Ryan Royer

Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Lichtman, Karen

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures




Clitic pronouns, such as 'lo tengo' [I have it], create difficulties for English speakers who learn Spanish as a second language. English places clitic pronouns after verbs (enclisis), but Spanish requires them before conjugated verbs (proclisis) in simple structures. In complex structures, such as 'lo quiero tener/quiero tenerlo' [I want to have it], Spanish has two possibilities: both proclisis (or clitic climbing) and enlisis are correct. The preferences of Spanish speakers regarding clitic climbing have been well studied. Enclisis is more prevalent in writing while proclisis is more common in speech (56% clitic climbing in speech, 23% in writing; Davies, 1995). Previous studies focused on native speakers and advanced bilinguals. This study investigates the use of clitic pronouns by English speakers who are intermediate-level Spanish learners. Twenty-three students at an American high school participated in three tasks to assess their use of clitic pronouns and their preferences for clitic placement: a written, free-response sample from the standardized AAPPL test, an oral picture-elicitation task, and a written acceptability-preference task. The written acceptance-preference task demonstrated that the students understood the placement of the clitics. They preferred enclisis 70% more than proclisis (29%) in complex structures, which follows the tendencies of native speakers. In the written, free-response sample, the students also used enclisis (75%) more than proclisis (25%), again like natives. In the picture-elicitation task, students often avoided clitics by using full nouns. Unlike the native speakers in spoken contexts, they continued to prefer enclisis (83%) more than proclisis (only 17%). The present tense produced the most correct use of clitics. Students with a higher score on the AAPPL test used clitic pronouns more and had a stronger preference for enclisis. The results show that learners are more likely to use clitics and to follow native preferences in written tasks than oral ones. It is possible that students need more oral input that uses proclisis. In sum, these results demonstrate that task, tense, modality, and proficiency can facilitate or harm the use of clitic pronouns for students.


Advisors: Karen Lichtman.||Committee members: Mandy Faretta-Stutenberg; Francisco Solares-Larrave.||Includes illustrations.||Abstract in English and Spanish.||Includes bibliographical references.


84 pages




Northern Illinois University

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