Grammar - Subject Pronouns: Understanding Masculine and Feminine

This Spanish Easy Review grammar quiz takes a look at subject pronouns: understanding masculine and feminine. It is important to note that in Spanish, the masculine form of the pronoun is used to describe a group of people when that group of people includes both girls (women) and boys (men). For example, if your father (padre) was going to the store, you would use the pronoun él to say: He is going to the store. If your mother (madre) was going to the store, you would use the pronoun ella to say: She is going to the store. But if both your father and mother were going to the store, you would use the pronoun ellos to say: They are going to the store. (Includes a man and a woman.)

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If, however, you were to say your sisters are going to the store, then you would use the pronoun ellas to say: They are going to the store. (Includes only girls.)

Spanish vocabulary makes a distinction between masculine and feminine throughout so one thing you must always keep in mind is whether a word is considered a masculine word or a feminine word. In many instances a masculine word will end in an 'o' and a feminine word will end in an 'a' but that is not in every case. However, for now, let’s just focus on learning the pronouns.

Take a look at the list of pronouns below.

English (Singular) Spanish (Singular) Pronounced As
I yo
you tú (familiar) two
you usted (formal) oo-sted (oo as in boo)
he él ěl
she ella ěl-lay
English (Plural) Spanish (Plural) Pronounced As
we nosotros (masculine) nō-sō-trōs
we nosotras (feminine) nō-sō-trăs
you vosotros (masculine) (familiar) vō-sō-trōs
you vosotras (feminine) (familiar) vō-sō- trăs
you ustedes (formal) (mix of males and females) oo-sted-es
they ellos (masculine) ěl-lōs
they ellas (feminine) ěl-lăs

Did you notice how the pronoun 'you' has many different variations in Spanish? In English, the pronoun 'you' is used when it describes anyone, male, female or a group of people. In Spanish this is not so. The word 'you' is written in 5 different ways. The word 'we' is written in 2 different ways, and the word 'they' is also written in 2 different ways. That is because in Spanish you can address someone who is familiar to you (your mother, father, sister, brother, best friend, close relative) or you can address someone who is more formal to you, meaning you don’t know them very well or you are not really close to them (your boss at work, the clerk at the store, a person you just met, a bus driver, etc.). In the singular form, tú is used in a familiar manner. When you are speaking to people you do not know or who you are not as familiar with, then you use the formal version of the word which is usted. Both tú and usted are used when talking to a male or female. When you are talking to more than one person (meaning many people you are very familiar with), if everyone is female then you use the pronoun vosotras. If all are males then vosotros and if a mixture of males and females then you use vosotros. If you are talking with or about a group of people you are not as familiar with then you use the pronoun ustedes which covers both males, females and a mixture of both.

When using the pronoun 'they', if there is a group of females then you use the pronoun ellas. If it is a group of males then you use ellos and if it is a mixture of males and females you use the pronoun ellos as well. The masculine form always takes the lead when a grouping of people includes both sexes.

Finally, did you notice the little tick mark on the 'u' in tú and the 'e' in él? This mark is called an 'accent mark'. Whenever you see an accent mark above a letter (a vowel), it means you give that letter a little more strength or a harder sound. You will notice this accent mark on many Spanish words.

This can all be very confusing at first so don’t rush through this quiz. Practice saying the pronouns (pronouncing them correctly). While doing this, it’s time to start getting your mind to think masculine/feminine because that is a critical part of learning the Spanish language. Once you feel comfortable with the pronouns, take the quiz and see how many of them you can answer correctly.

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  1. You just ran into an aunt and asked her: How are you? Which pronoun below should be used in this case?
    As your aunt is very familiar to you, and she is only one person, you would use the pronoun tú.
  2. Mr. Taylor and Mr. Lopez will be your science teachers. If you asked them: Which of you should I email my homework to?, then which you pronoun form listed below should you use?
    As there are two people we know we cannot use usted because it refers to a single person. Mr. Taylor and Mr. Lopez are both male so we would not use the last answer which is used for a grouping of females. As the teachers are not very close and familiar but are rather a formal relationship to you, you would not use the third answer vosotros because that is used for a familiar group of people. That leaves the second answer which is the formal plural 'you' used to address or refer to the teachers.
  3. Alice is a very pretty girl. Which pronoun below would refer to Alice?
    First thing we know is that Alice is a girl so she is feminine. Because of this we can quickly eliminate the second and third answers as they refer to males. The first answer refers to more than one girl and Alice is one person. This leaves us with the last answer ella which means 'she.'
  4. My brother and I are going to the store. We go every Tuesday. Which pronoun below should be used in place of we?
    In this case we do not know who 'my' is. It could be a male or female. However, we do know that brother is male so a male pronoun will need to be used. The third and last answers refer to all females so these pronouns are not correct. The first answer is a form of the pronoun 'you' so it too is not correct. The second answer nosotros refers to either more than one male or a mixed group of male and female.
  5. You are at the local YWCA swimming pool and you turn to the lifeguard and ask: Can we go back in the pool now? Which of the following pronouns should be used in your question?
    The pronoun here is 'we'. The third and last answers are pronouns for the word 'they' so neither of these is correct. Both the first and second answers are the pronouns for 'we' but the trick is in the question. What is the YWCA? YW stands for 'young women' so this then tells us that we have all girls here. We need to find the feminine version of the pronoun 'we' and that is the first answer nosotras.
  6. I think I am going to like Spanish. Which pronoun below means I?
    The Spanish pronoun for 'I' is yo.
  7. He plays the piano in the hotel lobby. Which pronoun below should be used for he?
    The first, second and third answers are all forms of the pronoun 'you' so none of them is correct. The last answer is the pronoun for 'he' making it correct.
  8. My grandfather asked the policeman: Can you give me directions? Which pronoun below is the correct version for this you form?
    As the policeman is one person we know the 'you' pronoun must be singular. This means we can quickly eliminate the third and last answers as they are plural pronouns. The policeman is a formal person, not a familiar person, therefore the first answer would not be correct. However, the second answer usted is the pronoun of the formal 'you'.
  9. They each had a turn on the new amusement park ride. Which pronoun below represents 'they' here?
    In this instance we do not know who 'they' are. It could be all boys or all girls or a mixture. Whenever you do not know what the make-up is of male and female, the male word always prevails. It is most likely that there were boys and girls going on the amusement park ride so we must use a male pronoun here. This means we can quickly eliminate the last answer because it is feminine. The third answer nosotros is the pronoun for 'we' so it is not correct here. The second answer ustedes is the formal, plural of the pronoun 'you' so it, too, is not correct. The first answer ellos is the correct form for the pronoun 'they' in this case, covering for both males and females.
  10. Granny, will you teach me how to sew? Which pronoun below represents the 'you' in this question?
    Granny is one person so we can eliminate the plural pronoun found in the third answer. The second answer is the pronoun for 'she' so it is not correct. Granny is a very familiar person so she needs to be addressed as a familiar person. The first answer is for a formal address to a not so well known person so it is not correct. However, the last answer is the familiar, singular pronoun for the word 'you'.

Author: Christine G. Broome

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