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Hard Bits of Spanish Grammar


There's a simple way of deciding which one to use. This method doesn't always work for everything.
Simply replace the bit from 'que ...' with esto or eso and see if that makes sense:
Creo que no lo pintaron bien = I believe that they didn't paint it well
Creo esto = I believe this
Both sentences make sense. If you put a 'de' before 'esto' then it wouldn't make sense so you know you wouldn't use it with 'que' either.

An example of a verb that needs 'de'
¿No se enteró de que lo había entregado? = Didn't he find out about that he had handed it it?
¿No se enteró de esto? = Didn't he find out about this?
Here you can see that 'de' is needed because the verb is enterarse (de) = to find out (about)

Tengo miedo de que lo sepan = I'm afraid that they know it
Tengo miedo de esto = I'm afraid of this
So this makes sense too. You need 'de' here to make sense so you know that you need it with 'que' too.

An example with an adjective:
Estoy seguro de que lo encontraré = I'm sure that I will find it
Estoy seguro de esto = I'm sure of this
Both make sense with 'de'

There are some verbs that accept either 'que' or 'de que'
Advertir que = to observe, notice
Advertir de que = to point out

Avisar que = to communicate something
Avisar de que = to prevent / warn / to let know
Dudar has an optional 'de' and makes no difference to the meaning

'Antes de que' and 'después de que' can optionally use 'de' unless you express a preference then you miss it out e.g.
Antes que decírselo, prefiero estar seguro = Before telling it to you, I prefer to be sure

A more technical explanation
These two can be used either in subordinate clauses (expressing more upon what was said earlier) or relative clauses (that identify which thing you are talking about).

“De que” can be used to separate the thing you are talking about from the following words, expressing more on what you are talking about (a subordinate clause) e.g.
la idea de que sale – the idea that he's leaving (la idea que sale would mean something like the idea that leaves)
De que is used here to show that 'sale' isn't identifying which idea it is. Contrast this with:

El hombre que patina sobre ruedas...
The man that roller skates... (Relative clause). This identifies which man is being spoken of
El argumento de que una superstición es verdadera es absurdo
De que is used because this is subordinate, the following words are expressing on what is being spoken of, not which argument.
If the word “which” can replace “that” in this type of sentence then that shows you that it's a relative clause and you use “que” instead (since “the car which he bought” is identifying which car)

So “la semana que viene” is the week that comes (next week) which is a relative clause since it's identifying which week but using “de que” here would be incorrect.

you will NATURALLY use it after certain things that need “de” as part of it's meaning e.g.

prepositional phrases such as “antes de”
certain verbs such as “presumir de“
certain adjectives such as “estar convencido de”

which has NOTHING to do with the use of “de que” mentioned earlier

Conditional Sentences

These are sentences that have two parts, an “if” part and a result.
You use these when you're saying things like, if event A happened, event B will happen.

Type of conditionThe 'if' partThe 'outcome' partExample
The result happened every time the condition was fulfilledsi + any (indicative) past tense
(not subjunctive)
any (indicative) past tense
(not subjunctive)
Si ella necesitaba ayudo, él la ayudaba = If she needs help, he would help her
The outcome is equally likely or unlikelysi + presentpresent
imperative (command)
No importa si no funciona = It doesn't matter if it doesn't work
Si sale, saldré también / saldré si sale = If you leave, I'll leave too
Si quieres, te dejo la furgoneta (or 'camioneta') = If you want, I'll lend you my van

Con can be used with a condition too:
Puedes ver la televisión con ayudarme
You can watch television provided that you help me
(note: ver la televisión is used in Spain, other places may use mirar)
Doubts, hypotheses or impossibilitiessi  + the "past doubt tense" (imperfect subjunctive).
You change the -ron to -ra from the tense in the preterite then add the endings
the 'would' tense (conditional tense).
Add the ending to the unchanged verb (infinitive) to make that -ría sound, then add the endings (there are irregularities with some verbs)
Doubts: the outcome would happen if the 'si' part happened, so the event could still occur:
Apreciaría mucho si me llamara mañana = I would appreciate it if you called me tomorrow (some doubt about whether you'd get a phone call, but you might)

A hypothesis - the part in the conditional tense is not true:
Si compraras un móvil, podrías llamarme cuando quieras = if you bought a mobile, you would be able to call me when you wish
Si fuéramos en tren costaría menos = If we went by train, it would be cheaper

An impossibility:
si yo midiera 0.5 m más, sería seguro de sí mismo = If I was 0.5 m taller, I would be confident
Expressing what would've happened but didn't
si + hubiera + past participle
hubiera + endings is the “had” tense but with a doubting feeling (the Past perfect subjunctive)
habría + past participle
habría + endings is the “would've” tense (Conditional perfect) although hubiera can also be used here too
si te hubiera visto, le habría dado el regalo = if I had seen you, I would've given you the gift (but I didn't see you)
Or you can optionally replace with 'de' + the infinitive if both verbs are the same person:
De haberte visto, te habría dado el regalo
the 'would' tense (conditional tense)
only if the result stretches in to the present
si hubiera aprobado ese examen, ganaría más ahora = if I had passed that exam, I would earn more now

'Saber si' means 'to know whether' and is explained under 'sequences of tenses' below e.g. ¿Sabe si han cobrado ya? = Do you know if they have been paid yet?

