10 Grammatical Mistakes You Can Avoid

Some Trip Up Even Longtime Speakers

Woman studying
Mi hija es alumna que estudia mucho. (My daughter is a student who studies a lot.). Photo by Universidad de Montevideo; licensed via Creative Commons.

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 10 fairly common grammatical errors, listed in no particular order, that you should try to avoid:

  • 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. 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.)
  • 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?)
  • 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 often 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 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.)
  • 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.)
  • 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.)
  • 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.)
  • Avoiding those redundancies that are required in Spanish but would be incorrect in English. As noted in this lesson, a redundant indirect object is sometimes required, and as this lesson points out, double (or even triple!) negatives are sometimes needed. Correct: Juan le da una camisa a él. (John is giving a shirt to him.) No dijo nada. (He said nothing.)
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Erichsen, Gerald. "10 Grammatical Mistakes You Can Avoid." ThoughtCo, Mar. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/spanish-grammatical-mistakes-you-can-avoid-3079247. Erichsen, Gerald. (2017, March 2). 10 Grammatical Mistakes You Can Avoid. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/spanish-grammatical-mistakes-you-can-avoid-3079247 Erichsen, Gerald. "10 Grammatical Mistakes You Can Avoid." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/spanish-grammatical-mistakes-you-can-avoid-3079247 (accessed November 23, 2017).