Both English and Spanish are SVO languages, which means that a typical sentence starts with a subject, which is followed by a conjugated verb and, when needed, the object of the verb follows. For example:
Subject Verb Object
The boys play soccer.
Los niños juegan fútbol.
With that said, there is always a little bit more, SVO is just the starting point. We will talk about some additional options at the end of this post. Okay, let’s get to talking about word order in Spanish!
Table of Contents
Declarative sentences in Spanish
A declarative sentence is, in short, any sentence that makes a statement. They look pretty similar in structure to English. In order for any declarative sentence in Spanish to be considered grammatically correct, it must have a subject (explicit or not) and a conjugated verb — that’s the very least! For example: Luisa corre (Luisa runs). Comemos (We eat).
Now let’s address some of the differences and, say, special rules that might not be the same in both languages.
Subject pronouns in Spanish
In Spanish, subject pronouns are optional! They are mostly used for emphasis or to avoid confusion for your audience. This is why the conjugated verb is so important and will always agree in person and number with the subject pronoun that is eliminated.
Yo quiero leer. ⇨ Quiero leer.
I want to read.
👉For a refresher on subject pronouns see our post: “When to use subject pronouns in Spanish?”
Negation in Spanish
In Spanish, negation (no, nunca, jamás, etc. (no, never)) always goes before the verb!
(Yo) jamás quiero leer. Nunca he nadado en el mar.
I never want to read. I have never swum in the ocean.
No tenemos tiempo. Nadie supo la respuesta correcta.
We have no time. Nobody knew the right answer.
Only object and reflexive pronouns can get between the negation and the verb:
No lo quise leer.
I didn’t want to read it.
If you have more than one negative, the rule of thumb is: place one before the verb, the rest after the verb:
No le he dicho nada a nadie.
I haven’t said anything to anyone.
👉For a refresher on negatives and double negatives in Spanish, click the link!
Objects in a sentence
When using objects in a sentence, remember we have two kinds: direct objects and indirect objects. Direct objects (who/what) are mostly things, but can be people. Indirect objects (to whom, for whom) are mostly people. If you have both, the sentence should look as follows:
Subject Verb Direct Object Indirect Object
Ana regaló un libro a su mamá.
Ana gave her mom a book.
Spanish direct and indirect object pronouns
Following along with objects, if you are replacing direct or indirect objects with their corresponding pronouns (Ana gave it to her), then you have slightly different rules.
- In Spanish, direct and indirect object pronouns go before the conjugated verb (but after the subject (and negative if present)!).
Ella lo quiere comprar. / Ella no lo quiere comprar.
She wants to buy it. / She does not want to buy it.
- If you have both a direct object and an indirect object pronoun (click the link for a post on using Spanish direct and indirect object pronouns at the same time!), the indirect object pronoun always goes before the direct object pronoun. People always go before things!
Subject Indirect Object Pronoun Direct Object Pronoun Verb
Ana se lo regaló.
Ana gave it to her.
You can emphasize a direct object by placing it at the beginning of a sentence. If you do so, make sure you double it up with the direct object pronoun before the verb!
Vi a María en la tienda. I saw María at the store.
⤷ direct object
A María la vi en la tienda. María, I saw her at the store.
⤷ direct object pronoun
Remember that verb gustar (to be pleasing) (and similar verbs) always have an indirect object pronoun and the typical word order is:
Indirect object pronoun + verb + subject
Me gustan las cerezas.
I like cherries.
Spanish reflexive pronouns and direct object pronouns
If you have both a reflexive and a direct object pronoun, the reflexive pronoun goes before the direct object pronoun. For example, if we wanted to say, “She washes her hands” and replaced “her hands” with a direct object pronoun, we would end up with this ↴
Subject Reflexive Pronoun Direct Object Pronoun Verb
Ella se las lava.
She washes them (her hands).
In the case that you have two verbs, a conjugated form followed by an infinitive or gerund, the pronouns can go in one of two places: before the first verb or attached to the second verb. This rule applies to single pronouns or double pronouns.
Marcos lo está enviando. OR Marcos está enviándolo.
Marcos is sending it.
Ella se las tiene que lavar. OR Ella tiene que lavárselas.
She has to wash them.
Prepositional phrases and pronouns in Spanish
If your sentence has a prepositional phrase (they start with prepositions such as en (in, on, at) or con (with)), they normally go at the end, after the objects.
Yaneth planea estudiar inglés en la biblioteca.
Yaneth plans to study English at the library.
The only exception is if you want to emphasize them, in which case they can be placed at the beginning of your sentence.
A las 5 vamos a ir al cine.
At 5, we’re going to the movies.
Spanish prepositional pronouns always appear after the preposition. Once together, both words can move around in the sentence depending on what the speaker wants to emphasize or call attention to.
Sin ella, no nos divertiremos en el viaje.
Without her we will not have fun on the trip.
Esteban hará el trabajo por mí porque yo estoy muy enferma.
Esteban will do the work in my place because I am very sick.
⤷ TIP With verbs like gustar (to be pleasing), these prepositional phrases are typically placed at the beginning.
