17.1 Formation of Compound Nouns

Many compound nouns are formed by the third person singular of the present tense of an infinitive, followed by the plural (or, occasionally, singular) form of the noun that would be the object of the verb.

For example, take the verb parar, “to stop.” What stops a fall is a parachute, thus para caídas (“falls”) = paracaídas (“parachute”). What stops water is an umbrella, thus para + aguas = paraguas (“umbrella”). (These nouns, in spite of ending in –s, remain grammatically singular and masculine.) A sampling of such nouns, the meaning of which can often be deduced and some of which you have already seen, follows:

Compound Noun


el cumpleaños birthday
el lavaplatos dishwasher
el limpiaparabrisas windshield wiper
el parabrisas windshield
el pararrayo(s) lightning rod
el parasol parasol
el pasamano(s) handrail
el pisapapeles paperweight
el quitamanchas stain-remover
el quitanieves snowplow
el rascacielos skyscraper
el salvavidas life jacket, life guard, life boat
el tocadisco record player
el trabalenguas tongue twister

Although the above combination is common, other compound nouns are also possible, such as the following:

el hazmerreír laughingstock
el sabelotodo know-it-all
Last revised on June 28, 2021.

17.2 Identical Words and Words Differentiated Only by Accent Mark

1. Although context should always make the meaning clear, various irregular affirmative tú commands duplicate other verb forms and, in one case, a noun: di, sé, ve, ven and sal. See section 14.3 for examples in context.

2. The first person singular of the preterite of traer, traje, is identical to the noun for “suit”:

Llevó traje a la boda. He wore a suit to the wedding.

Similarly, the first and third person singular of the imperfect tense of ser, era, is identical to the noun la era (“era”), though this should never cause comprehension difficulties.

3. Other verb forms: The first person singular of the preterite of regular –ar verbs and the first and third persons of the present subjunctive are differentiated in writing only by the written accent on the former:

Llegué tarde. I arrived late.
Lo haré cuando llegue. I’ll do it when I/you arrive (he, she arrives).

Likewise, the written accent is all that distinguishes the third person singular of the future tense and the first and third persons singular of the imperfect subjunctive of –ar verbs:

Lo mandará. She’ll send it.
Urgía que lo mandara. It was urgent that I (he,she,you) send it.

4. Some other words distinguished only by the written accent mark (in addition to those in section 1.3) include:

de of, from
first and third persons of present subjunctive of dar 
hacia toward
hacía first and third persons of imperfect indicative of hacer
el papa pope*
el papá dad
sabia wise (fem.)
sabía first and third persons of the imperfect indicative of saber 
se third person singular and plural reflexive pronoun
first person singular present tense of saber 
affirmative tú command of ser and saber 
si if
third person prepositional reflexive object pronoun (“himself,” “herself,” “yourself,” “itself,” “themselves,” “yourselves”)

*El papa must also be distinguished from la papa (“potato”).

Last revised on June 28, 2021.

17.3 Placement of Object Pronouns in Old Spanish

One occasionally sees in literature and in old or formal writing an object pronoun attached to, rather than preceding, a main conjugated verb in a sentence:

Al verme, volvióse pálido Upon seeing me, he turned pale.
Pidióme el jarro de agua y díselo… He asked me for the jug of water and I gave it to him…
(Lazarillo de Tormes, Anonymous, 1554)
Y el mozo díjole que según él cuitaba, decían verdad. And the boy said that according to what he thought, they were speaking the truth.
(Don Juan Manuel, El Conde Lucanor, 1282-1348)

The above would normally be expressed as:

Al verme, se volvió pálido.
Me pidió el jarro de agua y se lo di…
Y el mozo le dijo…
Last revised on June 28, 2021.

17.4 Second Person Plural (Vosotros) Commands

Vosotros commands are largely heard or appear written in dialogue in Spain. Affirmative vosotros commands are simple to recognize as they are the only verb form in Spanish that ends in a –d. For all verbs, the –of the infinitive is dropped and a –d is put in its place. As is the case of all negative commands, negative vosotros commands takes the present subjunctive.

Llegad a tiempo. Arrive on time.
No lleguéis todavía. Don’t arrive yet.
Comed todo. Eat everything.
No comáis ahora. Don’t eat now.
Id ahora. Go now
No vayáis hasta la una. Don’t go until 1:00.

In affirmative vosotros commands used reflexively, the –is dropped. Therefore, for example, levantad os Levantaos. (“Get up.”) Acostad os Acostaos (“Go to bed”), etc. The only exception occurs with the infinitive irse (“to leave,” “to go away”), in which the –is retained: Idos = “Go away.”

Last revised on June 28, 2021.

17.5 The Future Subjunctive

The future subjunctive in Spanish remains only vestigially, usually in proverbs and legal or religious documents. (You have already seen it in the fixed phrase, Sea como fuere [“Be that as it may”]). Its formation is nearly identical to the –ra forms of the imperfect subjunctive. The only difference is that instead of an –at the end, an –e  is found. In modern Spanish, the future subjunctive has largely been replaced by the present subjunctive.

Cuando a Roma fueres, haz como vieres.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do. (Literally, “as you see”)
Quien diere una limosna, será bendecido. Whoever gives alms will be blessed.
De lo de ser otra vez manteado no digo nada; que semejantes desgracias mal se pueden prevenir, y si vienen, no hay que hacer otra cosa sino encoger los hombros, detener el aliento, cerrar los ojos y dejarse ir por donde la suerte y la manta nos llevare. (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, Spain, 1547-1616. I’m not saying anything about the episode of being tossed in a blanket, as similar misfortunes can hardly be prevented, and if they happen, there’s nothing to be done but to shrug one’s shoulders, hold one’s breath, close one’s eyes and let yourself go wherever luck and the blanket take us.
Last revised on June 28, 2021.

17.6 The Simple Past Perfect Tense

As a vestige of Latin, there exists in Spanish a simple (one-word) past perfect tense, which is identical to the –ra forms of the imperfect subjunctive. This tense is used almost exclusively in subordinate clauses and is found occasionally in journalistic, literary and other formal writing. Its meaning is always past perfect (pluperfect), never subjunctive. Some consider its usage a stylistic affectation, to achieve a more “elevated” tone. Nevertheless, this once-archaic tense is found more and more frequently in writing (though never used in speech.)

If the tense of the verb of the independent clause is in the past, and should you see this form in the subordinate clause when there seems to be no reason for use of the subjunctive, chances are that you have stumbled across this relic from the Latin.

Renunció cuando hiciera lo debido. He resigned when he had done what he should.
Cuando saciaran su hambre, salieron de su escondite. When they had sated their hunger, they left their hiding place.
Last revised on June 28, 2021.