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Subject Pronouns

The subject pronouns in Spanish have nearly a one to one correspondence with those in English. The big difference is that subject pronouns are very rarely used in Spanish except to resolve potential ambiguity or to add emphasis.

Person Singular Plural
1st yo nosotros
3rd él, ella ellos, ellas

In English, because our verb forms don’t change all that much from one person to another, we have to use subject pronouns to make it clear who is doing what. Spanish verbs typically change with each person so there is little possibility of confusion. Let’s take the verb leer as an example:

Person Singular Plural
1st leo leemos
2nd lees leéis
3rd lee leen

Certainly in the case of leer, each form is different and clearly indicates the person involved. In Spanish, there is no need to use a subject pronoun to indicate who is performing the action. In fact, if you were to use the subject pronoun, you would be adding emphasis that you may not want.

This is difficult to convey in writing in English because English is forced to use vocal emphasis to add emphasis. Bold and italic will have to serve:

  • I read the paper. (a simple statement)
  • I read the paper. (perhaps a response to the question “Who reads the paper?)

In Spanish the two sentences above would be rendered this way:

  • I read the paper. | Leo el periódico.
  • I read the paper. | Yo leo el periódico.

Overuse of the subject pronouns in Spanish can often result in misinterpretation. It would make the person speaking sound very self-centered because they constantly emphasize themselves.

Bottom line? Don’t use the subject pronouns in Spanish unless you are adding emphasis or have a reason to assume there might be some confusion.

Frequency of Use of the Subject Pronouns

The following is a excerpt from the Spanish Frequency Dictionary showing the frequency with with they are used:

#Freq.Vocab ItemPart of SpeechEnglish
141élpronounhe (masc. 3rd person sing. subject pronoun)
252yopronounI (1st person sing. subject pronoun)
369ellapronounshe (fem. 3rd person sing. subject pronoun)
4191nosotrospronounwe (1st person plural subject pronoun)
5269usted, ustedespronounyou (formal 2nd person subject pronoun)
6554pronounyou (familiar 2nd person sing. subject pronoun)
73430vospronounyou (alternative familiar 2nd person sing. subject pronoun - Lat. Am.)
84132vosotrospronounyou all (familiar 2nd person plural subject pronoun - España)