13 Grammatical Mistakes You Can Avoid When Speaking Spanish

Some trip up even longtime speakers

Man about to step on banana peel

 

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Unless you're something other than human, there's no way to learn and use a foreign language without making your share of mistakes—and getting caught at it. With expectations that you would rather learn of your mistakes in the privacy of your home rather than being corrected, here are a dozen fairly common Spanish grammatical errors, grouped in no particular order, that you should try to avoid.

Key Takeaways

  • Remember that Spanish and English, despite their similarities, don't always structure sentences in the same way.
  • Short words—especially prepositions—are more likely to trip you up than long ones.
  • Mistakes are inevitable—just do your best, and native Spanish speakers are likely to appreciate your effort.

Using Unnecessary Words

  • Using buscar para instead of buscar to mean "to look for": Buscar is best translated "to seek," which like buscar is not followed by a preposition. Correct: Busco los dos libros. (I am looking for the two books.)
  • Using un otro or una otra to mean "another": The indefinite article isn't needed in Spanish before otro. Neither is one needed before cierto, which can mean "a certain." Correct: Quiero otro libro. (I want another book.) Quiero cierto libro. (I want a certain book.)
  • Using un or una when stating someone's occupation: The corresponding word, "a" or "an," is required in English but not used in Spanish. Correct: No soy marinero, soy capitán. (I am not a mariner, I am a captain.)
  • Wrongly using days of the week: Days of the week are usually used with the definite article (singular el or plural los), and it isn't necessary to say that an event happens "on" a certain day. Correct: Trabajo los lunes. (I work on Mondays.)
  • Using a word for "any." Most of the time, when translating "any" to Spanish, if you can leave "any" out in English, you should leave it untranslated in Spanish. Correct: No tengo dinero. (I don't have any money.) If you're using "any" as an adjective to mean "whatever," you can translate it with cualquier.
  • Translating English particles that look like prepositions: English has quite a few phrasal verbs that end in a word that can also be a preposition, such as in "wake up," "look down," and "get out." When translating such verbs, think of them as a single unit rather than a verb plus a preposition. Correct: Me desperté as las cinco. (I got up at 5.)

Errors With Prepositions

  • Ending a sentence in a preposition: Although some purists object, it's quite common to end sentences in English with prepositions. But it's a no-no in Spanish, so you'll need to recast the sentence to make sure the preposition's object comes after the preposition. Correct: ¿Con quién puedo comer? (Whom can I eat with?)
  • Using the wrong preposition. The prepositions of English and Spanish don't have one-to-one correspondence. Thus a simple preposition such as "in" in English might be translated not only as en but also as de (as in de la mañana for "in the morning"), which typically is translated as "of" or "from." Learning proper usage of prepositions can be one of the most challenging aspects of learning Spanish grammar. A lesson in prepositions is beyond the scope of this article, although you can study some of them here. Correct: Le compraron la casa a mi padre. (They bought the house from my father, or, depending on the context, they bought the house for my father) Es malo con su esposa. (He is mean to his wife.) Mi coche chocó con su bicicleta. (My car ran into his bicycle.) Se vistió de verde. (He dressed in green.)

Other Grammatical Errors

  • Wrongly using quien in relative clauses to mean "who": In English, we say "the car that runs" but "the boy who runs." In Spanish, we usually use que to mean both "that" and "who." There are a few instances, beyond the scope of this lesson, in which quien can be used to mean "who," but in many of them que can also be used, so que is usually the safer choice. Correct: Mi hija es alumna que estudia mucho. (My daughter is a student who studies a lot.)
  • Forgetting to make the cientos portion of numbers feminine when required: We say cuatrocientos treinta y dos to say "432" to refer to a masculine noun but cuatrocientas treinta y dos when referring to a feminine noun. The distinction is easy to forget because of the distance between the number and the noun being referred to. Correct: Tengo quinientas dieciséis gallinas. (I have 516 hens.)
  • Using possessive adjectives when referring to body parts and articles of clothing: In English, we usually refer to a person's body parts or clothing using possessive adjectives. But in Spanish, the definite article (el or la) is used when the person to whom the body part or item belongs to is obvious. Correct: ¡Abre los ojos! (Open your eyes!) El hombre se puso la camisa. (The man put on his shirt.)
  • Avoiding those redundancies that are required in Spanish but would be incorrect in English: A redundant indirect object is sometimes required, and double negatives (sometimes even triple) are sometimes needed. Correct: Juan le da una camisa a él. (John is giving a shirt to him.) No dijo nada. (He said nothing.)
  • Using gerunds as adjectives: In English it is common to use gerunds (verb forms ending in -ndo in Spanish and "-ing" in English) as adjectives. In standard Spanish, gerunds are infrequently used this way, although such use is becoming more common in informal uses of the language, possibly because of influences from English. Correct: Veo el perro que ladra. (I see the barking dog.)