Word Order and Spanish Syntax

Quick Answer

La sintaxis(syntax) is the grammatical structure of sentences that governs the way in which words are ordered. In this article, you’ll learn the proper word order for affirmative statements, negative statements, and questions in Spanish.

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.

examples
Le compré un collar hermoso a mi madre.
I bought a beautiful necklace for my mother.
A mi madre le compré un hermoso collar.
I bought a beautiful necklace for my mother.

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, , 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!

examples
Rompí el florero.
I broke the vase.
Yo rompí el florero. No le eches la culpa al perro.
I broke the vase. Don’t blame the dog.

3. The Subject Typically Goes Before the Verb

The typical word order of an affirmative statement in Spanish is SVO: subject, verb, object.

For example:

examples
Más de diez mil personas murieron en la guerra.
More than ten thousand people died in the war.
El león persiguió la gacela.
The lion chased the gazelle.

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!

examples
Murieron más de diez mil personas en la guerra.
More than ten thousand people died in the war.
Siempre me decía mi padre que era especial.
My father always told me that I was special.
A mi hermanita le encantan los perezosos.
My little sister loves sloths.
"Te quiero más que nunca", dijo Mariana.
“I love you more than ever,” Mariana said.

4. Adjectives Typically Go After Nouns

Unlike in English, adjectives usually come after the nouns they describe in Spanish.

For example:

examples
Vi una serpiente amarilla en el jardín.
I saw a yellow snake in the garden.
Quiere casarse con un hombre inteligente.
She wants to marry an intelligent man.

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.

For example:

examples
Tiene pocos amigos.
He has few friends.
De repente, la valiente cabra saltó a otra roca.
All of a sudden, the fearless goat leapt to another rock.

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!

examples
Era un gran cantante.
He was a great singer.
Buscan una casa grande en el campo.
They're looking for a big house in the country.
Este es mi viejo amigo Juan.
This is my old friend Juan.
La casa es ruinosa y vieja.
The house is dilapidated and old.

Click here to learn more about the placement of adjectives.

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.
examples
Hablas demasiado.
You talk too much.
  • An adverb always comes before the adjective or adverb it modifies.
examples
Están muy cansados.
They are very tired.
  • 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.
examples
Mañana me voy para La Habana.
Tomorrow I’m leaving for Havana.
Me voy mañana para La Habana.
I’m leaving tomorrow for Havana.
Me voy para La Habana mañana.
I’m leaving for Havana tomorrow.

Click here to learn more about adverb placement in Spanish.

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.

examples
No tengo que trabajar esta noche.
I don’t have to work tonight.
No le mostré la foto.
I didn’t show her the picture.
Yo no lo hice, mamá.
I didn’t do it, Mom.

Word Order in Questions

Yes / No Questions

Intonation is the easiest way to ask a question that can be answered with (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 (¿?).

For example:

examples
¿Carlos está aquí?
Is Carlos here?
¿Tú eres de España?
Are you from Spain?

Another way to ask a 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!

examples
Sandra es simpática.
Sandra is nice.
¿Es simpática Sandra?
Is Sandra nice?
Ustedes van a la playa mañana.
You are going to the beach tomorrow.
¿Van ustedes a la playa mañana?
Are you going to the beach tomorrow?

WH- Questions

When asking information questions (questions that require an answer beyond 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.

For example:

examples
¿Qué te regalaron tus padres para tu cumpleaños?
What did your parents give you for your birthday?
¿Dónde vive Nelson?
Where does Nelson live?