Forming sentences
and miscellaneous tips

Sentence: “a grammatically self-contained speech unit consisting of a word or a syntactically related group of words that expresses an assertion, a question, a command, a wish, or an exclamation, that in writing usually begins with a capital letter and concludes with appropriate end punctuation...” (Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary)

  1. A complete sentence expresses a complete thought; it can stand by itself. It may be a single word or a group, but generally —for our purposes in this writing course— will contain the essential elements of a a subject and a predicate (conjugated verb).

    I   speak   Spanish.
    (yo) Hablo español.
    predicate direct

    A verb is a word which expresses an action (“fights”), occurrence (“represented”), or state of being (“is”). The predicate in a sentence will normally be a conjugated verb; that is, the verb will be in some particular tense and mood, such as the present indicative [hablo], and not isolated in the infinitive [hablar, “to speak”], gerund [hablando, “speaking”], or participle form [hablado, “spoken”].

    The subject of the sentence is often the “doer” but it is important to remember that we are referring to the grammatical subject of the verb. Thus, the subject is a person or thing of which something is predicated. In Spanish the subject often does not appear as a specific word or word group since the verb endings can supply this information: [Nosotros] escribimos bien.

    In Spanish, the subject and its predicate must agree in number. Singular subjects require singular verbs, plural subjects require plural verbs. Note that la gente [“people”] and todo el mundo [“everyone”] are singular in Spanish!

    La gente aquí no sabe nada de eso.   People here don't know anything about that.

    Remember that the subject-verb-complement arrangement may be reversed for certain idioms in different languages.



    like   oranges.




    Me gustan las naranjas.
    predicate subject
    [Literally, The oranges are pleasing to me.]

  2. A complete sentence must make sense. Words carelessly selected from a glossary or dictionary frequently render a “sentence” meaningless. You must obtain a good dictionary and learn how to use it effectively. (See the section on dictionary tips.)

  3. Capitalization. You will normally remember to capitalize the first word of a sentences and for proper names (including the names of countries), but remember to use lower case letters (letras minísculas)—not capitals (letras mayúsculas)— for the names of languages, months of the year, days of the week, and for words in titles of books, articles, etc. (other than the first word and proper names):

    Book title:   El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha or:
    El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha
    Article title: “El arte de hacer rebozos en Santa María del Río”
    Magazine title: Boletín de arte mexicana or Boletín de arte mexicana

  4. Punctuation. In the majority of cases, punctuation in Spanish is similar to that used in English. However, there are a few items you must remember.

    1. Don't forget the upside-down punctuation at the beginning of exclamations and questions. Note that this punctuation may occur somewhere other than before the first word of the sentence:

      ¿Qué pasa, amigo?   What's happening, friend?
      Vienes mañana, ¿no? You're coming tomorrow,  right?
      Al entrar en el salón ¡se me cayó la sopa! Upon entering the room, I dropped the soup!

    2. A variety of methods are used to indicate direct discourse in Spanish. You may use any one of the styles given here:

      1. Dashes.  This is the typical Hispanic way of indicating dialog in works such as novels.  Note that in this style, only one person's quote may occupy a paragraph, and there is no dash at the end of the paragraph, as shown below:
        —¡No me digas!— replicó doña Clara. —No puede ser así.
      2. Angled directional quotation marks. These are most typically used for quotes within a quote or for someone's thoughts.

        «¡No me digas!», replicó doña Clara. «No puede ser así.»
      3. Standard quotation marks, as in standard English usage.

        "¡No me digas!", replicó doña Clara. "No puede ser así."
      4. Curly directional quotation marks used by most modern word processors instead of the standard quotation marks given above.
        “¡No me digas!”, replicó doña Clara. “No puede ser así.”
  5. A few tips on using your dictionary:

    Know how your dictionary is organized. The punctuation and abbreviations used in definitions all have important meanings. Learn them and use them to your advantage. Also, investigate the accompanying tables (usually found at the end of the dictionary), especially the verb charts and note how they are cross referenced in the definitions.

    USE BOTH HALVES OF THE DICTIONARY! If you look up a word/expression in the English-Spanish part and there are several possibilities given, check them out in the Spanish-English part to find the best one.

    Make sure the word needed is the correct part of speech for what you have in mind (noun, verb, adjective, etc.); if it is not, you may have to restructure your sentence entirely.

    Are you looking for a verb which will have a direct object? Determine whether the verb given in the definition list can be used transitively. For example, if you want to express the idea “I fought him” you cannot use luchar [“to fight”] with a direct object, since luchar is ordinarily an intransitive verb.

[Practice: Oraciones completas]

[Practice: El diccionario.]

[S210 Main Page]

Contact: Fred F. Jehle


Indiana University - Purdue University Ft. Wayne
Fort Wayne, IN 46805-1499 USA