The verb "visitan" is third person plural. Therefore, you can identify the subject of this Spanish sentence as the third person plural "padres." Also, it is customary to place the subject after the predicate in a Spanish sentence, and to place the objects before (the object moves to after the verb when the sentence is translated into English). Thus, starting the translation with the adverb "when," using "are visiting" or "do visit" as the verb, using the English syntax of putting the subject (parents/padres) after the helping verb of the question, and placing the object after the verb as per English syntax, you then translate the Spanish words in English syntax: When (cuándo) are your parents visiting (visitan sus padres) you (te)?. Another way to translate: When (cuándo) do your parents visit (visitan sus padres) you (tú)?
English has inconsistent tenses (you can say "I am walking" but not "I am wanting"), does preposition shenanigans ("at the zoo" means "in the zoo", but "at the beach" means "on the beach", but "at the door" means "in front of the door"), is inconsistent with the use of articles ("going to the store" but "going to school"), and it has that equally mind-boggling auxiliary "do" added to some questions and negative statements. And don't forget the lack of consistent pronunciation rules.
English is not a very typical Indo-European language. That language family normally features grammatical genders as well as a vast conjugation and declination (noun case) system. Old English used to have three genders, five noun cases, and a more impressive conjugation system featuring four different inflections for the grammtical persons (i.e. different endings for "I", "sing. you", "he/she/it", and "we/plur. you/they") and a regular subjunctive mood. Throughout the centuries and influences by various peoples, that system got gradually broken down because the mingling languages kept clashing with each other. Modern English features genders only in personal pronouns, two cases which are also only for personal pronouns, and a total of six conjugational forms for each verb (except for "to be", which has two more because it retained some actual conjugation). From an Indo-European standpoint, English is a wild mess and a husk of a language: allegedly easy to learn due to its simplified grammar, but so inconsistent that you'll sound like a foreigner for a long time.
From the Principle of Reciprocity, Spanish speakers would have just as much trouble with Engish.
I know what you mean, I feel it too, but it is not fair to blame Spanish.
Try explaining English present tenses to a Spanish speaker - or the use of definite and indefinite articles to Asians.
The "personal a" is used before nouns naming people (and pets) only to show that they're the direct objects of the sentence.
Here, tus padres is the subject of the sentence (the ones doing the visiting), and so won't have a "personal a".
The direct object (what is being visited) is the pronoun "te."
You know, the lightbulb finally went off for me after several of these. It's the ME, TE, NOS, etc that are what helps me to recognize the sentence. If it were YOU that were doing the visiting then it would be YO, TU, etc. I offer this because in the beginning of trying to understand these sentences I'm sure that I thought the ME, TE, NOS, etc was supposed to be one doing the visiting. If that were true then it would be TU not TE. Then secondly the verb form tells you that it is attached to a plural with the "-an" ending. I'm not trying to break down the sentence. I'm just trying to tell people how I have learned to recognize it.
I'll try a bit a more thorough explanation if you like. English and Spanish a pretty similar in how they build this sentence, but it isn't well visible on the surface.
First, you should look at and identify all the parts in your sentence:
- When - Cuándo - the question word
- are visiting - visitan - the verb, the action
- your parents - tus padres - the subject, who does the action
- you - te - the direct object, who suffers the action
The word order for a question with a question word (i.e. not a yes-or-no question) is the same in English and Spanish:
- question word
- conjugated (!) verb
- the remaining (unconjugated) verbs
- any objects
For English, this comes naturally:
- your parents
The crucial thing to remember is that "are" is the (only) conjugated verb, even though it doesn't carry the actual meaning of the action. The meaning-bearing main verb "visiting" is a participle in this case, which is not a conjugated form.
For the Spanish translation, you need to know now that visitan is both the conjugated verb and the meaning-bearing part. It's the only verb here, so position 4, "the remaining verbs", will be not used in the Spanish sentence. Also you need to remember that personal object pronouns (like me, te, lo, la, etc.) are always directly connected to a verb and cannot be separated from it. They are part of the verb, basically.
- te visitan
- tus padres
I really appreciate your effort RyagonIV and the explanation does help. To be frank I've never been able to get my head around grammar, and the use grammatical terms in describing language tends to make me glaze over. I subscribe to the theory that, in large part, it's not that necessary for language acquisition. Hopefully that proves to be correct! Many thanks.
Hi Mark. I'll try explaining. When asking a question in Spanish, the rule is that the verb ("visitan") goes directly behind the question word (how, what, why, when, who, where), in this case when ("cuándo"). Another rule says that when the object of the verb is a pronoun (me, you, him/her, them) you put that in front of the verb. This puts the subject at the end. Don't overthink it. It resembles the passive voice question in English: When are you visited by your parents?
The way you constructed your question would probably be understood but would sound childlike to a Spanish speaker. A little less awkward --but still awkward-- would be, "Your parents visit you when? Tus padres te visitan cuándo?"
I hope this helps, Mark. I'm glad that you didn't give up asking for help and trying to figure this out.
It does indeed help particularly the comparison with the passive voice in English. Many thanks. Your comment about sounding childlike is taken. I can see that when I start trying out my limited knowledge on native speakers that I'm going to raise a lot of eyebrows if not cause some riotous laughter!
I don't know if you'll find this helpful or not, but when I read a Spanish sentence, I translate it literally as the word order happens. That helps me to get a feel for the word order. Then I change it to normal word order in English. e.g. I would in my mind translate the above sentence as "When you they visit your parents?" From there, I then change it to "When do your parents visit you?" It's convoluted and cumbersome, but helpful until I'm comfortable with the Spanish word order.
You cant just word-for-word translate. The English auxiliary verb "do" is not used in the Spanish.
There are lots of posts here about the word order. The take home rule seems to be : [Question word] immediately followed by [conjugated verb] but with [object pronouns] interposed in their usual spot just before the conjugated verb. Last but not least is the [subject].