb:

  • If a noun ends in a, it's likely to be feminine. Example: bolsa (bag).
  • If it ends in o, or a consonant, it's likely to be masculine. Examples: libro (book), móvil (mobile phone).

There are some exceptions though, but you will learn these as you attain new vocabulary.

Go to the exercises.

Regular Verbs[edit | edit source]

We have already seen the present tense conjugations of two Spanish verbs, llamarse and tener. However, tener (to have) is an irregular verb. Luckily, many verbs follow an easy to understand conjugation scheme.

In Spanish, the conjugation of a regular verb depends on the ending of its infinitive. (The infinitive is the basic form of the verb that you find in the dictionary; for example, English infinitives are always written with to, like the verbs to run or to speak.) All Spanish infinitives end in the letter r, and the three regular conjugation patterns are classified into -ar, -er, and -ir verbs.

Unlike English, Spanish verbs conjugate depending on the person; that is, they change depending on who is being talked about. This occurs in the English verb to be (e.g. I am, you are, he is, etc.) but in Spanish this occurs for all persons in all verbs. As a result, pronouns are usually omitted because they can be inferred from the conjugation.

The pronouns
Person in English Person in Spanish
Singular Plural Singular Plural
First I We Yo Nosotros
Second You You all Vosotros
Third He / She / It They Él / Ella
Ellos / Ellas

Spanish distinguishes between the singular you (informal , formal usted) and the plural you (informal vosotros, formal ustedes). Both and vosotros have their own conjugation patterns; usted follows the same pattern as él/ella and ustedes follows the same pattern as ellos.

In Latin America, vosotros is almost unheard of, and ustedes is exclusively used instead.

Nosotros (we) has a feminine nosotras that is used when the entire group is composed of females. Likewise, vosotros and ellos have feminine forms vosotras and ellas.

The Present Tense in English
Present Tense (en)
Singular Plural
First I play We play
Second You play You all play
Third He / She / It plays They play
The Present Tense in Spanish
Regular -ar Verbs
Singular Plural
First -o -amos
Second -as -áis
Third -a -an
Example: Cant-ar (To sing)
Singular Plural
First Cant-o Cant-amos
Second Cant-as Cant-áis
Third Cant-a Cant-an
Regular -er Verbs
Singular Plural
First -o -emos
Second -es -éis
Third -e -en
Example: Beb-er (To drink)
Singular Plural
First Beb-o Beb-emos
Second Beb-es Beb-éis
Third Beb-e Beb-en
Regular -ir Verbs
Singular Plural
First -o -imos
Second -es -ís
Third -e -en
Example: Part-ir (To split)
Singular Plural
First Part-o Part-imos
Second Part-es Part-ís
Third Part-e Part-en
More examples
  • Llorar ("to cry"): lloro, lloras, llora, lloramos, lloráis, lloran
  • Cocinar ("to cook"): cocino, cocinas, cocina, cocinamos, cocináis, cocinan
  • Beber ("to drink"): bebo, bebes, bebe, bebemos, bebéis, beben
  • Comer ("to eat"): como, comes, come, comemos, coméis, comen
  • Deber ("to ought to do, to owe"): debo, debes, debe, debemos, debéis, deben
  • Leer ("to read"): leo, lees, lee, leemos, leéis, leen
  • Asistir ("to attend"): asisto, asistes, asiste, asistimos, asistís, asisten
  • Cubrir ("to cover"): cubro, cubres, cubre, cubrimos, cubrís, cubren
  • Escribir ("to write"): escribo, escribes, escribe, escribimos, escribís, escriben
  • Vivir ("to live"): vivo, vives, vive, vivimos, vivís, viven

  • There are many more "-ar" verbs than "-er" or "-ir". Make sure you are most familiar with these endings.
  • The second person plural is highlighted because that tense is only used in the variety of Spanish used in Spain. In other Spanish dialects the third person plural form is used instead.
  • When reading texts, you will need to know the person of the verb at a glance. Notice the pattern:
    1. "O" denotes I
    2. "S" denotes You
    3. A vowel that is not "O" denotes He/She/It
    4. "MOS" denotes We
    5. "IS" denotes You All
    6. "N" denotes They

Go to the exercises.

Questions and exclamations[edit | edit source]

In previous lessons, you will have noticed that we used an upside-down question mark "¿". In Spanish, questions always begin with it, finishing with the usual question mark. It is the same for exclamations; the upside-down exclamation mark "¡" precedes exclamations. Spanish is the only language with these two inverted characters.

This happens because Spanish does not reverse the word order to ask a question. While English says You are here / Are you here?, Spanish keeps the same order: Tú estás aquí / ¿Tú estás aquí? Whereas the English word order alerts you from the beginning that what you are going to read is a question, Spanish offers no such initial warning. To compensate for this, Spanish adds the initial question mark, so that you'll always be able to tell a declarative statement from a question from the moment you begin reading it.

Questions in Spanish are mainly done by intonation (raising the voice at the end of the question), since questions are often identical to statements. Te llamas Richard means "Your name is Richard", and ¿Te llamas Richard? means "Is your name Richard?".

You can also use question words, as indicated below.

Spanish Vocabulary • Introducción a la gramática
Questions Preguntas

Español Inglés
¿Dónde? Where?
¿Quién? Who?
¿Qué? What?
¿Cuál? Which?
¿Cómo? How? (as in How does it work?)
¿Cuán? How? (as in How long is it?)
¿Por qué? Why?
¿Cuándo? When?
¿Cuánto? How much?
¿Cuántos? How many?
¿De quién? Whose?
¿A quién? Whom?
¿De dónde? Whence?
¿Adónde? Whither?
¿Para qué? Wherefore?
  • ¿Con quién?
    With whom?
  • ¿Dónde está el banco?
    Where is the bank?
  • ¿Cuándo es tu cumpleaños?
    When's your birthday?
  • ¿Qué fecha es hoy?
    What is the date today?
  • If you refer to a group of people, you can use the plural quiénes.
  • Cuánto and cuántos have feminine forms cuánta and cuántas.
  • The archaic cúyo was used in place of de quién. You may still find it in books from the early 20th century. Outside of questions, the corresponding pronoun cuyo is still used to mean whose in declarative statements. (Feminine cuya; plural cuyos; feminine plural cuyas; this pronoun's number and gender agree with that which is possessed, not the possessor.)
  • Cuán is gradually becoming archaic and being replaced by qué tan.

Go to the exercises.

Summary[edit | edit source]

In this lesson, you have learned:

You should now do the exercise related to each section (found here) before moving on. This is a very important topic for future lessons; it is important that you know it well.

You have now completed this chapter! Return to the Contents...


Learn the Spanish language
Lesson oneLesson twoLesson three
Lesson fourLesson fiveLesson six
Lesson sevenLesson eightLesson nine