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So, I'm in Spanish 1, and I've heard that pronouns (Yo, tu, el, etc.) are embedded in conjugated verbs. I've noticed the use of a separate pronoun along with a conjugated verb, and it seems a little redundant. I think it's kind of a question of formality, but I'm not sure.

When are these example phrases correct? What the difference between them?

"Hablamos español." vs. "Nosotros hablamos español."

or

"Yo tengo una torta." vs. "Tengo una torta."

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Could you explain/change the title for a more informative one? –  c.p. Jan 25 at 17:53

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

No difference at all. That is one of the big differences between Spanish and English: We are able to remove those whenever we both know who/what we are talking about. If you said it in your first sentence or it is obvious from the context, we can remove it. In English you ALWAYS have to use them.

In fact, using a pronoun all the time sounds like a person who just started studying Spanish. People who start with "YO" every phrase about them tend to make us think he/she is so selfish. Just remove them all the time, we use them just for starting phrases or when you have to say it to remark the idea. So take care about it :-)

Example:

Tengo una torta... (it is OBVIOUS, there is not another conjugation for YO).

But if you have to do a contrast. Another person is talking about what he has, then you say:

yo tengo una torta...

Because you are adding that. Anyway, it is still obvious. :-)

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2  
Use "yo" only when you really want to emphasize yourself in a sentence. –  Paul Jan 24 at 14:27
    
This answer is correct for both examples, but take into consideration the exception when the first person can become the third person. For more information see my answer below or check out this previous answer on a old question about this. –  AlexBcn Jan 28 at 13:26

Spanish is called a pro-drop language.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pro-drop_language

That means you don't need to actually write the subject pronoun. After all, in Spanish verbs have different forms depending on the subject.

(yo) voy

(tú) vas

(él / ella / usted) va

(nosotros / nosotras) vamos

(vosotros / vosotras) vais

(ellos / ellas / ustedes) van

So writing the subject is redundant, unlike in English (where verb forms are usually the same for all persons except for 3rd singular) or French (where verb forms for singular and 3rd plural are usually written differently but sound the same). However, in Japanese verbs don't inflect with the subject, and it's also a pro-drop language. You just have to guess the subject from the context.

In pro-drop languages you sometimes may want to mark the subject to add emphasis or to make a contrast.

Pablo se fue a Málaga, pero yo me quedé en casa.

Él dijo eso, no yo.

But if you do it too often your Spanish will sound unnatural.

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When we ignore the pronoun this is what we call sujeto eliptico.

El verbo informa del número y la persona del sujeto, se omite cuando se sobrentiende: se trata del llamado sujeto elíptico. No es que no haya sujeto, sino que este se da por supuesto.

But take care in some sentences like Yo leía mucho , if we drop yo then leía mucho can be used for the third person el/ella leía mucho.

On wikiLengua, sujeto elíptico

En los tiempos en que la primera persona de singular es igual a la tercera deberá expresarse el sujeto, siempre que su omisión pueda originar duda. Así, en la oración venia muy fatigado, lo mismo puede entenderse yo que él, mientras no se exprese o venga sobrentendido por el contexto.

So drop it when :

  • The receiver of the message knows who we are speaking about
  • The context itself is clear enough
  • You unknow who was or you want to hide it on purpose.

Imagine you are speaking about recent news.

-Saben que asesinaron al cantante ?

-Quienes ? Ellos? Ellas ? Ustedes ?

This is what we call sujeto indeterminado, according to wikiLengua:

Es aquel que no puede determinarse, ya que el hablante desconoce el sujeto o desea ocultarlo.

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The question here is a little bit off, I think. Embedded pronouns are called mesoclitics, and aren't done in Spanish, but they are in Portuguese future/conditional conjugations. For example, instead of Spanish nos veremos, te lo compraré or os lo darán, you get ver-nos-emos, comprá-to-ei or (!) dá-vo-lo-ão.

As the previous posters have said, the presence or not of the subject pronoun is entirely optional, but commonly used to emphasize a contrasting situation (where you might place particular stress on it in English: "he doesn't study much, but I do") or to clarify an otherwise ambiguous situation. Once clarified though, you needn't continue repeating: "Yo leía libros. También miraba películas." In the second sentence, the subject is implied from the first.

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