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Spanish-English Dictionary: More Information

World Factbook

Houghton MifflinNotes on Grammar and Usage

The Verb

The Infinitive
The infinitive sometimes functions as a verbal noun and, as such, may be used as a subject <el viajar por avión es más rápido traveling by air is faster>. It may also be used as the object of a verb <él quería marcharse he wanted to leave>, or as the object of a preposition <se fue sin darles nada he left without giving them anything>.

The Present Indicative

The present indicative tense in Spanish translates not only the simple English present, but the English emphatic and progressive forms as well <ella habla español she speaks Spanish, she does speak Spanish, or she is speaking Spanish>. The present indicative may be substituted in both English and Spanish for the future <mañana voy a La Paz tomorrow I am going to La Paz>.

The Imperfect Indicative

The imperfect indicative tense denotes that an action or a state was continuing or being repeated in past time. As the name implies, the tense gives an impression of incompleteness <los pájaros cantaban the birds were singing>. It is commonly used to indicate that an action was going on when something else happened <comíamos cuando nos llamó we were eating when he called us>. It is also appropriate for descriptions and for expressing mental and physical states in past time <ellos no eran felices they were not happy>.

The Preterit Indicative

The preterit is a past tense which implies that an act was completed at a definite time in the past. It is the tense commonly used in narration to denote happenings and events <Ana entró en la sala Anna entered the room>. The preterit stands in contrast to the imperfect, which provides the circumstances or setting in which the events of the preterit occur <hablaban de la política cuando Ana entró en la sala they were talking about politics when Anna entered the room>.

The Future Indicative

Simple future time is expressed most directly by the future indicative <vendrán mañana they will come tomorrow>. The future tense may also express present probability <serán las diez it must be about ten o'clock>.

The Conditional Indicative

As in English, the conditional is used in indirect discourse <dijo que iría he said that he would go> and in the main clause of a contrary-to-fact statement <si fuera rico, lo compraría if I were rich, I would buy it>. The conditional may also express probability in past time <serían las dos cuando llegó a casa it must have been about two o'clock when he came home>.

The Imperative Mood

The imperative mood is used to express affirmative commands in the second person. Its use is limited to familiar speech <Juan, vuelve a casa John, go back home>. Since object pronouns are attached to the imperative, a written accent is often necessary <siéntate, chico sit down, little one>. Commands in the first and third persons and negative second person commands are formed using the subjunctive mood.

The Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive is used to express commands in the first and third persons, for which there exist no forms in the imperative mood <que hable ella let her speak>. The form usted is considered a third person form <escriba usted la carta en seguida write the letter at once>. When the object pronoun nos follows the first person plural of the subjunctive, the final s of the verb is dropped <sentémonos let's sit down>. The subjunctive is used to express negative commands in the second person <no hables así don't talk like that>.

The Present Participle

The present participle is invariable in form. In dependent constructions, it denotes action going on at the time or immediately before the time of the main verb <llegando tarde, no encontré a nadie arriving late, I found no one>. The present participle is used with the verb estar to form progressive constructions <el señor está esperando the gentleman is waiting>. The idea of verbal continuity of the action can also be conveyed by the verbs ir (to go), seguir (to continue), andar (to go), and venir (to come) <ellos seguían leyendo they continued reading>.

The Past Participle

The past participle is an adjective that expresses the verbal idea in a completed state. It agrees in number and gender with the substantive to which it refers, except when used after the verb haber to form the perfect tenses <todos estaban dormidos all were asleep>.

  • Present Perfect <ella me ha escrito una carta she has written me a letter>
  • Pluperfect <sabíamos que usted había llegado we knew that you had arrived>
  • Future Perfect <se habrá marchado cuando usted llegue he will have gone when you arrive>
  • Preterit Perfect <apenas hubo llegado cuando vino a verme he had hardly arrived when he came to see me>

The Passive Voice

The true passive voice, in which the subject is acted upon, is formed by the auxiliary ser with the past participle, which agrees in gender and number with the subject <la oveja fue devorada por el lobo the sheep was devoured by the wolf>. Note that the agent, when expressed, is introduced by the preposition por. The passive voice is not used often in Spanish, except when the agent is expressed. The English passive voice is frequently translated into Spanish by a reflexive construction <aquí se habla español Spanish is spoken here>.

Reflexive Verbs

A verb is reflexive when both its subject and pronoun object (direct or indirect) refer to the same person or thing <María se miró en el espejo Mary looked at herself in the mirror>. In English only transitive verbs are used reflexively. In Spanish the reflexive construction is extended to intransitive verbs <me quedaré aquí I will stay here>. Impersonal and general statements may be expressed in Spanish by the reflexive <se dice que ella es rica it is said that she is rich>.

