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Knowing that verbs imply the subject (unlike English), when is it necessary to be redundant and use the subject? I gathered that it is only used at the beginning of a conversation, but I'm not sure.

Soy alto (inteligente, moreno, etc.)

vs.

Yo soy alto (inteligente, moreno, etc.)

Also applies to "tú eres", "el(la) es", "nosotros somos", etc.

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Generally, we specify the subject for emphasis. Using your examples:

Soy alto (inteligente, moreno, etc.)

In this sentence, I am specifying one of my characteristics, which are the important part of the sentence. I don't need to specify the subject, since it is inferred from the verb.

Yo soy alto (inteligente, moreno, etc.)

Subtly different: once again, I am specifying a characteristic of mine, but I have put some emphasis on the subject, by mentioning it when it is unnecessary. By putting more importance on the subject, I am making it stand out.

For instance, if we are about to meet for the first time and you ask me how will you recognise me among a group, I may answer:

Yo soy alto, moreno y llevo gafas.

With this, I am implying that I will be the only one in that group that meets the description (if you see someone with these characteristics, that's me). If, on the other hand, I answer:

Soy alto, moreno y llevo gafas.

I am describing myself, hoping that this will help you, but I am not implying anything about other people in the group (maybe because I don't know who else will be there).

As you can see, this is a subtle difference. In case of doubt, you are generally better off by not mentioning the subject.

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  • In case of doubt, you are generally better off by not mentioning the subject. <-- That was the most helpful part ;) thanks for the explanations.
    – Timtech
    Sep 17 '14 at 11:06
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    ^^ This is what I teach my students. It serves a double purpose too, both being the norm and forcing them to pay attention to verb endings rather than using the pronouns as a crutch. Probably the best rule of the thumb for English-speakers is if you would stress the pronoun in speech or italicize it in writing, go ahead and use it. Otherwise, omit. Sep 17 '14 at 11:22
  • Indeed, specifying the subject (especially when it is yo) a lot makes you appear as egotistic. Though, if you are a foreigner, people will understand that you are not yet used to these nuances. If any, they will identify you as an English-speaking person who must always use the subject in his native language.
    – Gorpik
    Sep 17 '14 at 14:18

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