Where would the "solo" go in the following sentence:

I want to have four children - two boys and two girls - unless, I can only have three in which case I want all girls.

Which I translated as:

Quiero tener cuatro hijos - dos niños y dos niñas- a menos que, puedo solo tener hijos en cuyo caso quiero tener todas niñas.

When I put it into SpanishDict it says the "solo" should come before the "puedo" (I know machine translation isn't reliable but if all three machine translations are putting it before...) but I need to know for sure - something doesn't feel right about "solo" coming before the "puedo".


3 Answers 3


Spanish is a flexive language, so words can switch places and the phrase is still correct:

"Yesterday was raining" can be translated to :

"Ayer estaba lloviendo" ,"Ayer lloviendo estaba",
"Lloviendo estaba ayer" , "Lloviendo ayer estaba",
"Estaba ayer lloviendo", "Estaba lloviendo ayer".

For your case you can translate it in different ways :

"Quiero tener cuatro hijos, dos niños y dos niñas, a menos que, solo pueda tener tres, en cuyo caso las quiero todas niñas"


"Quiero tener cuatro hijos, dos niños y dos niñas, a menos que, pueda sólo tener tres, en cuyo caso las quiero todas niñas"


"Quiero tener cuatro hijos, dos niños y dos niñas, a menos que, pueda tener solo tres, en cuyo caso las quiero todas niñas"


"Quiero tener cuatro hijos, dos niños y dos niñas, a menos que, pueda tener tres solamente, en cuyo caso las quiero todas niñas" (we change from solo to solamente because phonetically it might sound as we mean alone and not only)

  • This is a great answer but what is the "las" before "quiero todas niñas" used for?
    – A. Bell
    Aug 14, 2019 at 11:22
  • 1
    "las" replaces "mis hijas"(my daughters). I think it might be omitted because it is redundant. But if you want to add "mis hijas" it must be after quiero:".. en cuyo caso quiero mis hijas todas niñas"
    – David_helo
    Aug 14, 2019 at 12:03

"Puedo solo tener hijos" seems to be saying "I can have children by myself," whereas "I can only have male children" would be expressed as "Solo puedo tener hijos varones." You want your adverb to modify tener, not puedo.

Bonus tips:

  • hijos includes male and female; to specify a male child, I recommend varón

  • the standard polite style of Spanish would call for quisiera instead of quiero

  • there should be no comma after "a menos que" -- it interrupts the flow

  • the last part would normally use past subjunctive + conditional: a menos que solo pudiera tener ..., en cuyo caso preferiría tener ... (note, quisiera could be used in place of preferiría)

  • the gender of one's offspring isn't biologically pre-determined; here is an example of the issue you're working on that doesn't have that logical flaw:

    Quisiera tomar seis clases este semestre, para satisfacer todos los requisitos generales de una vez, a menos que la universidad pusiera un límite de cinco clases por semestre, en cuyo caso tomaría mi última clase general en la sesión de verano. Así podría dedicarme a las clases de mi facultad en otoño. | *I'd like to take six classes this semester, to get the General Education requirements out of the way, unless the college sets a limit of five classes per semester, in which case I'll take my last Gen Ed in the summer session. That way I can devote myself to the classes in my major in the fall semester.

  • Actually, "Puedo solo tener hijos" is fine. Here it's the prosody that does the trick of desambiguating, not the syntax. Only if you put "solo" at the very end of that sentence would "solo" it be unambiguously read as "alone" or "by myself".
    – pablodf76
    Aug 14, 2019 at 10:14
  • I think the reason why "solo" can be placed anywhere in the sentence is because is used as a connector.
    – Mike
    Aug 14, 2019 at 14:20
  • I think there's actually a tricky part in between "solo puedo tener hijas" vs "puedo tener solo hijas". the first one indicates that the only thing they can do is to have children and female children, while the second one indicates that when they have children they can only have female children
    – Mike
    Aug 14, 2019 at 15:35

I'm just going to rework my previous answer.

After a little research, I'd translate your sentence to

Quiero tener cuatro hijos, dos niños y dos niñas, a menos que pueda tener sólo tres hijos, en cuyo caso, querría tener todas niñas.

I didn't find a definitive answer about where to put "sólo". Translating to English would make it seem like the difference between

Only can have three kids

Can only have three kids

Can have only three kids

You could argue that this works in English. But I've heard that you wouldn't want to split up perífrasis verbales en español. Poder + Infinitivo es un perífrasis verbal. So I think the reasoning is that it might be confusing to split up "poder + tener" because it may not be what people were expecting to hear. But I'm not sure on this. I'd say experiment and see if people give you funny looks lol. If you get funny looks, you know it sounds funny.

To clear up the confusion on solo, sólo, and solamente, I looked at this post.

I put "hijos" again after "tres" because from experience, when you're speaking long sentences, people forget what you were referring to and get confused.

Pueda is used because you're talking about a hypothetical situation where there is uncertainty. You can use the subjunctive mood in this case.

Querría is used because you're saying what you would want conditionally (indicative conditional).

Here are a couple helpful links. The first link is from Study.com, so they want you register before letting you view the entire article. The second link gives more detail than necessary, but the background and the examples are helpful.

This was a deceptively tricky question and I think I actually probably learned more here than the OP.

  • pueda is used because is the subjunctive conjugation of the verb "poder" for the pronoun "yo"
    – Mike
    Aug 14, 2019 at 14:08

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