spanish: 22 common mistakes by non-native speakers
HI, I JUST FOUND THIS AND I THINK THAT IT CAN BE REALLY HELPFUL FOR SOMEONE. THIS ISN'T MINE SO GO TO http://spanishskulduggery.tumblr.com/post/79313462367/22-common-mistakes-by-non-native-speakers TO READ THE ORIGINAL.
"I’ve compiled a short list of some very common and sometimes embarrassing mistakes made by non-native speakers of Spanish that are almost always a clue that the person doing this is not fluent or wholly proficient in Spanish.
This isn’t a complete list, it’s things that I’ve thought of as very common. So if I’ve missed any of your most embarrassing mistakes or you have some other examples, send them in!
- Overusing a personal pronoun
In some cases, the use of a personal pronoun (yo, tú, nosotros) is not necessary. In Spanish, most verbs have a specific conjugation that applies to a certain subject that are unique… so there’s less of a reason to add a pronoun. When you do, you sound overly emphatic.
hablo = I speak
yo hablo = the one who is speaking is me
This can be a useful thing to know if you’re answering questions like “Who did ___?” but in everyday speech if you go through a routine like: yo hago la cama, yo me ducho, yo como el desayuno and so on sounds incredibly tiresome to a native speaker because you’re putting unneeded emphasis on it.
Where emphasis is better served is when the subject is doubtful - 3rd person singular and plural.
Because if “he” is conjugated like “she”, and “they” could be anyone, it’s sometimes useful to write the pronoun él or ella or name them to avoid confusion.
This is especially useful in the subjunctive where 3rd person singular looks like yo.
- Capitalizing nationalities
In English, we write English. We write American as American, and Chinese as Chinese.
In Spanish, it’s not like that.
inglés / inglesa = English
español / española = Spanish
francés / francesa = French
griego/a = Greek
ruso/a = Russian
italiano/a = Italian
japonés / japonesa = Japanese
chino/a = Chinese
The only reason you would capitalize someone’s nationality or ethnicity would be if it were a tribe like los Iroquois or if it was their nickname/title like la Chinita [a historical woman]
- Ser and Estar
Always a problem.
Ser is used with description, qualities, telling time, passive voice, what something is made of, what something is used for, set personality traits, and a few others.
Estar is used for location, temporary conditions (sick, tired, cloudy etc.), a person’s mood and NOT their personality, the progressive, and a few others.
The difference is best learned by practice and repeated example.
- Ser and Haber
While ser is used for “to be”, one of the main functions of haber is “to be present/existing” which is typically hay but may be hubo/había/habrá etc. depending on the tense.
Son sillas = They are chairs
Hay sillas = There are chairs
When it’s a question of, “What is it?” you use ser.
When it’s a question of, “Does it exist?” use haber.
- Addressing all letters with Querido/a for “dear”
In English, we just have “dear”. In Spanish there are two ways to say it.
Querido/a comes from querer which means “to love”. So querido/a means “dear” as in “person I care about” or sometimes “beloved”.
Generally, estimado/a is what you want to use when it’s someone above your station like a boss or a teacher, because “esteemed” is giving them respect and is more formal.
The real difference is if you’re on a first name basis, querido/a is fine.
If you’re not, or if you’re being formal, or it’s a stranger, estimado/a is what you want to use.
If you’re comfortable enough to begin a letter with, “Hey!” or “Yo!” then you can use querido/a but it can be seen as disrespectful or extremely buddy-buddy friendly to use querido/a instead of estimado/a in some contexts.
- The use of americano/a
While americano/a is very commonly used for “American”, there are places where it’s frowned upon when you mean “from the United States”.
Because, while americano/a means “American” it refers to North AND/OR South America. Canada is “American”, Brazil is “American”, Haiti is “American”, Argentina is “American”.
So you might see: España tuvo colonias americanas / “Spain had American colonies”.
When you mean “from/pertaining to the U.S.”, it’s better to use estadounidense which means “from Los Estados Unidos” just to avoid accidentally being ethnocentric.
- “I’m hot” =/= estoy caliente & “I’m cold” =/= estoy frío/a
Tengo calor. = I am hot.
Estoy caliente. = I am aroused.
Tengo frío. = I am cold.
Estoy frío/a. = I am distant, not friendly, frigid, or a cold fish.
[Note: estoy frío/a can also be used in the sense of “my body is colder than average”; generally the estar kind of implies “a body” and not a person… so you could say el muerto está frío which would mean “the dead man is cold” which is “to the touch”. Worse than this would be soy frío/a which is more obviously “I am frigid and dislike people”.]
