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I have just begun learning Spanish, our professor was explaining about 'me' and 'te'.

I am totally confused about when you use 'me', 'te', 'os' and 'vos'. Is there some rule? Where do you use them?

Eg: "¿Cómo te llamas?", why can't "¿Cómo tú llamas?" be used?

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    Am I right? Is your question about: me, te, os and nos? – Sironsse Apr 23 '13 at 18:00
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    BTW: in Spanish we tend to omit pronouns when they are self-evident; your first sentence would be more natural thus: "Necesito un poco de ayuda". – leonbloy Apr 23 '13 at 21:32
  • Even native speakers here in Mexico make fun of "¿Cómo te llamas?" if you take it literally because of this: "A: ¿Como te llamas?, B: Yo no me llamo a mi me llaman." – Alfredo Osorio Apr 24 '13 at 19:00
  • Stanford, what is your native language? – Sebas Apr 24 '13 at 22:49
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    @StanfordSequeira, let's be clear, me te os nos are reflexive pronouns, while vos is a personal pronoun, like (used only in some latin america's countries) – Sebas Apr 25 '13 at 15:31
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Direct Answer to Your Question

Pronouns are words that substitute for nouns. In the case of ¿Como te llamas?, you are using what is alternatively called a pronominal verb or a reflexive verb and these require reflexive pronouns such as me, te, se, nos, and os. At an elementary level you will use these verbs in two main contexts.

  1. Actions where the person doing the action also receives the action: "I wash myself" is (yo) me lavo. We may not always say it exactly like this in English, but it still makes intuitive sense. Many morning routing activities (because you do them to yourself) fall in this category: "I brush my teeth" is (yo) me cepillo los dientes and "I shave myself" is (yo) me afeito.
  2. Phrases like ¿Como te llamas? which don't make much sense right now. I honestly wouldn't worry too much about the grammar here, but rather focus on the pattern and respond Me llamo Stanford.

We often focus too much on the mechanics of grammar. It's valuable to know when to focus on the grammar and when to use your intuition and forget about grammar. For now, I'd recommend focusing on the grammar for #1 above and not so much for #2.

Pronouns at an Elementary Level

Yo, tu, vos, él, ella, usted, nosotros, vosotros, and ustedes are personal pronouns used in the subject of a sentence. In an elementary Spanish class, you will see these the most.

Sometimes, the pronoun is an object instead of a subject. "Will you help me?" can be asked in Spanish "¿(Tu) me ayudas?" In this case, the person asking the question is the object because he receives the action (help). Me is a direct object pronoun along with te, lo, la, nos, os, los, and las.

Probably the best summary of Spanish pronouns is available from an old course at Indiana University - Purdue University Ft. Wayne.

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First of all let me tell you that asking isn't dumb, none of us born knowing it all, so don't worry about asking, in fact it's better than staying in doubt!

I'll work with your example so you get the point easily.

You can't say: "¿Cómo llamas?" because it's literally as if you said: "What is you name?"

Instead your teacher told you that the correct way is: "¿Cómo te llamas?", as when you say: "What is your name?"

In some cases there is a tacit subject, when in Spanish you omit the pronoun, example: Me gusta ir al cine, which means: I like to go to the movies.

The pronoun isn't written, but you could: "(A mi) Me gusta ir al cine."

Now, for the 'os' and 'vos', those are forms particularly used in Spain and South America, in some countries like México they are "deprecated" or different, like US-English: Organization and UK-English: Organisation. You will find for example:

  • English: Don't worry about that.
  • Spain: No os preocupéis.
  • México: No se preocupe. No te preocupes.

In this case the three forms mean the same.

Final note for the above example: Se is formal like usted, and Te is informal like .

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“¿Cómo te llamas?” does not mean “What is your name?” but rather “What do you call yourself?”. “What is your name?” is “¿Cual es tu nombre?” (literally: which one is your name (out of the millions of names out there)). “Llamarse” is a reflexive verb, meaning an action performed by the person mentioned. A reflexive is a special verb that gets split when used. Think of the ending “se” as short for “self”. These are the conjugations for llamarse depending on the pronoun used (who is speaking):

  • me llamo (I call myself...)
  • te llamas (you call yourself...)
  • se llama (he, she, usted —the polite form of you— se llama
  • nos llamamos (we call ourselves)
  • os llamáis (y’all call yourselves —in Spain only)
  • se llaman (y’all in Latin America call yourselves and they call themselves)

We could add the personal pronouns in front for clarification:

  • yo me llamo (I call myself...)
  • tu te llamas (you call yourself...)
  • el se llama (he calls himself...)
  • ella se llama (she calls herself...)
  • usted se llama (you —the polite form of you— call yourself...)
  • nosotros (m) / nosotras (f) nos llamamos (we call ourselves...)
  • vosotros (m) / vosotras (f) os llamais (y’all (masculine or feminine) call yourselves... -used in Spain only)
  • ustedes se llaman (y’all in Latin America call yourselves...)
  • ellos (m) / ellas (f) se llaman (they (masculine or feminine) call themselves...)

We usually ”call ourselves” by the names our parents gave us at birth, or a nickname we like.

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I suppose you were learning about 'verbos pronominales'1, those verb end in se, eg. laverse, llamarse, irse etc. E.g:

  1. I wash myself = (Yo) me lavo
    The verb is lavarse
    Who/what is washing? I wash: yo lavo
    Who/what am I washing? Myself/me: me

  2. You help me = (Tu) me ayudas
    The verb is ayudarse
    Who/what is helping? You help: tu ayudas
    Who/what are you helping? Me: me

  3. I fall = (Yo) me caigo"
    The verb in this case is caerse, not caer. In English the verb is 'to fall', in Spanish it would be 'to fall myself'. Sounds strange, and don't border to much, you'll get used to it very soon.
    Who is falling? I fall: Yo caigo
    Who am I falling? Myself: me... this sounds strange, but for sure I don't fall someone else ;)

  4. You are called Stanford = (Tu) te llamas Stanford
    The verb is llamarse, not llamar. Here literal translation to English becomes even more difficult. It would be something like 'to call/name yourself'.
    The verb 'llamar' means to phone someone or to ask someone to come closer (which you can also translate by call, but it has another meaning). Saying "¿Cómo tu llamas?" could mean something like "How do you make phone-calls?"
    Who is calling: You call: Tú llamas
    You are calling yourself: te

The rule I recommend you is to check if the verb ends with -se. Then you know you have to use an extra personal pronoun (me, te, ...).
For sure, when English version contains something like: me, you (not as subject), us, myself, yourself... it is also translated by one of those little words (I made a small list your professor probably gave you:


Pronoun as a subject (sujeto)
yo: I
tú: you

nosostros: we
vosotros: you

The equivalent (in)direct objects or objetos (in)directos
me: me
te: you

nos: us
os: you

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