Spanish subordinate sentences

spanish subordinate sentences

Have you ever tried to speak and communicate by only saying short individual sentences? Would be difficult, right?

Independent sentences are great, but if you want to communicate fluently and have a “magical touch” you need more than that.

“Las oraciones subordinadas”, or subordinate sentences as you may know them in English, play an important role in our daily lives. They help us communicate better, and provide detailed information in only a few words.

In Spanish, learning how to use subordinate sentences is very important if you want to get the best out of the language.

For that reason, in this brief explanation, we will teach you what are subordinate sentences, what types there are, and how to use them properly.

What is a subordinate sentence?

In simple words, a subordinate sentence is a sentence that depends on the core of another sentence. As a result, there’s a dependency relationship and the subordinate sentence would have no sense if the main sentence isn’t there.

Let’s say that, in Spanish, we have two types of sentences, independent clauses, and compound sentences. Subordinate sentences belong to the group of “compound” ones.

To get a better idea of how these sentences look, let’s see the following example:

La camisa que me regalaste me queda pequeña.

The shirt you gave me is too small for me.

In this example “que me regalaste” would have no sense or meaning if the sentence “La camisa … me queda pequeña” doesn’t exist.

As we mentioned before, these sentences have a compound structure. And, according to Spanish experts, they have two parts.

The first part is the main sentence, or the sentence with a higher hierarchy. The second part has a lower hierarchy and we call it “oración secundaria” or “side sentence” in English. The side sentence, is the subordinate one.

Let’s see another example:

Jamás pensé que las cosas terminarían así.

I never thought things would end like this.

In this case, “Jamás pensé” is the main sentence, and “que las cosas terminarían así” is the subordinate one. As you may notice, they are connected by the Spanish word “que”

You can practice with some activities, click here!

Types of subordinate sentences.

There are many types of subordinate sentences. Consequently, we are just going to mention some of them in order to avoid making this explanation a lifetime long.

Depending on their functionality, we can classify subordinate sentences into three groups:

  • Oraciones subordinadas sustantivas = Noun subordinate sentences.
  • Oraciones subordinadas adjetivas = Adjective subordinate sentences.
  • Oraciones subordinadas adverbiales = Adverbial subordinate sentences.

There are many other types of classifications. However, we are going to keep this simple as this article will give you more of an introduction to this topic.

Noun subordinate sentences

These are sentences that you can replace with nouns or pronouns. Noun subordinate sentences play the same role that “noun syntagms” do in a simple sentence. A noun syntagm is just a subject or pronoun with a high hierarchy in a sentence.

Usually, these sentences are introduced by a verb in the infinitive form or a subordinate connector.

Noun subordinate sentences play several syntactic functions.

Some of those functions are listed below:

  • Sujeto = Subject
  • Complemento directo = Direct complement.
  • Término de complemento indirecto = Indirect object term.
  • Término de complemento circunstancial = Circumstantial complement term.
  • Atributo = Attribute

If you feel those are a lot of syntactic functions, we must say that there are even more.

Now, to provide you with an idea of how these sentences are, let’s see the examples below:

No me gusta que me grites. (Sujeto)

I don’t like you yelling at me.

Me preguntó si podía ir a su casa. (Complemento directo)

He asked me if I could go to his house.

Dieron la autorización a quienes habían cumplido el trato. (Término de complemento indirecto)

They gave the authorization to those who had fulfilled the deal.

Se fue sin que nadie le dijera nada. (Término de complemento circunstancial)

He left without anyone saying anything to him.

Mi mayor deseo es que te vaya bien en la vida. (Atributo)

My greatest wish is that you do well in life.

Adjective subordinate sentences

This type of subordinate sentence can replace adjectives. There are two subtypes inside this group. First, we have “explanatory sentences” that are responsible for expanding the information provided about any topic or thing.

They always go between two commas, and the main sentence would not lose its meaning if we remove them.

Let’s see a good example below:

Los chicos, que estaban en penitencia, se quedaron en su casa.

The boys, who were in penitence, stayed at home.

For this case, the explanatory sentence would be “que estaban en penitencia”.

If we remove the explanatory sentence, the main sentence “Los chicos se quedaron en su casa” would not lose its meaning. However, the explanatory sentence provides important information that may be helpful for the listener.

The second subtype are “specifying sentences”. These sentences do not go between commas and restrict the meaning of the adjective.

For example, the sentence “Los chicos que estaban en penitencia se quedaron en su casa.” does not have commas and refers only to “los chicos que estaban en penitencia”. If we remove “que estaban en penitencia” the sentence’s meaning would change.

Adverbial subordinate sentences

This is the last type of subordinate sentence we will teach you today. These sentences can replace adverbials and, in general, have circumstantial functionality. Just like adverbials, we can classify them into many categories.

Some of these categories are listed below:

  • Oración subordinada de tiempo. (Time)
  • Oración subordinada de lugar. (Place)
  • Oración subordinada de modo. (Mood)
  • Oración subordinada de causa. (Cause)

As you may notice, these categories are similar to the ones Spanish adverbials have. It’s not just a coincidence since they have the same purpose.

To provide you with a clearer idea, let’s check the sample sentences below:

Fui cuando el médico me lo indicó. (Time)

I went when the doctor told me to.

Lo guardé donde ustedes me pidieron. (Place)

I kept it where you asked me.

Estacioné el auto como me indicaste. (Mood)

I parked the car as you told me.

Estamos estudiando porque el profesor es muy exigente. (Cause)

We are studying because the teacher is very demanding.

As we said previously, when you build a subordinate sentence, you have to use a connector between the main sentence and the subordinate one. Frequently, the Spanish connectors we use are “a” and “que”.

Nonetheless, when you want to build an adverbial subordinate sentence, the connector will depend on what you want to indicate.

Some connectors you can use are: cuando”, “como”, “porque”, and cuando”.

Spanish subordinate sentences

In conclusion, using subordinate sentences in Spanish requires some practice, but I can assure you’ll be rewarded.

We could say that Spanish subordinate sentences have three parts. The first one is the main sentence. The second part would be the connector or nexus word. And finally, we have the side sentence.

If you have no connector between the main sentence, and the subordinate one, then you have no compound structure.

Don’t feel overwhelmed if you feel this is a lot to learn. Keep in mind that when learning a new language, setting a learning pace and practicing is essential.

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