Spanish Sentence Structure: The Big 6 Explained

Word order for proper Spanish sentence structure

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Why is it so important to fully understand Spanish sentence structure?

Well, a common mistake many beginner Spanish students make early on is translating directly, word by word, from English, and assuming that it makes sense.

Yes, you may have the correct vocab.

Yes, the conjugated verb is also probably correct.

However, the translation still won’t make any sense if it doesn’t follow the correct Spanish sentence structure.

You have probably heard people say that when learning a second language, the magic happens when you think in that language. Understanding the correct Spanish sentence structure is the key to reaching this point, and guiding you towards sounding like a native speaker.

Heads up: this post is super long, so bookmark the page and come back to it anytime you are confused about the sentence structures discussed.

How many Spanish Sentence Structures are there?

It would take all day to cover every type of sentence structure in Spanish in this post.

Instead, we have identified six of the most common sentence structures used by Spanish speakers. In fact, most sentence structures not mentioned are derived from the six forms we cover.

The six forms we will cover are:

  1. Sentences that express declarative statements.
  2. Sentences that express negation statements.
  3. Sentences that express questions.
  4. Sentences that include adjectives.
  5. Sentences that include direct and indirect objects.
  6. Sentences that use que to connect ideas.

The first three that we cover here correspond to the most common types of sentences in English. The next three actually build on the first ones, but they follow some specific Spanish word order rules that deserve their own sections.

There’s one common Spanish sentence structure that we’re not covering here: Spanish commands. These are sentences that use the imperative mood to give orders. We have a number of posts on how to give orders in specific contexts, so for more info please just refer to these lessons on informal tú commands, formal usted commands, nosotros commands, useful Spanish commands for teachers and babysitters, and Spanish dog commands.

While we’ll try to give you some hard rules about sentences in Spanish, we should also point out that Spanish is a flexible language, so some sentence structures may change depending on the context.

1. Declarative sentences

The main purpose of declarative sentences is to provide information about a particular event or situation.  In Spanish these sentences are called afirmativas or enunciativas.

Declarative Spanish sentences are used in any tense (past, present, or future). They’re used normally to talk about everyday life. Let’s see some examples.

  • Claudia visits her family every year. – Claudia visita a su familia cada año.
  • Claudia visited her family last year. – Claudia visitó a su familia el año pasado.
  • Claudia will visit her family next year. – Claudia visitará a su familia el próximo año.

Word order for declarative sentences in Spanish

Declarative sentences are often formed by:

  • A subject
  • A verb (conjugated)
  • A complement (direct and/or indirect)

Let’s see this in action below.

Subject Verb (conjugated) Complement(s)
Claudia visita a su familia cada año

You don’t always need to include subject pronouns in Spanish sentences, since more often than not, the conjugated verb will make it obvious who the subject is.

For example, here we include the subject in the Spanish sentence:

  • I watch TV every Sunday. – Yo veo televisión cada domingo.
  • We want to do the homework. – Nosotros queremos hacer la tarea.

And here the Spanish sentence has exactly the same meaning without the subject:

  • I watch TV every Sunday. – Veo televisión cada domingo.
  • We want to do the homework. – Queremos hacer la tarea.

As you can see, both options work.

2. Negation sentences

It’s probably no surprise that a negation sentence (una oración negativa in Spanish) is used to deny a fact. Just like declarative sentences, negation sentences can be expressed in any tense.

To make a negation sentence, you need to place an adverb of denial before the action verb.

Of course, the most popular adverb of denial in Spanish is no.

In many scenarios, no is replaced with other adverbs of denial, such as jamás (never), nunca (never), ni…ni (neither…nor), tampoco (either/neither), nadie (nobody), nada (nothing), etc.

For not, let’s just stick with no and see some examples:

  • I don’t want to go to the dentist. – Yo no quiero ir al dentista.
  • She didn’t attend the meeting. – Ella no asistió a la reunión.
  • They won’t repair the car. – Ellos no repararán el auto.

Where do we place the “no” in Spanish?

Just like in English with not, the adverb no is by far the most commonly used negation word.