- Por and Para
The Differences between por and para
- Preterite vs. Imperfect
Should I use Preterite or Imperfect?
- Position and Directionality - debajo vs. abajo, atrás vs. detrás, ante vs. antes etc.
Generally, de- implies that something is in a particular position. And generally, a- implies that there is motion.
The trick to these words is if you are describing something’s static position, versus a state of movement.
debajo = underneath
abajo = downward
detrás = behind
atrás = moving behind [<<¡Atrás!>> as an interjection is, “Stand back!”]
tras = after / pursuing / chasing / following
ante = (to stand) before [e.g. ante la Corte "before the Court"; ante la Corona “before the Crown”]
antes = before (something happens) / just in front
- Use of excitado/a
excitado/a = aroused sexually
emocionado/a = excited / filled with emotions of anticipation and maybe nervousness
- Use of capable
capar = to neuter / to castrate
capable = able to be castrated
capaz = capable / having ability
- Darse cuenta vs. Realizar
Both translate as “to realize” but in different senses.
Using darse cuenta is saying “to realize” as in “to have a revelation” or “to come to understand something” and is usually what you want.
Using realizar is saying “to make a reality” or “to finalize”. This is used primarily with projects or when making dreams a reality. It’s better translated as “to carry out” or “to finish”.
- Preguntar vs. Pedir
Both mean “to ask” but not in the same way.
To ask a question is usually hacer una pregunta or preguntar. When you use preguntar you’re saying “to question (someone)” or “to ask about something of which you don’t know”. Hacer una pregunta is more often “to ask (someone) a question”.
Pedir on the other hand is “to ask for (something)”. It may be easier to think of it as “to request”. It’s most often associated with asking forgiveness [pedir disculpas], making demands, and especially in the sense of “ordering” at a restaurant.
- Capitalizing everything in a sequence/title
Spanish typically capitalizes only the first letter of a sentence or sequence or title. English takes after German in the way of capitalizing every noun but not the prepositions or particle. Just be aware that this does not apply for proper names within the title.
So for instance…
Cien años de soledad = One Hundred Years of Solitude
Alicia en el país de las maravillas = Alice in Wonderland
Lo que el viento se llevó = Gone with the Wind
La vuelta al mundo en ochenta días = Around the World in 80 Days
El mago de Oz = The Wizard of Oz
- Overuse of para with various verbs
Most commonly, this mistake happens with esperar "to wait for" and buscar “to look for”.
People commonly write buscar para or esperar para, but because the “for” is already implied, there’s no need to add para.
Busco mi libro. = I’m looking for my book.
Busco novio. = I’m looking for a boyfriend.
Busco a ella. - I’m looking for her.
Estoy esperando el autobús. = I’m waiting for the bus.
Estoy esperando a ella. - I’m waiting for her.
- Moverse vs. Mudarse
moverse = to move physically
mudarse = to move places of residence
*Note: mudar by itself means “to mutate” or “to molt” which is different from both of these meanings
- Older/Younger vs. Elder/Younger
This is a problem that exists because English, but in Spanish there’s a clear distinction between both sets of words.
viejo/a / joven = old / young as in age
mayor / menor = elder / younger as in sequence of age
Mi hermana es mucho más mayor que yo. - My sister is much older than me. [“My sister is my senior in age because she was born first”]
Mi hermana es mucho más vieja que yo. - My sister is more of an old woman than me. [“My sister is a senior citizen”]
*Note: There’s a bit more leeway with joven and menor… the general distinction is that joven implies “youth”, but menor means “younger than” which implies a sequence.
- Using en with days of the week / months of the year
Generally, with days of the week or months of the year, people are more likely to say: “On Tuesday” and write en martes
In Spanish, that’s not how it’s done. It’s more common to use el to imply a due date or when something occurs.
La tarea es para el lunes. - The homework is due Monday.
Hagan la tarea para el viernes. - Do the homework by Friday
Mi cumpleaños es en febrero. = My birthday is in February.
Mi cumpleaños es el diez de febrero. = My birthday is February 10th.