The subordinate conjunctions:

a condición de que + subjunctive (explained in the Conjunctions section)
con tal (de) que + subjunctive (explained in the Conjunctions section)
also expresses a condition.

I also believe that “siempre que” and “mientras que” also expresses a condition.

These uses are reflected with the use of Ojalá explained here

Si puede ir, iré también - If you can go, I will go too
Si pudiera ir, iría también - If you could go, I would go too
Si hubiera podido ir, yo habría ido también - If you had been able to go, I would've gone too

Reporting a condition

Me dijo que lo compraría  si  yo lo quería
She told me that she would buy it  if  I wanted it

In Spain, como + the subjunctive is common in threats and is used in Spain:

Como vuelva a tocarla, llamo a la policía
If you touch her again (subjunctive), I will call the police (using the present tense in Spanish)

Sequence of tenses

With the subjunctive

Main Clause Subordinate clause
Present/command or future Present subjunctive (that a↔e change)
haya + endings + past participle if it happened already
(haya is the subjunctive version of 'have' and is used because it's showing some relevance to the present)
Dudo que sepa nadar = I doubt that he knows how to swim
Dudo que hayan llegado = I doubt that they have arrived
Perfect (have/has done) As above, sometimes below
Any other past tense
or conditional (would) tense
Imperfect subjunctive (-ron→-ra/-se change)
hubiera +endings + past participle if it happened further back in time
(hubiera is the subjunctive version of 'had')
Quería que aprobara el examen = I wanted him to pass the exam
Me alegré de que hubieras acabado el trabajo = I was glad that you had finished the work
Le hubiera gustado impedir que nos siguiéramos viendo = He would've like to stop us seeing each other

Not to know whether... no saber si...
The tense of Saber Next verb Example
Present Future (will)
a past tense
No sé si podré ir
No sé si ella puede ayudarlo
No sé si llamar o no
¿Sabe si han cobrado ya? = Do you know if they have been paid yet?
Any past tense Conditional (would) No sabía si podría ir

Strange subject / object / indirect object positions and the Personal A

Personal A
This is used before a direct object that refers to a person for example, someone's name, or the word "somebody". The use of the word 'a' can often be confused with an indirect use but if it's indirect (to him / from her) then technically, it isn't classed as a "personal a."
Vi a Roberto = I saw Robert (since Robert is the direct object, put 'a' before it)
Compare with:
Se lo di = I gave it to him
Se lo di a Roberto = I gave it TO Roberto - here 'a Roberto' is clarifying what you meant by 'Se lo di' - this use is mentioned later on.
You still need it with a possessive:
Voy a visitar a su amigo = I'm going to visit your friend.
It is also used in some sentences with a verb-subject order (relative clauses) and it is unclear if something is a subject or object (although not every relative clause). Using the 'a' shows that it is an object e.g.
La mujer que cuida al niño = The woman that looks after the child ('La mujer que cuida el niño' could mean 'The woman that the child looks after' as 'el niño' can be used in front of 'cuida')

NOTE: that it is omitted when there's doubt that the object exists in sentences that use the subjunctive (relative clauses):
Busco un médico que hable inglés = I am looking for a doctor that speaks English (but he may not exist).
Also when the object is less personal, the less likely it is to be used e.g.
Vi (a) una mujer a lo lejos = I saw a woman in the distance
Odio los insectos = I hate insects
Also you don't use it with the verb 'tener' e.g. Ella tiene tres hijas = She has three daughters

Subjects placed after the verb
The subject is often placed after the verb, or the object placed before the verb. This is done for style or emphasis:
Ese bolígrafo te lo di yo = I gave you that pen - notice that 'lo' has to be used to refer to the object 'ese bolígrafo'

No me vio nadie = Nobody saw me (nadie is the subject, it could be written 'nadie me vio')
compare: No ha visto a nadie = He hasn't seen anybody - note the use of the "Personal A" because nadie here now is the object

Long subjects are almost always put after the verb and object in subordinate / relative clauses. For example, instead of saying:
"The neighbour with the brown coat and glasses spoke to me" which has a long subject, I would say "He spoke to me" and then follow it immediately with "the neighbour with the brown coat and glasses" because Spanish seems to have a tendancy to put the most important information first to avoid leaving the verb "dangling" at the end of the sentence.
Long subject:
Me habló el vecino que lleva la chaqueta negra = The neighbour that wears the black coat spoke to me

Esa es el ordenador que me vendió Roberto = That is the computer that Robert sold me (no "personal A" because Roberto is the subject of the sentence)

Se lo dará cuando llege el regalo = I'll give it to him when the gift arrives (note the use of the subjunctive on llegar because the gift hasn't arrived yet - you are not talking about a fact because the gift may not arrive).

