Whether grammar is your favorite part of learning a new language or something you just suffer through, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the common pitfalls you could face. Here are six mistakes commonly made in Spanish.
- Ser vs estar
Spanish has two verbs that convey the meaning “to be:” ser and estar. Native Spanish speakers quickly learn when to use each verb, but non-native speakers can be tripped up easily. An easy trick for beginners is to remember this rhyme: “How you feel and where you are, always use the verb estar.” For example, Estoy aburrida or Estoy en la casa. Ser is used for more permanent characteristics, such as Soy alta or Soy de Cuba.
Not only do adjectives agree in both number and gender with the noun they modify, they also most often come after the noun. This can be quite confusing for native English speakers, who are accustomed to putting the adjective before the noun. When a novice Spanish speaker states la azul casa, it sounds just as backward as the house blue.
- Expressions with tener
The verb tener means “to have,” but there are many expressions that use tener where the English equivalent uses “to be.” The most common of these phrases is used to express age: Tengo 15 años, which literally means “I have 15 years.” Of course, in English you would instead say, “I am 15.” Here are several more of these ubiquitous phrases:
- tener hambre (to be hungry)
- tener sed (to be thirsty)
- tener suerte (to be lucky)
- tener sueño (to be sleepy)
- tener frío/calor (to be cold/hot)
- tener miedo (to be afraid)
When we talk about professions in English we say, “I’m a teacher,” or, “My aunt is an engineer.” But in Spanish, the indefinite article isn’t used unless there’s also an adjective following it. For example, if you’re simply stating a person’s profession, you would say, Marco es professor. However, if you want to describe what kind of profesor Marco is, you’d say Marco es un profesor inteligente.
- Double negatives
Spanish isn’t afraid of putting more than one negative word in a sentence. In fact, there’s no limit to the number of negatives you can have because Spanish phrases generally don’t mix positive and negative words. So, while your English teacher would wince if she heard you say, “I don’t have to give nothing to nobody never,” your Spanish teacher will encourage you to say, No tengo que dar nada a nadie nunca.
- La a personal
When the direct or indirect object of the sentence is a person, you need to be sure to add an a. For instance, Estoy llamando a Juan has an a, but Estoy llamando el perro does not. The name for this grammar rule is commonly called la a personal, helping you to remember when to use it.
By Kelli Drummer-Avendano
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