- Historia vs. Cuento
la historia = a long story / history (the subject)
el cuento = a short story [related to contar “to tell”]
- Words that end in -a that are masculine, words that end in -o that are feminine
This is mastered by repetition. Sometimes it’s because they’re loanwords (especially from Greek)
el día [Indo-European and not Greek] = day el poema [Greek] = poem el clima [Greek] = climate el aroma [Greek] = smell / aroma el programa [Greek] = program Other times they’re abbreviations
la radio(grafía) = radio / radiography la moto(cicleta) = motorcycle la bici(cleta) = bicycle la tele(visión) = television You just have to do your best to learn them as you go.
la radio = radio [the machine or a radio program]
el radio = radius [geometry]
- Reflexives with me, te and nos
When a reflexive is listed, it’s often in the “unconjugated” infinitive + reflexive se.
So for instance, irse “to leave” is listed as irse in the dictionary. When it’s conjugated however, the reflexive must adhere to the subject.
So when it's yo it turns to me and so on:
Tengo que irme. = I have to leave.
Tienes que irte. = You need to leave.
Ella tiene que irse. = She needs to leave.
Ellos tienen que irse. = They need to leave.
Tenemos que irnos. = We need to leave.
*Note: This applies to all reflexives and in all tenses; me fui, te fuiste, se fue; me iba, te ibas, se iba; me vaya, te vayas, se vaya and so on.
The se is only used for 3rd person, singular or plural."
// IF YOU NEED MORE HELP GO TO http://spanishskulduggery.tumblr.com/
I have a poem for the Ser/ Estar trick HOW YOU FEEL AND WHERE YOU ARE, THAT IS WHEN YOU USE ESTAR
"The use of americano/a While americano/a is very commonly used for “American”, there are places where it’s frowned upon when you mean “from the United States”.".
---"Soy gringo estupido" works for me.
Gracias por la lista. I have some trouble with a lot of these, sometimes or often, and I've been practicing to get it right. Now I know exactly what I should do to improve my Spanish. No es fácil, pero puedo aprender español... Necesito sólo tiempo y práctica más. A nuevo, ¡gracias!
I was taught "Estoy casado", which seems odd to me. By the rules I've read, "Soy casado" makes more sense. (One would hope marriage isn't temporary nor "a feeling" but rather a permanent state of being. )
Is there a good reason for it, or is this an exception to the rule?
I was taught to consider whether it is the condition or the essence of something, rather than if it is temporary or permanent. I think that explains the apparent exceptions. For instance, death is considered a condition so you use estar. And your occupation is who you are, so you use ser. Even if you only plan to teach for a couple of years, it is who you are right now, so you say, "Soy profesor/a." So I guess marriage is a condition even though we hope it I s permanent.
My recollection from 30 years ago, when I was in Mexico and (pretending to be) married (long story...), is that people told me one would say either "estoy casado" or "soy [un] casado". "Married" being a condition, and "married man" being who I am. Same thing with, e.g., empleado: estoy empleado (I am employed) vs. soy empleado (I am an employee).
Gracias. That makes sense. Nearly the same thing, but with a slightly different feel to it. I know there's lots of English words that are considered synonyms, but a native speaker wouldn't interchange, or would actually mean something slightly different. I've looked at various rules, explanations, mnemonics (and even a poem!)...but I think it'll just come down to lots of practice until the right one "just feels right".
you can use "soy casado" or "estoy casado" i don't know how to explain the reason, we use both but here we use more "estoy casado"
Wow. I see many things I am struggling with right now and plenty more I haven't even gotten to yet. I'm mainly commenting so I can easily find this post again to study it in more detail. Right now my biggest challenges are Ser vs Estar and Por vs Para. I'm sure I just need a lot more practice with both. Also, I don't understand this sentence: "Should I use Preterite or Imperfect?". I'm not good with grammar so this went right over my head.
Another Duo student, Eugene Tiffany, and I had developed a Ser/Estar learning set on Quizlet back when we were having trouble with these two verbs. You might want to check it out and perhaps it could somehow help you, too. It really did help us get quite acquainted with the uses of Ser/Estar.
I think the "Ser vs Estar and Por vs Para" problems are pretty common. I've seen many discussions about it. I'm taking the lazy way out. I try to get the right one, but mostly not worried about it. I figure native speakers will understand me when I get it wrong....and I'll eventually start getting it right once I'm good enough to immerse myself entirely.
That's a good attitude to have about it. I speak to a native speaker regularly and besides correcting me constantly they do understand what I'm trying to get across.
We native speakers of Spanish mix position and directionality too :) "Adentro de la casa también hacía frío" or (not so accepted) "Comió adonde un amigo".
I love that Tumble blog! So informative, and I believe he wrote a book!