Putting the DIRECT OBJECT before the sentence (if you wish - it isn't mandatory)
A su novia la conozco bien = I know your girlfriend well - again you have to use 'la' (la conozco bien = I know her well)
A Miguel lo veo a menudo = I see Miguel often (lo veo a menudo = I see him often)
This is the PERSONAL A because Miguel and novia are human direct objects

Unexpected uses of the indirect object pronoun (le, les etc.)
This is often used when the sentence has something to do with ownership (parts of the body or clothing) and is used instead of possessive adjectives (mi, su etc.) or instead of 'el / la' and also is used with certain common constructions involving reflexive verbs:
La camiseta le estaba ancha = Her tee-shirt was too loose, or her tee-shirt was (to her) loose. Note that ancha agrees in gender with 'la camiseta'
Me duele la pierna = My leg hurts (lit: it's hurting to me, the leg - it's obvious that it's your leg so you don't need to say mi pierna although it wouldn't be incorrect to use 'mi' here, just unusual)
Se me ha perdido la cartera = I have lost my wallet

Bear in mind that 'a' can also mean 'from' or sometimes 'for'
Le robaron ochenta euros a Roberto = They stole eighty euros from Roberto (NOT the personal 'a' because it is clarifying what 'le' is refering to - Le robaron ochenta euros = They stole eighty euros from him / her / it / you)
Te escribirá la carta = He will write the letter for you (a tú)
Nos aparcó la furgoneta (or you can use 'camioneta') = He parked the van for us
Corregidme los errores = correct my errors for me
I think that these last two examples are something to do with replacing (my / your etc.) with el / la etc. because the owner is obvious enough. Has anyone got any more information of using these indirect objects that replace 'for me / her' etc?

also as a clarifier:
Le escribí a él = I wrote to him (a él is used because 'le' could mean to him / her / it / you)
Se las voy a mandar a ellos = I am going to send it to them. You could also say Voy a mandárselas a ellos but this construction isn't as common

The word 'lo'

This has many uses, when comparing things, for example. It can mean 'him' or 'it' but it has some other odd uses:
It is used to refer to something previously said (usually after ser and estar):
¿Va al cine Antonio? - No lo sé = Is Antonio going to the cinema? - I don't know
Había comprado pan ya pero no me lo dijo = He had already bought some bread but he didn't tell me
Dicen que es lista pero no lo es = They say she's clever but she isn't (lo is not referring to the woman, just the phrase that was mentioned earlier)
Hay un error, o si no lo hay... = There's an error, or if there isn't...

Lo can be used to make an abstract noun (an idea or quality, not the thing itself) when used in front of an adjective which translates as:
the ... thing:

Lo fascinante fue que = The fascinating thing was that...
Lo mejor sería no decírselo = The best thing would be not to say it to him (ser is used in the conditional, or "would" tense)
Te deseo lo mejor = I wish you the best (in letters)
Lo más importante... = The most important thing...
Lea lo siguiente = Read the following
a no ser que le diga lo contrario = unless you hear the contrary

Lo with an adjective or adverb translates as:

This is used as an intensifier (agreeing in number and gender) and means how with words that imply emotional reaction, knowledge etc. In front of an adjective or past participle, it makes an abstract noun (as above) but bear in mind that it's NORMAL to follow it up with a feminine adjective or a female can say "No puedo entender lo tonto que fui"
The use of the feminine adjective seems to be more common after certain verbs which indicate how someone / something perceives something, like 'ver' or 'entender.'
Plural adjectives can be used in the same way after lo if they refer to a plural noun.

Sé lo mucho que te gusta el patinaje = I know how much you like skating
¿Recuerdas lo felices que fuimos entonces? = Do you remember how happy we were then?
Ya sabe lo buenas que son estas botas = You already know how good these boots are (buenas matches the gender and number of 'botas')
Siento mucho lo ocurrido = I'm sorry about what happened (ocurrido is the past participle of 'ocurrir' and makes an abstract noun)
Me doy cuenta de lo fácil que es = I realize how easy it is
Me sorprende lo bien que esquió = It surprises me how well that you skied

In literary styles, cuán is used but it's rarely spoken.

Lo más / lo menos + adverb translates:
as... possible

Patine lo mejor posible = Skate as well as possible
Patinaron lo más deprisa que pudieron = They skated as fast as they could (both verbs in the preterite)

Lo de is mentioned in the article about indefinite pronouns

There are also numerous expressions that use it e.g.
'a lo mejor' = perhaps (followed by the indicative, not the subjunctive)
'por lo visto' = apparently (followed by the indicative, not the subjunctive)
'por lo menos' = at least (e.g. at least 20 people arrived)

[ENGLISH] Are there any errors or do you want to add more information to these pages?
You can contact me at the bottom of the home page.

ESPAÑOL ¿Hay errores o tiene información adicional?
Puede mandarme un mensaje al final de la página principal

Home page / Página principal