Ser and Estar

Ser is used to express a quality or characteristic of the subject <Pablo es alto y guapo Paul is tall and handsome>, the origin of the subject <estos zapatos son de Italia these shoes are from Italy>, and in expressing time and dates <son las dos it is two o'clock>. Impersonal expressions are also formed with the verb ser<es importante estudiar it is important to study>. The passive voice is formed with ser and the past participle <la novela fue escrita por Rulfo the novel was written by Rulfo>.

The Noun
Gender of Nouns

In Spanish all nouns are either of masculine or feminine gender.

Nouns that refer to female beings or that end in -a are usually feminine. Some nouns ending in -a, particulary those of Greek origin, are masculine <el clima the climate, el día the day>. Nouns ending in -dad, -tad, -tud, -ión, -umbre, and -ie are generally feminine <la ciudad the city, la voluntad the will, la virtud the virtue, la nación the nation, la muchedumbre the crowd, la serie the series>. The most notable exception is el avión (the airplane). The letters of the alphabet are also feminine.

Nouns that refer to male beings or that end in -o are usually masculine. Note the exceptions <la mano the hand, la radio the radio>. Days of the week, months of the year, and the names of rivers are all masculine. The infinitive used as a noun is also masculine <el esquiar es difícil skiing is difficult>.

Plural of Nouns

Nouns ending in a vowel form the plural by adding -s <el hombre the man, los hombres the men>. Nouns ending in a consonant other than -s add -es in the plural <el león the lion, los leones the lions>. Nouns ending in -s that are not accented in the last syllable remain unchanged in the plural <el paraguas the umbrella, los paraguas the umbrellas>. In forming the plural, the usual rules of accentuation and spelling must be observed <la luz the light, las luces the lights> <el avión the airplane, los aviones the airplanes>.

The Article

The Definite Article

Masculine Feminine Neuter
Singular el la lo
Plural los las

The definite article agrees in number and gender with its noun <el hombre the man, las niñas the girls>. Before feminine singular nouns beginning with a stressed a or ha, the definite article el is used instead of la <el agua the water>.

  • with a general noun representing an entire class of persons or objects <te gusta la música? do you like music?>
  • with names of languages, except after the prepositions de or en and immediately after the verb hablar <el inglés English> <hablan francés they speak French>
  • before titles not used in direct address <el general Patton General Patton> <está bien, señor Azorín very well, Mr. Azorín>
  • before parts of the body and personal possessions <llevaba el sombrero he was wearing his hat>
  • before names of the seasons except after de or en <la primavera pasó rápidamente spring passed quickly>
  • when the name of a country is modified <la Grecia antigua ancient Greece>
  • with the time of day <son las dos it is two o'clock>
  • with days of the week except after the verb ser <voy al teatro los viernes I go to the theater on Fridays>
  • before infinitives used as nouns <el mentir es un vicio lying is a vice>
  • before nouns in apposition <Madrid, capital de España Madrid, the capital of Spain>
  • before numerals in the titles of sovereigns <Carlos Quinto Charles the Fifth>
  • in certain set expressions <en nombre de Dios in the name of God>

The Indefinite Article
Masculine Feminine
Singular un una
Plural unos unas

The indefinite article agrees in number and gender with its noun <una mesa a table, unos libros some books>. Before a feminine noun beginning with a stressed a or ha, the indefinite article un is used instead of una <no quedó ni un alma viviente not a soul remained alive>.

  • before predicate nouns denoting a class or group <es soldado he is a soldier>; if the noun is modified, the article is retained <es un buen soldado he is a good soldier>
  • after de and como corresponding to English 'as' or 'as a' <servía de consejero he served as an advisor>
  • after qué in exclamations <¡qué desastre! what a disaster!>
  • before certain adjectives such as ciento (hundred), cierto (certain), medio (half), mil (thousand), and otro (other) <compré mil lápices I bought a thousand pencils>
Agreement of Adjectives

Adjectives agree in gender and number with the nouns they modify <una niña bonita a pretty child, libros interesantes interesting books>.

Feminine Form of Adjectives

Adjectives ending in -o in the masculine form the feminine by changing the -o to -a <seco, seca dry>. Many adjectives ending in -or, -on, -an and adjectives of nationality form the feminine by adding -a. Note that the rules for accentuation must be observed <holgazán, holgazana lazy>. Adjectives that end in -e have the same form in the masculine and feminine, as do most adjectives that end in other vowels or consonants <grande big, feliz happy, popular popular, agrícola agricultural>.

Plural of Adjectives

Adjectives form the plural by adding -s to a singular ending in a vowel, and -es to one ending in a consonant <rico, ricos rich, hablador, habladores talkative>.