A mí no me gustan los ostiones.
(To me) I don’t like oysters.
Regardless of the placement in the sentence, prepositions in Spanish always need a complement. They can’t be left hanging at the end of a sentence.
No sé con quién salió.
I don’t know who he left with.
Relative clauses in Spanish
When the subject of a sentence is modified by a relative clause in Spanish (a subordinate clause that describes a noun or pronoun in the independent clause), the word order for the main clause will be Verb Subject so that the relative pronoun is close to the noun it’s describing.
Main clause Relative clause
No está terminada la casa que quiero comprar.
The house I want to buy is not finished.
Now, the order within the relative clause can be Verb Subject or Subject Verb, depending on what you want to bring focus to. The part you want to bring attention to goes last. For instance, in the following sentence “my sister” goes last and is therefore the focus of attention:
Main clause Relative clause
No está terminada la casa que quiere comprar mi hermana.
The house my sister wants to buy is not finished.
Now let’s move on to different types of words and their placement in Spanish, some of them work exactly like English!
Words that modify nouns
- The following words always go in front of nouns in Spanish.
- Descriptive adjectives in Spanish normally go after the noun, unlike English. Stylistically, however, some descriptive adjectives can be placed before the noun.
El carro azul es súper rápido, pero el carro verde no lo es.
The blue car is very fast, but the green car is not.
👉Check out “Do Spanish adjectives appear before or after the noun?” to know all about the position of adjectives!
The following types of pronouns can be placed in different parts of the sentence, depending on their job: at the beginning of the sentence if it’s a subject, and after the verb if it’s an object.
- Possessive pronouns
Subject → Tu hermana y la mía son las mejores niñeras.
Your sister and mine are the best nannies.
Object → Gracias por prestarme tu carro. Lo voy a cuidar como si fuese el mío.
Thanks for lending me your car. I will take care of it as if it were mine.
- Demonstrative pronouns
Subject → Este no funciona, pero aquel sí.
This one does not work, but that one does.
Object → ¡Mira eso!
Look at that!
- Indefinite pronouns (algo, nadie, todos, etc. (something, nobody, everyone))
Subject → Alguien tiene que decirme qué le ocurrió a mi florero favorito.
Someone has to tell me what happened to my favorite vase.
Object → Yo conozco a alguien que habla tres idiomas.
I know someone who speaks three languages.
Adverbs in Spanish
Spanish Adverbs and adverbial phrases can also move around like in English. However, it is preferable that they stay near the word they are describing/modifying (verbs, adjectives, or adverbs).
Salimos rápidamente del edificio cuando sonó la alarma.
We left the building quickly when the alarm went off.
More specifically, adverbs that modify verbs are usually placed after the verb, and adverbs that modify adjectives or other adverbs are placed before them.
Mi familia viaja a menudo. Nos gusta ir a un lugar diferente cuando tenemos vacaciones.
My family travels often. We like to go to a different place when we have a holiday.
Estamos extremadamente contentos porque todo salió muy bien.
We are extremely happy because everything turned out very well.
Unlike English, never place an adverb between a helping verb and the main verb.
✅ Siempre he querido visitar Asunción.
siempre querido visitar Asunción.
I have always wanted to visit Asunción.
Not ALWAYS SVO?
Keep in mind that while SVO is a good rule of thumb, Spanish can move words/phrases around in order to bring focus to some pieces. The topic of our sentences is placed at the beginning. In declarative sentences, the subject is usually the topic (hence SVO), but this is not always the case.
What does it look like when other elements are the topic? Look at this sentence:
Los viernes (yo) hago ejercicio.
On Fridays I exercise.
In the example above, the emphasis is on the adverbial phrase (los viernes). This can also be done with direct and indirect objects, or other elements as shown in some of the items above.
While this is somewhat nuanced, what you should remember as a language learner is that the “important things” are placed at the beginning of the sentence in natural speech. It doesn’t always have to be the subject of the sentence!
To sum it up
If I could argue about the one rule you want to keep in mind when building sentences in Spanish, it would be the Subject Verb Object order. This word order will work both for declarative sentences and also for building some basic questions (check out “How to build questions in Spanish?” for more). With that said, remember the ability of moving things around to create emphasis as needed and when you feel more comfortable with building sentences.
Otherwise, here is a summary of what we discussed:
- You do not need to include subject pronouns in Spanish sentences.
- Negatives go before the verb!
- Direct objects go before indirect objects.
- Indirect object pronouns or reflexive pronouns go before direct object pronouns and they are place before the verb.
- Prepositional phrases go at the end of the sentence, after all the objects.
- Sentences with relative clauses place the subject after the verb both in the main clause and in the relative clause.
- Articles, numbers, and possessive and demonstrative adjectives go before nouns.
- Descriptive adjectives traditionally go after nouns.
- The following can move around depending on their function: indefinite pronouns, demonstrative pronoun’s, and possessive pronouns.
I have created a visual aid to help you with the different additional pieces.
There is also a practice for you to build Spanish sentences using appropriate word order.