In this series of articles, you will internalize the usage of the Spanish language by learning to recognize patterns in the structure and the words used in different sentences.
Specifically, while we examine the sentence bellow, you will learn about:
● The structure of sentences
● The gender of nouns, adjectives, determiners and pronouns
● The form and usage of verbs
● The use of the preterite indicative tense and the imperfect indicative tense
● The use of ser and estar
Feel free to jump directly to any of these sections.
El concierto de anoche fue buenísimo. (Last night’s concert was very good.)
●EL: the [definite article, masculine-singular]
●CONCIERTO: concert [common noun, masculine-singular]
●DE: of, from [preposition, invariable]
●ANOCHE: last night [time adverb, invariable]
●FUE: he, she, it was [verb SER, 3rd person-singular, preterite tense, subjunctive]
●BUENÍSIMO: very good [superlative form of BUENO, descriptive adjective, masculine-singular]
Understanding the structure of a sentence helps us to distinguish patterns more easily.
The first thing we are going to examine is the verb (or verbs) in our example, because verbs determine the largest units in our sentence. Depending on the number of verbs, we will have one simple sentence or several clauses into which we can divide the sentence.
In this example we only have one verb—fue (was)—so we know it is a simple sentence.
Fue is a form of the verb ser (to be), which is a linking verb.
Linking verbs have almost no meaning and are used to connect the subject of the sentence to an attribute that adds information about the subject.
The subject tends to be before the verb. In this sentence, the subject is el concierto de anoche (last night’s concert), so we use it before fue (was).
The attribute tends to be after the linking verb, so we use buenísimo (very good) after fue (was).
The subject—el concierto de anoche (last night’s concert)—is formed by several words.
Concierto (concert), a noun, is the main element of the subject.
El (the) is a definite article. Unlike descriptive adjectives, which are normally used after nouns, determinative adjectives such as definite articles tend to precede nouns. That is why we use el (the) before concierto (concert).
On the other hand, we want to use anoche (last night) to modify concierto (concert), but since it is an adverb, and adverbs don’t normally modify nouns, we use the preposition de (of) to link concierto and anoche. This structure—an adjective phrase—works as a descriptive adjective, so it is used after the noun.
THE INFLUENCE OF NOUNS ON ADJECTIVES, DETERMINERS AND PRONOUNS
Spanish nouns possess two qualities — gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural) — that influence the form of adjectives, determiners and pronouns.
You can read more about the gender of nouns here.
You can read more about how nouns build their plural forms here.
As you have seen, in this sentence we have a noun: concierto (concert).
Concierto is a masculine noun in its singular form, so any adjective, determiner or pronoun related to it has to be in its feminine-singular form.
El (the) is a definite article that modifies concierto (concert). It may appear in one of five different forms:
In this sentence, we use the masculine-singular form—el—because concierto is a masculine-singular noun.
Buenísimo (very good) is a descriptive adjective that modifies concierto (concert). It may appear in one of four different forms:
In this sentence, we use the masculine-singular form—buenísimo—because concierto is a masculine-singular noun.
ADVERBS ARE INVARIABLE
Adverbs, on the other hand, are invariable; they have just one form. That is why, even if we apply anoche (last night) to concierto (concert)—a masculine-singular noun— we don’t have to care about its form.
In Spanish, verbs are the most variable among all kinds of words.
Fue (was), the verb in our sentence, is a form of the verb ser (to be).
Verbs change mainly to express mood, tense, person and number.
There are two moods in Spanish: the indicative and the subjunctive. The indicative is a neutral mood, while the subjunctive is triggered by certain words or conditions, particularly in compound sentences. Since our sentence is a simple sentence, and there is no word or condition that would trigger the subjunctive, we use the indicative.
The tense of the verb is mainly determined by the time we want to express, but also by some characteristics of the verb itself, by some words, and by the sentence structure.
In our sentence we want to express a characteristic of a concert.
When talking about the past, if the reference time in a sentence is longer or as long as the characteristic we want to express, we use the preterite indicative tense.
If the reference time in that sentence is shorter than the characteristic we want to express, we use the imperfect indicative tense.
In this sentence, el concierto de anoche (last night’s concert) establishes the reference time and, since the characteristic—being very good— lasts as long as the concert, the reference time is as long as the characteristic. So we use the preterite indicative tense*.
*Note that in most parts of Spain, if we were referring to an event with expressions such as hoy (today), esta mañana (this morning), esta tarde (this afternoon), esta noche (tonight), esta semana (this week), este mes (this month)…, we would use the present perfect indicative tense—ha sido (literally “has been”).
El concierto de esta tarde ha sido buenísimo. (This afternoon’s concert was very good.)
There are six forms of the preterite indicative tense conjugation of ser (to be):
1st person-singular: fui
2nd person-singular: fuiste
3rd person-singular: fue
1st person-plural: fuimos
2nd person-plural: fuisteis
3rd person-plural: fueron
(Yes, they are exactly the same as the forms of the preterite indicative tense conjugation of ir (to go).
The person (1st, 2nd or 3rd) and number (singular or plural) the verb must adopt are determined by the subject of the sentence.
The subject in this sentence is el concierto de anoche (last night’s concert). Since it is a singular element that doesn’t represent the person speaking (1st person) nor the person listening (2nd person), the form of the verb we use is the 3rd person-singular: fue.
SER VS. ESTAR
In Spanish there are two verbs that are translated as “to be” in English: ser and estar. Foreign speakers of Spanish often have problems deciding which verb to use in each case.
When linking a noun to an adjective, we use ser or estar depending on the meaning of the adjective. Generally speaking, we can say that we use ser when we perceive that the adjective expresses an intrinsic quality, and we use estar when we perceive that the adjective expresses a condition resulting from a change or process.
Since being very good is an intrinsic quality of the concert, we use the verb ser with buenísimo (very good).
Since the number of adjectives that are normally used with ser is much larger than the number of adjectives normally used with estar, and many of the adjectives used with estar can also be used with ser, I always recommend students to use ser as a general rule, and learn the uses of estar with adjectives as exceptions.
You can find a list of adjectives that are used with estar here.
GO FIND PATTERNS!
There are several technical words in this post, but remember that, once you know them, you will easily be able to identify different kind of words inside a sentence. Then you will start recognizing patterns that you can use when creating your own sentences.
Check other posts with sample sentences; You will become familiar with all these terms very quickly. You will be seeing patterns everywhere!
If you have any questions related to this post, you can leave a comment or send me a message through the contact form.