We took a big step in our last lesson, because we found out how to form sentences in the third person singular, that is ‘he’ or ‘she’ forms and found that this really wasn’t too painful! We have tiene (he/she has), vive (he/she lives) habla (he/she speaks) and so on.
I can now tell you something else equally painless which I think will also have you jumping for joy. There is a tremendously simple way of making these same sentences refer to ‘they’. All you have to do is add one letter; this time the letter ‘n’ to the singular form, so therefore we now have tienen (they have) viven (they live) hablan (they speak). As English speakers we naturally tend to think that an ‘s’ should be involved in a plural, but with verbs, this is not the case.
We have actually dealt with four, out of the six, verb forms in the present tense. We haven’t explained all the whys and wherefores in a lot of detail, but we have made some big strides as far as getting the general gist is concerned. I find that many people at this stage are particularly keen to find out how to say ‘we’. This is slightly less straightforward in that we can’t always build it directly on to what we already know. On the other hand, it is what a lot of people need, so I’ve decided to take an overall look at it.
We refer to ‘we’ as ‘first person plural’; in other words ‘we’ really means more than one ‘I’. (I wouldn’t think about this too deeply if I were you, just accept it!)
Now let’s look at the actual word that translates ‘we’; in other words the plural of yo. This word is nosotros. It is a bit of a mouthful I’m afraid, so I do apologise on behalf of the Spanish language, but it isn’t actually difficult to pronounce or anything.
That is not all! Nosotros has a feminine form which is nosotras.
We use nosotros when the ‘we’ are all male or male and female mixed, whereas we use nosotras only when all the members of ‘we’ are female. This means that men never use the word nosotras (just think about that one!) and if you are heterosexual couple talking about yourselves you also will always use nosotros.
Something else we can rely on is that in the present tense, all ‘we’ verb forms end in –mos. Time for some examples which will hopefully put us all out of our misery:
We have – tenemos
We want – queremos
We live – vivimos
We can – podemos
We prefer – preferimos
We go – vamos
We speak – hablamos
We are – somos (who, what)
We are – estamos (how, where)
I know that these are just a few examples, but they give us a clue of the thousand more that exist, so I hope they are enough to be going on with.
Finally, just to get this back into focus and in the unlikely event that I might have confused you, how does this fit in with the word nosotros?
Nosotros and nosotras are what we call personal subject pronouns and behave in exactly the same way as yo, tú, él and ella (I, you, he and she); that is, they are basically optional. They are used to be emphatic or express a contrast, but otherwise are not essential to a sentence. However, they are very useful words for language learners because on the spur of the moment you might remember the correct verb form, but you can always make sure they know who you mean by pointing to yourself and your companion and saying nosotros – ‘we’!
Jane Cronin’s “Step by Step Spanish” articles are available as e-books at www.janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane’s “Step by Step Internet Spanish” course.