Word Order and Spanish Syntax
Spanish syntax is incredibly flexible. While there are some rules to follow when constructing basic Spanish sentences, you can usually play around with the placement of words and get the exact same message across.
Let’s take a look at an example that demonstrates the flexibility of Spanish syntax and word order.
Yes, you read that right! Even though the word order is different, these sentences communicate the same basic meaning, although there may be some subtle differences in emphasis.
Word Order in Affirmative Statements
Let’s take a look at the basic word order rules for affirmative statements!
1. A Complete Sentence Requires a Subject and a Verb
A complete sentence in Spanish must have a subject and a verb. The subject is the part of a sentence that contains the person or thing performing the action, while the verb expresses the action or state of being of the subject. The verb is always conjugated based on the subject pronoun (yo, tú, etc.) of the sentence.
Remember that, in Spanish, a conjugated verb includes information about the subject as well as the verb! Read on to find out more.
2. Subject Pronouns are Optional
While subject pronouns can be used to replace a person's name, many native speakers of Spanish rarely use them at all unless it’s for emphasis or in cases where it is not clear who the subject is. This is because Spanish verb endings tell you who the subject is.
Check out these examples!
3. The Subject Typically Goes Before the Verb
The typical word order of an affirmative statement in Spanish is SVO: subject, verb, object.
However, there are many reasons to invert the subject-verb order. You can invert the subject and the verb:
- to ask a question (see last section)
- for emphasis or dramatic purpose
- to keep an adverb close to the verb it modifies
- when using verbs like gustar
- to indicate who’s speaking
Let’s take a look at some examples that demonstrate a subject-verb inversion!
4. Adjectives Typically Go After Nouns
Unlike in English, adjectives usually come after the nouns they describe in Spanish.
As always, there are some exceptions. Place the adjective before the noun when using possessive, demonstrative, and limiting adjectives (adjectives that define a number or amount of a noun), as well as descriptive adjectives that emphasize an essential quality of a noun.
Some adjectives change meaning according to position. When placed after the noun, the adjective has a fairly objective, descriptive meaning. When placed before the noun, the adjective has a more subjective meaning.
Check out these examples!
5. Many Adverbs Can Go Anywhere
Adverbs typically go after the verb or before the adjective they modify, but they can also go at the beginning or end of the sentence. Here are a few guidelines to follow:
- An adverb usually comes after the verb it modifies.
- An adverb always comes before the adjective or adverb it modifies.
- Adverbs of time can be placed in various positions in a sentence. They can go at the beginning of the sentence, after the verb, or at the end of the sentence.
Word Order in Negative Statements
Negation in Spanish is really simple—just add nobefore the verb! If there is a direct or indirect object pronoun in front of the verb, place the no in front of the pronoun. If you are including the subject pronoun, the no is placed between the subject pronoun and the verb.
Word Order in Questions
Yes / No Questions
Intonation is the easiest way to ask a question that can be answered with sí(yes) or no(no). All you need to do is raise your voice at the end of the statement when you want to ask a question. To put the question in writing, just frame what you want to ask with question marks (¿?).
Another way to ask a sí or no question is with inversion. To convert a statement to a question using inversion, simply reverse the subject-verb order.
Let’s turn the following statements into questions!
When asking information questions (questions that require an answer beyond sí or no), you'll need to begin your question with a question word. Unless the question word functions as a subject, subject-verb inversion is obligatory.
Looking for more articles about grammar? Check out these articles!