Apocopation of Adjectives

The following adjectives drop their final -o when they precede a masculine singular noun:

  • alguno <algún día some day>
  • bueno <un buen caballo a good horse>
  • malo <un mal año a bad year>
  • ninguno <ningún dinero no money>
  • postrero <el postrer suspiro the last sigh>
  • primero <el primer capítulo the first chapter>
  • tercero <el tercer piso the third floor>
  • uno <un poema a poem>

Position of Adjectives

An adjective follows the noun when it is used to describe a noun objectively, to emphasize a special characteristic, or to differentiate the noun from other members of its group <arte italiano Italian art>. An adjective precedes the noun when it denotes a usual or inherent characteristic <la blanca nieve the white snow>.

Adjectives Used as Nouns

In Spanish, the adjective is used substantively much more freely than in English <el anciano the old man>. The neuter article lo combines with the masculine singular form of the adjective to form an abstract noun <lo bueno the good>.

Comparison of Adjectives

The comparative degree is formed by placing más (more) or menos (less) before the positive form of the adjective <más pobre poorer, menos feliz less happy>.

  • mucho much, más more
  • poco little, menos less
  • bueno good, mejor better
  • malo bad, peor worse
  • grande big, mayor larger
  • pequeño small, menor smaller

Possessive Adjectives

The possessives agree in person with the possessor and in number and gender with the thing possessed <nuestra tía our aunt, nuestros libros our books>.

Used before the noun
Singular Plural
Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine
1st Person mi(s) mi(s) my nuestro(s) nuestra(s) our
2nd Person tu(s) tu(s) your (familiar) vuestro(s) vuestra(s) your
3rd Person su(s) su(s) his, her, its, your (formal) su(s) su(s) their, your

Used after the noun
Singular Plural
Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine
1st Person mío(s) mía(s) my, of mine nuestro(s) nuestra(s) our, of ours
2nd Person tuyo(s) tuya(s) your, of yours vuestro(s) vuestra(s) your, of yours
3rd Person suyo(s) suya(s) his, of his, her, of hers, its, your, of yours suyo(s) suya(s) their, of theirs, your, of yours

Demonstrative Adjectives

Masculine Feminine
Singular este esta this
Plural estos estas these
Singular ese esa that
Plural esos esas those
Singular aquel aquella that (distant)
Plural aquellos aquellas those (distant)

The adjective este and its corresponding feminine and plural forms refer to that which is near to or associated with the speaker in place, time, or thought <estos zapatos que llevo son italianos these shoes that I am wearing are Italian>.


Formation of Adverbs
Adverbs may be formed from adjectives by adding -mente (-ly) to the feminine singular form <nuevo, nuevamente new, newly>. An accent on the adjective is retained <cortés, cortésmente courteous, courteously>. When two adjectives of this type are used together and are to be transformed into adverbs, the ending -mente is joined to the second adjective only <ella escribió clara y rápidamente she wrote clearly and rapidly>.

Position of Adverbs

Short adverbs follow the verbs as closely as possible <Juan trata mal a su hermana John treats his sister badly>. Longer adverbs or adverbial phrases may occur in other positions <saludó a la profesora cortésmente, saludó a la profesora con cortesía he greeted the professor courteously>. An adverb modifying an adjective or adverb immediately precedes it <no corrió tan rápido como yo he didn't run as fast as I did> <Juana es muy rica Jane is very rich>.

Comparison of Adverbs

The comparative degree is formed by placing más (more) or menos (less) before the positive form of the adverb <más temprano earlier, menos rápidamente less rapidly>. The superlative of adverbs is formed with the neuter article lo <lo más rápidamente most rapidly>. The following adverbs have irregular comparative and superlative forms:

  • mucho much, más more, lo más the most
  • poco little, menos less, lo menos the least
  • bien well, mejor better, lo mejor the best
  • mal badly, peor worse, lo peor the worst
Personal Pronouns

Subject Personal Pronouns
Since the Spanish verb has distinctive forms for the first and second persons, the subject personal pronouns are normally omitted for those forms <estoy enferma I am ill, estamos enfermos we are ill>. They may be used for emphasis <yo pago la comida si tú pagas la propina I will pay for the meal if you leave the tip>. Since the third person endings may be used to refer to several possible subjects (you, he, she, it), the subject pronoun is often included for clarity <ella tiene hambre she is hungry>.


Usted and ustedes are the pronouns of address used in formal speech. They have lost all feeling of class distinction that they had long ago as the shortened forms of vuestra merced and vuestras mercedes. Now they are used to address people whom one respects or strangers.

Tú, Vosotros, and Vos

The second person pronouns and vosotros are used in familiar discoursein family life, among friends, and in addressing children or animals. The second person familiar should not be used as a sign of inferiority: a beggar is addressed as usted; servants are addressed in the second person only when they are felt to be members of the family.