It is placed before the main verb in the sentence.

Let’s see the breakdown of an example we mentioned above: I don’t want to go to the dentist.

Subject Negation Word Verb (Conjugated) Complement(s)
Yo no quiero ir al dentista

Double negation in Spanish

Unlike English, using double negatives in Spanish is grammatically correct. Whereas you wouldn’t say not never or not nothing in English, this is done by native speakers daily.

Here are some of the Spanish negation words that can be used in conjunction with no:

Spanish negation word English
Nada Nothing
Nadie Nobody
Ningún, Ninguno, Ninguna, Ningunos, Ningunas Any, No, Nobody, None
Ni…ni Neither…nor
Nunca, Jamás Never
Ya no No longer
Todavía no Not yet, Still not
Tampoco Either, Neither

Let’s see some examples of these being used in sentences:

  • I have never read Lord of the Flies. – Nunca he leído El Señor de las Moscas.
  • Daniela liked neither studying nor working. – A Daniela no le gustaba ni estudiar ni trabajar.
  • Nobody will come to the party tonight. – No vendrá nadie esta noche a la fiesta. – Nadie vendrá esta noche a la fiesta.

Rules of thumb with negation sentence structure in Spanish

Did you notice that the first example sentence above didn’t use a double negative? There are two things to mention about using no with other adverbs of denial:

1. If one of these adverbs is placed before the verb, we don’t include no.

2. If one of these adverbs is placed after the verb, we need to use the double negative with no before the verb.

So when should we favor the option with both no and the negative adverb?

Simply put, double negation is used to reinforce a negative sentence.

Let’s see some examples to compare these two forms of negation sentences in Spanish:

  • Before the verb: Nadie vino a mi fiesta de cumpleaños. – Nobody came to my birthday party.
  • After the verb: No vino nadie a mi fiesta de cumpleaños. – Not one person came to my birthday party.
  • Before the verb: Ella nunca irá a la iglesia. – She will never go to the church.
  • After the verb: Ella no irá nunca a la iglesia. – She will never ever go to the church.
  • Before the verb: Él tampoco está de acuerdo. – He doesn’t agree either.
  • After the verb: Él no está de acuerdo tampoco. – Even he doesn’t even agree either.

Just remember, the sentence will normally translate the same, but there is more emphasis when a double negation is used.

3. Asking questions

Naturally, asking questions (with question sentences, or oraciones interrogativas in Spanish) is something you’ll want to do daily.

Just like in English, in Spanish we often use questions to express commands or make suggestions, but more moderately or politely.

An important distinction when writing question sentences in Spanish is that we use two question marks (¿?): the upside-down one at the beginning of the question (¿) and the other at the end (?).

Let’s see some examples of Spanish question sentences:

  • What’s your name? – ¿Cómo te llamas?
  • Did his sister go to work? – ¿Su hermana fue a trabajar?
  • Would you mind changing your seat? – ¿Le importaría cambiarse de asiento?
  • Where are you going next Christmas? – ¿A dónde vas a ir la próxima Navidad?

There are two main types of questions in Spanish

  • Yes or No questions
  • Interrogative questions

Yes or No questions

As the name implies, these questions only elicit a straightforward yes or no answer.

They have a simple sentence structure, the same as declarative sentences, with the only significant difference being the rising intonation when speaking.

  • Do you like this shirt?¿Te gusta esta camisa?
  • Have you ever gone to Medellin?¿Has ido a Medellín alguna vez?
  • Did Michelle like the present?¿Le gustó el regalo a Michelle?

Interrogative questions

These questions (called oraciones parciales in Spanish) request more precise information. These phrases feature question words such as quién (who), qué (what), cuándo (when), por qué (why), and so on. Let’s see a few examples:

  • Where were they born?¿Dónde nacieron?
  • What time is it?¿Qué hora es?
  • When is José Luis’s birthday?¿Cuándo es el cumpleaños de José Luis?

Spanish question words

As we just saw, interrogative questions use the question words as an integral part of their sentence structure in Spanish. We have a couple of posts that focus specifically on these Spanish interrogatives (known as pronombres interrogativos), but we’ll go ahead and list them here for reference.

