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Early on while I was learning Spanish, my teachers would always make us use the pronoun 'yo' even if it was redundant:

Yo pienso que...
Yo quiero...
Yo hablo...
etc.

However, a more advanced Spanish book I bought told me only to use redundant pronouns like yo when I wanted to emphasize that I was performing the action (and when clarification of the subject was necessary).

When should I use 'yo' in my sentences in Spanish? Does it make me sound rather self centered if I use it constantly? How and when do native speakers use it?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Use the pronoun when it clarifies an ambiguity:

Leería el libro.

This is vague without further context. It could mean "I would read the book" or "He/she would read the book." So the addition of a pronoun (or other context) is necessary.

Or use a pronoun for emphasis.

Él leyó el libro. Yo leí la revista.

"He read the book. I read the magazine."

Adding the pronoun all the time isn't really harmful, but it make make it appear that you're emphasising the pronoun when you don't intend to.

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1  
In Comería una manzana dativo ético is often used: Me comería una manzana –  Serabe Nov 16 '11 at 0:38
    
Yo no comí nada btw. Double negative, I know... –  Serabe Nov 16 '11 at 0:39
    
With comer, dativo ético is often used, quite rare to use comer without it (at least in Spain). For example, instead of "Él comió una naranja" "Se comió una naranja". Don't ask why, it is just that way. –  Serabe Nov 16 '11 at 0:43
    
Hrm, I wasn't aware of that. I'll change my answer to use a different verb... and listen for that in the future. –  Flimzy Nov 16 '11 at 0:45

I think the book explanation is good. But for simplicity use it at the beginning of the paragraph (to clarify it's you) and no more.

For example

I think it's important because I want to be able to do it.

Yo creo que es importante porque quiero ser capaz de hacerlo.

Also, the verb itself told you if its explicit the need to use the "Yo". Using your example when you say quiero you're talking about you:

Yo quiero

(Ella/El) quiere

Tu quieres

Nosotros queremos

Vosotros quereis

Ellos quieren

And so on

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Besides clarification as the other answers had pointed out, there's also another use: to add emphasis on that something is personal, for example, expressing opinions:

Yo lo haría de esta forma...

Yo opino lo contrario

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There is no strict rule on this. You can always use yo in your phrases without seeming self centered (that is more an attitude, not a linguistic use).

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Mainly for emphasis, but specially some people use it on the pretérito imperfecto where there is an ambiguity over the first and third singular forms.

Yo decía

Él decía

Saltaba sobre la cama (I jumped on the bed / He jumped on the bed)

I rather specify the third person over the first as I don't like to use «yo» unless I feel the need to make an emphasis.

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