After a Preposition

The forms of the personal pronoun used after prepositions are the same as those used as the subject of a verb (él, ella, usted, nosotros, vosotros, ellos, ellas, ustedes) except in the cases of mí, ti, and <lo compré para ti I bought it for you>. When the preposition is con (with), the syllablego is added and the accent is dropped <conmigo, contigo, consigo>.

Third Person Object Pronouns

There is much individual and regional variation in the use of third person object pronouns.

Position of Object Pronouns

An object pronoun generally precedes the verb <me dio el libro he gave me the book>. Exceptions:

Repetition of Personal Pronoun

The direct and indirect object forms of the personal pronoun can never be stressed or emphatic. If emphasis is needed, the prepositional form is used in addition to the object pronoun <a mí me dan miedo they frighten me>. When the reference of an object pronoun is not sufficiently clear, it is made explicit by adding the prepositional form <a ella le debo esta ansia I owe this anxiety to her>. In the example, le could refer to any number of people (a él, a ella, a usted), and the a ella clarifies its meaning.

Reflexive Pronouns

When the subject and the object (direct or indirect) of a sentence are the same person or thing, a reflexive form is used. For the first and second persons it is the same as the object pronoun form. Se is used for the third person <Elena se miró en el espejo Ellen looked at herself in the mirror>.

Neuter Personal Pronouns

Since all nouns in Spanish have a gender, the neuter personal pronouns are used only to refer to an idea or to an unidentified object in the singular. The pronoun ello is rarely found, but lo is frequently used <no lo sabe nadie no one knows it>.

Possessive Pronouns
el mío, la mía, los míos, las mías, lo mío mine
el tuyo, la tuya, los tuyos, las tuyas, lo tuyo yours (familiar sing.)
el nuestro, la nuestra, los nuestros, las nuestras, lo nuestro ours
el vuestro, la vuestra, los vuestros, las vuestras, lo vuestro yours (familiar pl.)
el suyo, la suya, los suyos, las suyas, lo suyo his, hers, its, theirs, yours (formal)

The possessive pronoun agrees in gender and number with the thing possessed <él tiene sus guantes pero yo no tengo los míos he has his gloves but I don't have mine>. Since suyo covers many cases, a phrase such as la de usted (yours) or los de ella (hers) may be substituted for suyo for clarity <mis amigos y los de usted my friends and yours>.

Demonstrative Pronouns
Masculine Feminine Neuter
Singular éste ésta esto this, this one
Plural éstos éstas these
Singular ése ésa eso that, that one
Plural ésos ésas those
Singular aquél aquélla aquello that, that one (distant)
Plural aquéllos aquéllas those (distant)

The pronoun éste refers to that which is near or associated with the speaker in time, place, or thought <éste es el libro a que me refiero this is the book to which I am referring>.

Relative Pronouns

A relative pronoun introduces a subordinate clause and joins it to the preceding noun or pronoun that is its antecedent.

Interrogative Pronouns

The interrogative pronouns are:

  • qué? what?
  • quién?, quiénes? who?, whom?
  • cuál?, cuáles? which?, which one(s)?
  • cuánto?, cuánta?, cuántos?, cuántas? how much?, how many?

The Personal a

The preposition a should be used before a direct object that belongs to any of the following groups:

  • proper names of persons and animals <voy a buscar a Blanca I am going to look for Blanche> but not things <voy a buscar un libro I am going to look for a book>
  • geographical names <he visitado a Madrid muchas veces I have visited Madrid many times> but not those that require the definite article <he visitado el Perú muchas veces I have visited Peru many times>
  • common nouns that refer to persons <mataron a nuestro hermano they killed our brother> but not those that refer to things <mataron un gallo they killed a rooster>
  • things personified <al anochecer insultaba a la luna at nightfall he would insult the moon> but not things considered in their ordinary state <al anochecer miraba la luna at nightfall he would look at the moon>
  • pets or personified animals <María quiere a su perro Mary loves her dog> but not animals in a general sense <María vio un elefante en el jardín zoológico Mary saw an elephant at the zoo>.


Negation in Spanish is expressed by the use of no which precedes the verb <no comprendo I don't understand>, and can be separated from it only by object personal pronouns <no te comprendo I don't understand you>.


The most frequently used simple coordinating conjunctions are y (and), o (or), pero (but), mas (but), sino (but), and ni (nor).

Titles of Address and Family Names

The titles don and doña have no equivalent in English. Don is used only before a given name <Don Carlos>. Its use does not imply extreme familiarity. It is used between friends of age and dignity, as a term of familiarity mingled with respect by the young to their elders, and by people of humble station to those whom they consider their superiors. In formal address, don is used after señor when both given and family names are used <Señor Don Eduardo Sanchez y Robles>. The abbreviations are D. and Da.

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