Keep in mind that all of the Spanish question words have accent marks, which helps to keep them clear from other grammatical classes of words such as relative pronouns. We’ve also included links within the table below to posts that cover some of these words specifically.

Spanish question word English question word
¿Qué…? What…?
¿Cómo…? How…?
¿Por qué…? Why…?
¿Cuándo…? When…?
¿Dónde…? Where…?
¿Quién / Quiénes…? Who / Whom…?
¿De quién…? Whose…?
¿Cuánto / Cuánta…? How much…?
¿Cuántos / Cuántas…? How many…?
¿Cuál / Cuáles…? Which…?

4. Sentences with adjectives

We use adjectives to describe or modify other words, to make our ideas more specific. Sentences with adjectives are not necessarily a class of Spanish sentence structures unto themselves, but we’ll go into them here because the word order of these sentences depends on the adjectives.

Keep in mind that, unlike English, adjectives in Spanish must agree with the gender and number of the noun they modify. This means that most adjectives have a few different endings to reflect whether the noun they describe is masculine, feminine, singular, or plural. We go into this in a bit more detail in our post where we introduce the 33 most common Spanish adjectives.

Where do we place adjectives in a Spanish sentence?

Now that we’re clear on what an adjective is, we can examine where to place adjectives in Spanish sentences.

Adjectives after a noun

Most of the time, adjectives are placed after the noun that it is describing. When in doubt, you should use this sentence structure in Spanish when you include adjectives.

  • I have a wonderful family. – Tengo una familia maravillosa.
  • Daniel has just remodeled his new house. – Daniel acaba de remodelar su casa nueva.
  • Delia and her sister bought expensive shoes. – Delia y su hermana compraron zapatos costosos.

Adjectives before a noun

Certain adjectives, such as numbers and possessive adjectives, will always be placed before the noun. These are less common, so with time you’ll know which Spanish adjectives follow this rule.

  • Laura’s auntie has two white cats. – La tía de Laura tiene dos gatos blancos.
  • You must tidy up your room because it is a mess! – ¡Debes arreglar tu cuarto porque es un desastre!
  • The worst Star Wars movie that I have watched was Episode One – La peor película que he visto de Star Wars fue Episodio I. (Certain other adjectives, including mejor and peor, are always placed before a noun too.)

The other scenario where you might place an adjective before a noun is when you want to reinforce that adjective, or else add more emphasis to the noun described. Often, this is with an intention is to sound poetic. However, it is recommended not to abuse this stylistic resource, since it doesn’t sound natural among Spanish speakers.

Here are some examples of adjectives being placed before the noun for emphasis, even though these particular adjectives usually come after the noun:

  • This old sweater fits me so well. –  Este viejo suéter me queda tan bien.
  • The trade union unifies all small companies from the city. – El sindicato unifica a todas las pequeñas empresas de la ciudad.
  • The beautiful girl watched the time go by, but her dad never came back. – La hermosa niña veía pasar el tiempo, pero su papá nunca regresó.

Adjectives with different meanings before or after the noun

For some adjectives, their placement before or after the noun changes the precision of the concept they describe. We’ll go through some of these Spanish adjectives here, and provide examples demonstrating each meaning.

When these adjectives are placed before a noun, they generally have a vague and abstract meaning.

When they appear after a noun, the meaning is usually more concrete.

In some cases, like buen vs bueno, the spelling of the word even changes when the adjective is placed before vs after the noun. We have a detailed post on this phenomenon of clipped words in Spanish where we introduce many such adjectives and their meanings, along with other Spanish words with common shortened forms.

1. Alto

Before: Superior or important, referring to a condition or a category

  • Javier y su hermano son altos ejecutivos. – Javier and his brother are senior executives.

After: Tall

  • El chico alto juega baloncesto. – The tall boy plays basketball.

2. Antiguo

Before: Former, Previous

  • ¿Cómo era tu antiguo trabajo? – How was your previous job?

