Almost all of us like to take shortcuts, and that's one way to think about what pronouns are: They're usually a shorter and quicker way of referring to a noun. Common pronouns in English include "he," "she," "what," "that" and "yours," all of which often would be replaced by longer words or more words if we didn't have the pronouns at our disposal.
In general, pronouns in Spanish function much as they do in English. They can fulfill any role in a sentence that a noun can, and some of them vary in form depending on whether they're used as a subject or an object. Probably the biggest difference is that in Spanish most pronouns have gender, whereas in English the only ones that do with very few exceptions are those that refer specifically to males or females.
If a pronoun has gender, it is the same as that of the noun to which it refers, and they are nearly always masculine or feminine. (This is done in English very rarely, such as when a ship or a nation is referred to as "she" instead of "it.") There are also a few neuter pronouns that can be used to refer to an unknown object or to ideas or concepts.
The chart below shows the different types of pronouns, which are discussed in more detail in the linked-to lessons. Each entry below lists the type of pronoun, its purpose, example in Spanish with translations, and sample sentences in Spanish and English using that type of pronoun. Note that some pronouns, such as me and ella, can be more than one type of pronoun.
- Subject pronoun — replaces the subject of a sentence — yo (I), tú (you), él (he), ella (she), ellos (they), ellas (they) — I want to leave. Yo quiero salir.
- Demonstrative pronoun — replaces a noun while also pointing to it — éste (this one), ésta (this one), ésa (that one), aquéllos (those ones) — Quiero ésta. I want this. (Note that many demonstrative pronouns have written or orthographic accents on the stressed vowel. Although such accents used to be considered mandatory, these days they generally are considered optional if they can be omitted without causing confusion. However, many writers and publications continue to use them even though they don't affect pronunciation.)
- Verbal object pronoun — functions as the object of a verb — él (him), ella (her), me (me), ellos (them) — No puedo verlo. I can't see it.
- Reflexive pronoun — used when the direct object and the subject of a verb refer to the same person. These are used much more in Spanish than in English. — me (myself), te (yourself), se (himself, herself, themselves) — Juan se baña. John is bathing himself.
- Prepositional object pronoun — used as the object of a preposition — mí (me), ella (her), nosotros (us) — Raúl lo compró para nosotros. Raúl bought it for us.
- Prepositional reflexive pronoun — used when the object of a preposition following a verb refers back to the verb's subject — mí (myself), sí (himself, herself, itself, themselves) — María lo compró para sí mismo. María bought it for herself.
- Possessive pronoun — refers to something owned or possessed by someone or something — mío (mine), mía (mine), míos (mine), mías (mine), suyo (his, hers, theirs) — La mía es verde. Mine is green. (The possessive pronouns are usually preceded by el, la, los or las, but not always.)
- Indefinite pronoun — refers to nonspecific people or things — algo (something), nadie (nobody), alguien (anybody), todo (all), todas (all), uno (one), unos (some), ninguno (none) — Nadie puede decir que su vida es perfecta. Nobody can say his life is perfect.
- Relative pronoun — introduces a clause that gives more information about a noun or pronoun — que (that, which, who, whom), quien (who, whom), cuyo (whose), cuyas (whose), donde (where), lo cual (which, that which) — Nadie puede decir que su vida es perfecta. Nobody can say that his life is perfect.
- Interrogative pronoun — used in questions — qué (what), quién (what), cuándo (when) — ¿Cuál es tu problema? What is your problem? (Note that interrogative pronouns in Spanish use an orthographic accent.)