Spanish has the reputation of being a simple language to learn. However, there are still some aspects of the language that cause difficulties to many learners. If you study the language carefully and practice regularly, you will master Spanish grammar without any problems. This article will give you an overview of the key notions in Spanish grammar to give you the idea of what you should focus on learning.
The two main grammatical categories of the Spanish nouns are gender and number. Special attention should also be paid to the numerous diminutives and other suffixes the Spanish nouns can have.
All Spanish nouns have one of two grammatical genders: masculine and feminine. When a noun denotes a person, the gender of the noun usually corresponds to their gender: una mujer (a woman) is feminine and un hombre (a man) is masculine.
Otherwise, this is a purely grammatical category. It has no connection with any physical characteristics of the inanimate object: una taza (a cup) is feminine, while un telefono (a phone) is masculine.
The gender of the noun can often be determined by the ending of the noun. In general, most nouns that end in -a, -ción / -sión and -ad are feminine; the rest of the nouns, which usually end in -o or a consonant, are masculine.
Most adjectives and pronouns, and all articles and participles indicate the gender of the noun they reference or modify.
Spanish has two grammatical numbers: singular and plural. The plural form is usually formed by adding –s or –es to the noun: tazas (cups), mujeres (women).
The masculine plural form can be used to denote a group of mixed gender. For instance, las niñas only means the girls, while los niños can be used to mean both the boys or the children (boys and girls).
The Spanish language uses suffixes very productively to form new nouns. The most common are diminutive suffixes which convey the idea of something small, delicate.
niño (boy) – niñito (little boy)
mamá (mother) – mamita, mamacita (mommy)
The choice of a diminutive suffix is often a mark of regional dialects – there are a lot of regional variations.
Similar to English, Spanish has the definite article (el, la) and the indefinite article (un, una). The rules of use are similar in many situations, for instance, the indefinite article is used to mean “one of”, “any”:
Da me una taza, por favor. – Give me a cup, please.
However, both the definite and the indefinite article in Spanish have plural forms.
el hombre – los hombres (the man – the men)
la mujer – las mujeres (the woman – the women)
The plural form of the indefinite article is used in the same meaning as some or any.
Tengo unos libros / unas tazas. – I have some books / some cups.
Adjectives in Spanish generally come after the noun they modify: una mujer bonita (a beautiful woman), un hombre valiente (a brave man).
Spanish adjectives can be roughly divided into two groups. One group agrees with the noun both in gender and in number: the root remains the same, but it adds the feminine or masculine ending:
bonita, bonitas – feminine
bonito, bonitos – masculine
Adjectives from the other group do not change their ending to agree with the gender of the noun and only add –s in the plural form:
valiente, valientes – both masculine and feminine
To form adverbs from adjectives, the adverbial suffix -mente is generally added to the feminine singular of the adjective:
claro (clear) – clara – claramente (clearly)
Some adverbs have the same form as the adjective:
lento – slow, slowly
There are also a few adjectives with unique forms: muy (very), casi (almost), mucho (much, a lot) and so on.
The Spanish language has the same types of pronouns as English and many other languages: personal (tú, yo), possessive (tu, mi), demonstrative (éste), reflexive (se), relative (que, quien), and interrogative (qué, quién).
A separate group of pronouns is comitative pronouns that denote accompaniment: conmigo (with me), contigo (with you).
Spanish verbs represent one of the more complex categories of Spanish grammar.
There are three types of conjugation in the Spanish language: the –ar conjugation (verbs ending in –ar, like amar, to love), the –er conjugation (verbs ending in –er, like temer, to fear), and the –ir conjugation (verbs ending in –ir, like partir, to depart).
Verbs change their ending according to tense, number, person, mood, aspect and voice according to one of the three patterns. There are also a few irregular verbs, for instance, tener (to have), that do not follow these patterns.
Here is a brief overview of the Spanish language tenses:
- Present: states facts or descriptions in the present (Yo amo. – I love.)
- Perfect Preterite Compound: states events or actions that already happened but are still relevant to the present in some way (Yo he amado. – I have loved.)
- Perfect Preterite Simple: describes finished, fulfilled past actions or events (Yo amé. – I loved.)
- Imperfect Preterite: denotes actions that were not finished, not really fulfilled, either because they were interrupted or had no clear end (Yo amaba. – I loved / I used to love.)
- Anterior Preterite: refers to an already finished action before another past action took place without interrupting it (Yo hube amado. – I would have loved / I had loved.)
- Plusquamperfect Preterite: has a similar meaning but in this case, you convey the sense that the first action was somewhat long or repetitive (Yo había amado. – I had loved / I had been loving.)
- Future Simple: expresses a fact or event in the future (Yo amaré. – I will love.)
- Future Perfect: describes a future action that happens before another future action (Yo habré amado. – I will have loved.)
There are three moods in the Spanish language: indicative, imperative and subjunctive.
The indicative mood is used to talk about facts and other statements that are believed to be true and concrete. The imperative mood is used to give commands. The subjunctive of a verb is used to express certain connotations in sentences such as a wish or desire, a demand, an emotion, uncertainty, or doubt.
Victoria estudia español. – Victoria studies Spanish. (Indicative)
(Es posible que) Victoria estudie español. – (It is possible that) Victoria studies Spanish. (Subjunctive)
In the second sentence, from the speaker’s point of view, the idea that “Victoria studies Spanish” is a hypothetical situation that may or may not be true.
Verbs in the subjunctive mood can be in the same tenses as the verbs in the indicative mood, with different endings. This is one of the more complex areas of the Spanish grammar due to the sheer number of forms and inflections, as well as to the fact that the use of indicative or subjunctive mood depends on the speakers perspective: what they perceive to be true or not.
Spanish affirmative sentences usually follow the subject-verb-object model. In practice, different variants are possible when there is a need to focus on one or the other part of the sentence.
If the subject of a sentence is a pronoun it can often be dropped as the form of the verb clearly shows the category of person.
Amo. – I love.
Amas. – You love.
Prepositions in any language can be very peculiar and hard to master for foreigners. Spanish uses quite a large number of prepositions (a, bajo, con, de, durante, en, hacia, hasta, para, por, sin, etc.). Their use and meaning often differ from similar prepositions in English or other languages. This means that prepositions need to be studied carefully and memorized.
This is a very brief overview of Spanish grammar. To truly master it, you will need to study each of the parts of speech in much more detail, paying special attention to more complex areas (such as the subjunctive mood, for example). However, this overview will hopefully give you a general idea of the Spanish grammatical system and of the main points you should consider when learning.