After: Old

  • Ellos compraron una computadora antigua. – They bought an old computer.

3. Cierto

Before: Indeterminate or imprecise information

  • Hemos leído cierta información sobre el accidente. – We have read certain informations about the accident.

After: True, Certain

  • No lo creía, pero es una historia cierta. – I didn’t believe it, but it’s a true story.

4. Curioso

Before: Strange, Odd

  • Ellos escribieron una curiosa respuesta en el examen. – They wrote an odd answer in the exam.

After: Curious

  • Javier solía ser un niño curioso. – Javier used to be a curious kid.

5. Grande

Before: Cool, Awesome, Great

  • Ellos han sido grandes amigos desde el colegio. – They have been great friends since school.

After: Tall, Big, Large

  • Ella es una mujer grande y fuerte. – She is a big and strong woman.

6. Menudo

Before: Interjection used to express praise or admiration. It emphasizes the meaning of the noun.

  • ¡Menudo partido de fútbol hemos visto! – What a great soccer match we just watched!

After: Skinny, Thin

  • Manuel y su primo eran niños menudos. – Manuel and his cousin were skinny children.

7. Simple

Before: Humble, Unimportant, Ordinary

  • ¡Es solo un simple comentario! Por favor, no te enojes. – It’s just an unimportant comment! Don’t get mad, please.

After: Not complex, Easy

  • Era una tarea simple, ¿la terminaste? – It was an easy task, did you finish it?

8. Solo

Before: One and only

  • Tomás ha viajado a Puerto Rico solo una vez. – Tomás has travelled to Puerto Rico just one time.

After: Lonely, Solitary, Desolate

  • La fiesta está muy aburrida y sola. – The party is dull and desolate.

Since they’re often confused, we have a full post explaining the differences between solo vs sólo vs solamente.

9. Varios

Before: Several, Some, A few, Not many

  • Karen y su novio fueron a varios conciertos el año pasado. – Karen and her boyfriend went to several concerts last year.

After: Miscellaneous, Diverse

  • El quiosco vende revistas varias sobre deportes. – The newsstand sells a variety of magazines about sports.

5. Sentences with direct and indirect object pronouns

Any type of Spanish sentence can have object pronouns. The word order in sentences with object pronouns is dependent on how they interact with the verbs.

Before we get into sentence structure, let’s first just review what function direct and indirect objects have in a sentence.

  • A direct object is a noun that receives the action of the verb.
  • The indirect object is the noun that the direct object is to or for.

This type of sentence structure is related to the declarative sentences seen in the first section, but differs with the use of pronouns.

Direct Objects

The direct object is the person or thing that receives the action of the verb in a sentence. To find the direct object in a sentence, ask who or what is receiving the verb’s action. Now let’s review all of the direct object pronouns in Spanish that correspond to the various subject pronouns, along with their English equivalents:

Subject Pronouns Direct Object Pronouns English Equivalent
Yo me me
te you
Usted lo, la you
Él lo him
Ella la her
Nosotros nos us
Nosotras nos us
Vosotros os you
Vosotras os you
Ustedes los, las you
Ellos los them
Ellas las them

Where do we place direct object pronouns in Spanish?

1) When there is only one verb in the sentence, the direct object pronoun is placed before the conjugated verb:

[Subject] + [Direct object pronoun] + [Verb (conjugated)]

Take a look at this word order with a direct object, and then with the direct object pronoun:

  • I see the girl. I see her. – Veo a la chica. La veo.

2) When there is a conjugated verb + infinitive verb used together, there are two correct sentence structures for placing the direct object pronoun. One is before the conjugated verb like we saw above, while the other sees the object pronoun attached directly to the end of the infinitive verb.

  • [Subject] + [Direct object pronoun] + [Verb (conjugated)] + [Verb (infinitive)]
  • [Subject] + [Verb (conjugated)] + [Verb (infinitive)][Direct Object Pronoun]

Let’s see some examples. Here we provide the first sentence where we see the direct object mentioned explicitly, and then the two sentence structures where we replace it with a direct object pronoun. It’s important to mention that the meaning is the same, regardless of these which word orders we use.

