You’ve probably made a pretty significant time investment throughout your Spanish journey to internalize the verb conjugations: Yo prefiero (I prefer), querías (you wanted), él deseó (he wished).

What your Spanish teacher forgot to tell you is that natives rarely start their sentences with subject pronouns.

Subject pronouns in English have the essential job of establishing who we’re talking about (I, you, he, she, it, we, they). In Spanish, however, this role got taken over by conjugations (verb endings).

Using subject pronouns when they’re not required is like going back to your job after they fire you:

—¡Buenos días, Rodríguez! has madrugado mucho hoy.
“Good morning, Rodríguez! You (came in) really early today.”

—Oye, ¿pero a ti no te habían despedido?
“(Say), hadn’t they fired you?”

Ellos son unos bromistas. ¡Ja, ja, ja! ¿ quieres un café?
They‘re (a bunch of) jokers. Ha, ha, ha! Do you want a coffee?”

It’s just awkward.

After the takeover, subject pronouns in Spanish (yo, tú, usted, él, ella, nosotros, nosotras, vosotros, vosotras, ustedes, ellos, ellas) found their market niche by providing three specific services:

  1. Warning about an impending subject change
  2. Shining a spotlight on the subject
  3. Facilitating the giving and asking of advice

Unless you’re deliberately trying to accomplish one of these goals, omit the subject pronouns.

Let’s look at each goal in action.

1. Warning about an impending subject change

—¿Qué tal te llevas con Alberto?
“How are you getting along with Alberto?”

—Me cae genial.
“He strikes me (as an awesome guy).”

This is a perfectly native response. The conjugation does all the heavy lifting (3rd person singular).

However, starting the sentence with él, would suggest that you’re surreptitiously comparing him to someone else:

Él me cae genial.
He strikes me (as an awesome guy).”

—Ah. ¿Y Fátima?
“Oh. And Fátima?”

Your listener now thinks that there is somebody else you don’t like. Either avoid the pronoun, or bring up both subjects at the same time:

—A ver. Él me cae genial, pero Fátima es muy pesada.
“Let’s see. He strikes me (as an awesome guy), but Fátima is really annoying.”

2. Shining a spotlight on the subject

An obvious spotlight when you speak in English is changing the volume or the duration of the pronoun. In Spanish, you can get the same emphasis by simply adding the pronoun:

—Vamos a ver. ¿ qué quieres hacer?
“Let’s see. What do you want to do?”

—No sé. me dijiste que querías ir al cine.
“I don’t know. You told me that you wanted to go to the cinema.”

Another excellent use case for pronouns is establishing the identity of a subject who is right in front of you:

eres el novio de Carmen, ¿verdad?
You‘re Carmen’s boyfriend, right?

—Sí. ¿Y vosotras sois sus amigas?
Yeah. And you are her friends?

If the subject is not right in front of you, you don’t actually need the pronoun: Ese es el novio de Carmen (that (guy) is Carmen’s boyfriend).

If the goal of your sentence is to determine who the subject is, you will sound super Spanish if you save the pronoun until the very end.

—¿Y por qué no viene a buscarte él?
“And why doesn’t he come to get you?”

—No sé, pero como no me vaya ya no llego. ¿Los platos los lavas , porfa?
“I don’t know, but if I don’t leave now I won’t arrive (in time). (Can) you wash the dishes, (pretty please)?”

3. Facilitating the giving and asking of advice

Using a subject pronoun is a very efficient tool to convey your interest in someone else’s opinion:

—No sé si llamarla. ¿ qué harías en mi lugar?
“I don’t know if (I should) call her. What would you do in my place?”

—Mira. Yo me iría a dormir y la llamaría mañana.
“Look. I would go to sleep and I’d call her tomorrow.”

You can also take a more empathetic tone by using the present tense in the second person and sticking the pronoun in front:

—No sé si llamarla. ¿ qué harías en mi lugar?
“I don’t know if (I should) call her. What would you do in my place?”

—Mira. te vas a dormir y la llamas mañana.
“Look. You go to sleep and you call her tomorrow.”

This second-person technique is a softer alternative to direct commands: Vete a dormir y llámala mañana.

Spanish takeaways

If you want your Spanish to sound more native, be deliberate when you use your subject pronouns: to warn your listener about other subjects, to emphasize, and to exchange advice.

At the beginning it might feel super weird to not use subject pronouns all the time, but after a while I promise it will feel more natural than skinny dipping.