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Word Order

Spanish for Beginners

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Student reading in classroom

Roberto estudia. (Roberto is studying.)

Tom Merton/Caiaimage/Getty Images

The subject of word order in Spanish can be quite complex, so this lesson should be considered merely an introduction. As you study Spanish, you will encounter a wide variety of ways of ordering words in a sentence, many of them ways that are impossible or awkward in English.

In general, Spanish is more flexible with its word order than English is. In both languages, a typical statement consists of a noun followed by a verb followed by an object (if the verb has an object). In English, variations from that norm are used mostly for literary effect. But in Spanish, changes in the word order can be heard in everyday conversation or seen frequently in everyday writing such as that found in newspapers and magazines.

The chart below shows examples of some common ways of ordering words. Note that in many sentences the subject can be omitted if it can be understood from the context. As a beginning student, you don't need to memorize these word-order possibilities, but you should be familiar with these common schemes so you don't trip over them when you come across them.

 

Type Order Example Comment
Statement Subject, verb Roberto estudia. (Roberto is studying.) This word order is extremely common and can be considered the norm.
Statement Subject, verb, object Roberto compró el libro. (Roberto bought the book.) This word order is extremely common and can be considered the norm.
Statement Subject, object pronoun, verb Roberto lo compró. (Roberto bought it.) This word order is extremely common and can be considered the norm. Object pronouns precede conjugated verbs; they can be attached at the end of infinitives and present participles.
Question Question word, verb, subject ¿Dónde está el libro? (Where is the book?) This word order is extremely common and can be considered the norm.
Exclamation Exclamatory word, adjective, verb, subject ¡Qué linda es Roberta! (How beautiful Roberta is!) This word order is extremely common and can be considered the norm. Many exclamations omit one or more of these sentence parts.
Statement Verb, noun Sufren los niños. (The children are suffering.) Placing the verb ahead of the noun can have the effect of placing more emphasis on the verb. In the sample sentence, the emphasis is more on the suffering than who is suffering.
Statement Object, verb, noun El libro lo escribió Juan. (John wrote the book.) Placing the object at the beginning of the sentence can have the effect of placing more emphasis on the object. In the sample sentence, the emphasis is on what was written, not who wrote it. The pronoun lo, although redundant, is customary in this sentence construction.
Statement Adverb, verb, noun Siempre hablan los niños. (The children are always talking.) In general, Spanish adverbs are kept close to the verbs they modify. If an adverb starts a sentence, the verb frequently follows.
Phrase Noun, adjective la casa azul y cara (the expensive blue house) Descriptive adjectives, especially ones that describe something objectively, usually are placed after the nouns they modify.
Phrase Adjective, noun Otras casas (other houses); mi querida amiga (my dear friend) Adjectives of number and other nondescriptive adjectives usually precede the noun. Often, so do adjectives being used to describe something subjectively, such as to impart an emotional quality to it.
Phrase Preposition, noun en la caja (in the box) Note that Spanish sentences can never end in a preposition, as is commonly done in English.
Command Verb, subject pronoun Estudia tú. (Study.) Pronouns are often unnecessary in commands; when used, they nearly always immediately follow the verb.

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