Spanish Sentence Structure

While there are some major exceptions, the word order of Spanish sentences generally follows the same pattern as in English.

Spanish Word Order

Spanish Subjects and Verbs

The simplest Spanish sentences include a subject and a verb, usually in that order:

Julio lee.
Julio reads.

Exception

While we can't omit a subject pronoun in English, we can in Spanish. This occurs when context makes clear who or what the subject is, or if the conjugation used only has one possible subject:

Julio lee. Toca el piano también.
Julio reads. He plays the piano too.

Jugamos fútbol americano.
We play football.

Spanish Objects

As in English, objects are placed after verbs. If the sentence has both a direct and an indirect object, the direct object comes first:

Julio lee libros.
Julio reads books.

Margarita da comida a los pobres.
Margarita gives food to the poor.

Exception

When you replace an object with an object pronoun, the pronoun comes in front of the verb.

Julio los lee.
Julio reads them.

Margarita se la da.
Margarita gives it to them.

Spanish Adjectives

Unlike English, Spanish adjectives usually come after the nouns they modify:

Julio lee libros buenos.
Julio reads good books.

Exception

A few adjectives precede the nouns they modify:

Julio lee muchos libros.
Julio reads many books.

Spanish Adverbs

Like English, we have a lot of flexibility as to where we place adverbs in a sentence. Generally speaking you should try to keep your adverb close to your verb, but there are many possibilities:

Frecuentemente Julio lee libros.
Frequently Julio reads books.

Julio frecuentemente lee libros.
Julio frequently reads books.

Julio lee libros frecuentemente.
Julio reads books frequently.

Adverbs which modify adjectives precede that adjective:

Julio lee libros muy buenos.
Julio reads very good books.

Questions in Spanish

One big difference between Spanish and English is the formation of questions. In English we add a helping verb to change a statement into a question:

statement:

 

question:

Julio reads books.

Does Julio read books?

In Spanish we generally just switch the normal subject / verb order:

statement:

 

question:

Julio lee libros.

¿Lee Julio libros? or
¿Lee libros Julio?

When the subject pronoun is omitted, the question marks let us know the sentence is a question:

¿Lee libros?
Does he read books?

Commands in Spanish

To change a statement into a command in English we simply drop the subject pronoun. In the case of a "we" command, we also add the word "let's":

statement:

 

command:

You read books.
We read books.


Read books!
Let's read books!

We also drop subject pronouns in Spanish, but since we don't have to use them anyway, a command requires a completely different verb conjugation. Compare:

statement:

 

command:

Lees libros.
Lee libros.
Leemos libros.
Leéis libros.
Leen libros.





¡Lee libros!
¡Lea libros!
¡Leamos libros!
¡Leed libros!
¡Lean libros!

Variations

While you're still learning Spanish it would be a good idea to follow the rules listed above, but Spanish provides more flexibility than English. The following sentence structures are less common, but there is nothing grammatically wrong with them:

Lee libros buenos Julio.
Lee Julio libros buenos.
Libros buenos Julio lee.
Buenos libros lee Julio.

Each sentence means exactly the same thing (and would be translated the same way) but by changing the word order, the emphasis is shifted from one part of the sentence to another.

A Word About Run-on Sentences

When reading Spanish literature you may find long sentences that look suspiciously like what your English teacher would call a "run-on." Keep in mind that a sentence may continue indefinitely without necessarily being a run-on. Sentence structure and length is largely a matter of style and Hispanic writers tend to employ longer sentences.


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