  • Los chicos quieren comprar los zapatos. – Los chicos los quieren comprar. – Los chicos quieren comprarlos.
  • Laura necesita leer la revista. – Laura la necesita leer. – Laura necesita leerla.
  • Tienes que visitar a tus padres. – Los tienes que visitar. – Tienes que visitarlos.
  • Miguel debe aprobar la materia. – Miguel la debe aprobar. – Miguel debe aprobarla.

Where do we place indirect object pronouns in Spanish?

To find the indirect object in a sentence, we can ask to whom/for whom or to what/for what the action is being done. When the indirect object is animate, like a person or animal (as opposed to something inanimate), we often precede it with the preposition a (or the contraction al, which is short for a el) to indicate to or for that particular individual.

Spanish sentence structure with indirect object pronouns is essentially the same as with direct object pronouns.

What if we have both direct object pronouns and indirect object pronouns?

When a sentence has both an indirect object pronoun and a direct object pronoun, we just need to place them together in that order. If we place them at the end of an infinitive, they are both attached together in that order.

Things start getting a bit more complicated at this point though, so we’ll leave it at that for now. For a lot more detail, please check out our detailed blog posts on direct object pronouns, indirect object pronouns, and on using both direct and indirect object pronouns together.

6) Sentences using Que to connect ideas

In Spanish, we use que to connect ideas in any given sentence, and it is usually translated as that, which, or who. (This is not to be confused with the Spanish question word qué, which we already covered in section 3 on question sentences.)

Grammatically, que may be a relative pronoun referring to the subject, or it may be a strict connector word between two ideas of the sentence.  In either case, the Spanish sentence structure is the same. Here we’ll see the various uses for que in Spanish, each of which calls for a sentence structure whereby que links two distinct ideas.

Que as a relative pronoun

In this context, we use que to identify the person or object we are referring to in a sentence.

  • This is the laptop that I bought yesterday. – Esta es la laptop que compré ayer.
  • Daniel is the person who sells tickets for the concert. Do you know him? – Daniel es la persona que vende las entradas para el concierto. ¿Lo conoces?
  • I failed the driving test that I had taken last month. – Reprobé la prueba de conducir que había tomado el mes pasado.

Que as a conjunction

In this context, we use que to link two concepts within a sentence.  The sentence structure is the same. This structure is especially common when we use subjunctive trigger phrases in the first clause, leading to subjunctive conjugation in the dependent clause.

  • It is possible that there is snow tomorrow. – Es posible que mañana nieve.
  • She worries that her son has not arrived. – Le preocupa que su hijo no ha llegado.

Some contexts also allow for de que, but this does not change the sentence structure.

  • I’m glad [that] the plane arrived on time. – Me alegro de que el avión haya llegado a tiempo.
  • He remembers that you always played together as children. – Él se acuerda de que siempre jugaban juntos de niños.

Que as a link in comparative sentences

In these sentences, we use que to indicate comparisons between things.  In English, this use of que translates directly as than.

  • Mexican food is spicier than Argentinian [food]. – La comida mexicana es más picante que la [comida] argentina.
  • In some countries, traveling by bus is less stressful than traveling by subway. – En algunos países, viajar en autobús es menos estresante que viajar en el metro.
  • Avengers Endgame will be way better than Infinity War. – Avengers Endgame será muchísimo mejor que Infinity War.
  • Julian’s brother is younger and funnier than him. – El hermano de Julian es más joven y divertido que él.

Conclusion: Spanish sentence structure

So there you have it!  You’ve just learned the six main Spanish sentence structures you need to master to sound like a fluent native speaker.

We started off with the three main sentence structures for simple Spanish sentences: declarative, negative, and interrogative. Then we looked at word order in sentences that get a bit more complicated through the use of specific types of words: adjectives, object pronouns, and que to link two clauses.

As we said before, we covered a ton of material here, so feel free to bookmark this page and come back to it when you want to refer to these fundamentals.  With practice using these common Spanish sentence structures, you’ll become more confident with each of them as you progress in the language!


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