I feel like I have made lots of progress with my spanish and can understand quite a bit, but reflexives trip me up. For instance, I understand the purpose/use of them in this case, "Me enseno espanol." (disregard the lack of punctuation.) But in the sample sentence above, "Tengo que irme." does not make sense to me. Would, "Tengo que ir" not still mean the same thing?
Any help is appreciated.
As I understand it, they do kinda/sorta mean the same thing:
Tengo que ir = I have to go (to the store).
Tengo que irme = I have to leave (from here).
The former is more about your destination. The latter is more about where you are. That said, it seems that "tengo que irme" is more common, whereas in english "I have to go" is more common.
In some cases, the difference IS important:
Tengo que irme a mi esposa. = I have to leave my wife.
Tengo que ir a mi esposa. = I have to go to my wife.
Don't screw it up. :-)
Editted my comment to add a bit more. :-)
Hi, "tengo que irme a mi esposa" makes no sense to me (native speaker). Did you mean "leave" as in divorcing?
In any case, reflexive always refers to the person doing the action, so: irse = to go (yourself), sentarse = to sit yourself, ducharse = to shower yourself, afeitarse = to shave yourself, etc.
If you know some German, they have a similar logic with "sich" + verb.
Ah, thanks for the input. I'm not a native speaker, so will definitely defer to you.
I would have thought "tengo que irme a mi esposa" might be used if, for example, I was sitting with my wife, but wanted to talk about my girl friend. (e.g. I can't talk here, I have to get away from my wife.)
I have troubles following the "to ____ yourself" explanation. Irme as "to go myself"? If I say, "I go" (Boy)....it's still "myself" that's going.
(To be clear, not challenging your answer, just trying to make sense of it.)
That's right, sorry, I wrote it like I was addressing you, hence the "yourself". But to be clear and going back you your example, when you use "ir(se)" you cannot refer to another person, that's why it's reflexive.
When speaking about leaving in the sense of "moving away from an object", we use other verbs. "I have to get away from my wife" would be "tengo que alejarme de mi esposa".
Muchas gracias por su ayuda. Voy a ir trabajo en otro algo. Me regreso a eso a otra veces.
Tome un lingot. :-)
I feel like I'm unlearning. Thought I "had it", now I'm not so sure. I'm using "google translate" (which, of course, could be causing problems), but that gave me:
I shave myself. Afeito mí mismo. She wants to shave me. Ella me quiere afeitarse.
Which seems to be exactly the opposite of what you explained. I tried a bunch of other variations using "shave", and don't see any consistency. :-/
@Peabianjay: those translations are terrible, I wish I could give you a better alternative than Google but I don't know any.
"I shave myself" = me afeito (a mí mismo) (I know it sounds redundant but that's how we speak :P)
"She wants to shave me" = ella quiere afeitarme (a mí). The "me" in "afeitarme" is not reflexive, it shows who the object is (I guess Akkusativ in German). So "she wants to shave him" would be "ella quiere afeitarlo (a él)".
Shaving/washing/dressing/etc. might be tricky examples because they represent actions that can also be done to others. So when the action is done to the agent (the one who's speaking), it is a reflexive verb, but not when the action is performed on an object. "Irse" can only take the speaker as the object, you can't "go" someone or something. Not sure if I'm making myself clear, feel free to ask if you have further questions.
@Peabianjay: I shave myself = Me afeito. Afeitar is an action, if I say "me afeito" I would be referring to the singular first person "yo" which, by means of spanish grammar, it doesn't need to be made explicit. The addition "a mi mismo" is a literal translation of "to myself" that the Google translator does. For us spanish speakers, adding "a mi mismo" to "me afeito" is redundant for the same reason adding "yo" to "me afeito" is. "Me" already does the job of identifying the subject.
"She wants to shave me" = Ella quiere afeitarme. This one is easier. Afeitar (infinitive) = to shave; -me (suffix) = reflexive pronoun for "yo". Another translation would be: "Ella me quiere afeitar", which makes perfect sense. In that case the reflexive pronoun is used as a word and not as a suffix. That "-se" in your example is an error from Google. It's the suffix form of the reflexive pronoun for the third person "él, ella" (singular) or "ellos, ellas" (plural). Also, it can be the reflexive p. for the singular second person when addressing the interlocutor as "usted" (formal register). The suffix "-se" used to be used with "ellos, ellas", now it have fell into disuse.
I hope my explanation helps you a bit! :^)
Very useful, i struggle with some of these so this will help.
Jeepers, I’ve been studying on here for almost 2.5 years but I’ve been noticing some big mistakes I make! This is really really helpful. Have another lingot :)