Spanish Sentence Structure

Jun 18, 2021

Spanish sentence structure is very important when learning because the way in which you place words can easily change the meaning of a sentence.

Would you like to put together a sentence in Spanish? When you become proficient with word order, you are ready to put into practice all the vocabulary and grammar rules you have learned. Doesn’t that sound good? That’s not all. Keep reading! Learning Spanish sentence structure also improves your communication skills since it helps you to be understood a lot better. 

As in many other languages, learning sentence structure in Spanish can sometimes be tricky and confusing. Although Spanish syntax is quite similar to English syntax, there are a few differences that are worth considering. Spanish syntax is much more flexible than English syntax. Have you ever struggled with it? Do not panic, it is much simpler than you probably think. You are in the right place! Hispaníssimo will help you understand and at the same time master the way in which you place words in Spanish.

Learning Spanish sentence structure also improves your communication skills since it helps you to be understood a lot better.

Declarative sentences

Spanish usually follows the common sentence structure of subject, verb and object (SVO). 

Example:

Spanish: María come mucha fruta (SVO). 

English: Maria eats a lot of fruit (SVO). 

Note that this pattern is much more common in English that in Spanish. Spanish sentences can be arranged in numerous ways (we’ll talk about this in more detail down below). 

Negative sentences

Negation in Spanish is quite easy. In negative sentences, no (not) is generally placed before the verb it modifies. 

Example: 

Spanish: Laura no vive cerca del centro. 

English: Laura does not live close to the center. 

However, double negation in Spanish can be a bit more tricky. But don’t panic! We’ll try to make it easier for you. The only thing you need to do is to take into account the following rules:

  • First, it is important to mention that double negation occurs when using negative adverbs such as nada (nothing), nunca (never), todavía no (not yet), ya no (no longer), nadie (nobody), among many others. 
  • When you use these adverbs before the verb, you do not need to use “no”. For example, “Nunca leo libros”. 

When you use these adverbs after the verb, you can use “no” before the verb. For example, “No leo nunca libros”.

Spanish usually follows the common sentence structure of subject, verb and object (SVO). 

Null subjects

A huge difference between Spanish and English is that in Spanish we tend to omit the subject. The reason for this omission is that unlike English, the verb form indicates who the subject is. In other words, the rich verbal morphology of Spanish syntax explains this difference. Therefore, when speaking in Spanish English native speakers tend to use the subject when it is not necessary. 

Let’s have a look at a example to make this difference clear: 

English: I want to buy a dress for the wedding. 

Spanish: Quiere comprar un vestido para la boda. (Note that the verb “quiere” conveys the same grammatical information, that is to say, that the subject is third person and singular). Therefore, to make a sentence grammatically correct the subject always needs to agree in person and number with the omitted subject. 

In the sentence stated above, a Spanish native speaker would normally use the subject for emphasis. For instance, someone would say “Ella quiere comprar un vestido para la boda” to express that it is she who wants to buy a dress for the wedding, not me or you. 

Spanish sentence structure

The use of adjectives in Spanish sentences 

Generally, an adjective in a Spanish phrase comes after the noun it describes whereas in English it comes before the verb. Sounds easy, right? From now on try to remember this rule and avoid doing a literal translation from your native language. 

Let’s have a look at some examples: 

  • English: The red dress.
  • Spanish: El vestido rojo
  • English: The blond girl. 
  • Spanish: La niña rubia.

However, note that this rule is sometimes broken because there are some adjectives that can take both positions: they can be placed either before or after the verb. Take into account that the meaning of a sentence can change depending on the position of these adjectives. But don’t worry! We’ll now show you a list of some of them followed by illustrative examples and simple explanations that will definitely help you understand this tricky aspect of the Spanish syntax. 

  • Antiguo

Una casa antigua (the adjective placed after the noun means that the house is old or antique. 

Un antiguo profesor (the adjectives placed before the noun means that he is a former teacher. 

  • Pobre:

Un hombre pobre (the adjective placed after the verb means that the man has little money). 

Un pobre hombre (the adjective placed before the verb means that he is an unfortunate man). 

  • Solo:

Un alumno solo (the adjective placed after the verb means that the student is alone). 

Un solo alumno (the adjective placed before the verb means that there is only one student).

The use of adverbs in Spanish sentences

Adverb placement is very flexible in Spanish, although there are a few rules that need to be taken into account: 

  • When it comes to adverbs of time, they can usually be placed immediately before or after the verb, but also at the beginning or end of the sentence.

Example: 

  • Mañana compraré un vestido rojo para la boda. 
  • Compraré un vestido rojo para la boda mañana
  • Compraré mañana un vestido rojo para la boda. 

As a general rule, adverbs of quantity and manner should be placed after the verb they are modifying. 

Example: 

Ana se ríe mucho conmigo.

Adverbs that modify either another adverb or an adjective need to be placed before them:

Example: 

  • El examen le salió realmente bien.  

Be careful! When a sentence contains a compound tense, the adverb cannot come between the verb “haber” and the main verb. 

Example: 

  • No he estado nunca en París. (*No he nunca estado en París).

Take into account that the meaning of a sentence can change depending on the position of these adjectives.

The use of personal pronouns in Spanish sentences

Personal pronouns in Spanish such as me, te se le, lo, la… tend to be placed in front of the verb. Let’s have a look at a example:

  • Spanish: Se suele duchar por la mañana. 
  • English: She/he usually takes a shower in the morning. 

Questions in Spanish

Asking questions in Spanish is quite easy because unlike English you do not use auxiliary verbs. Following a few rules you’ll definitely be able to ask grammatically correct questions in Spanish. We’ll examine in detail both direct and indirect questions. 

Regarding direct questions, first let us consider the most basic Spanish question words: qué (what), cuándo (when), por qué (why), quién (who), dónde (when), cómo (how), cuál (which), cuánto (how much). When asking a question using a question word we tend to use inversion, that’s to say, the order of the subject and verb are reversed. The question words go at the beginning of the sentence. 

For example: 

  • Spanish: ¿Qué compró tu hermana? (instead of saying: “¿Qué tu hermana compró?)
  • English: What did your sister buy? 
  • Spanish: ¿Cuánto cuesta este libro? (instead of saying: “Cuánto este libro cuesta?) 
  • English: How much does this book cost? 

 

Let’s now focus on indirect questions in Spanish. Indirect questions work very similar in English and in Spanish. They generally begin with a question word but unlike direct questions they do not end with a question mark. 

Have a look at the following examples:

  • Spanish: Dime cuánto cuesta el libro.
  • English: Tell me how much the book costs. 

As we already said, Spanish is a very flexible language and sentences do not always follow the normal pattern (SVO). However, we are sure that after reading this post you’ll be able to master Spanish word order and be able to deliver idiomatic sentences like a native speaker! Once you get the grasp of it, it is very easy! Keep visiting our blog to find a variety of content that could be useful to take your Spanish to the next level. The perfect course for you is at your fingertips!

Written by: Anna Roca Regué

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