The importance of using correct grammar can hardly be overstated since grammar is the glue that holds a language together. Using incorrect grammar is like wearing your underwear outside your clothes, so basically you're pretty much covered, but it's hard to take you seriously.
Mastering Spanish won't happen overnight, but you can make a head start by avoiding common grammar mistakes. To help you out we've created a list of the ten most common grammatical errors by Spanish learners so that you can avoid them. Master these early on, and your Spanish will be greatly improved.
To Be Or Not To Be
While the Spanish verbs "ser" and "estar" both mean "is", in the English language, each verb is used differently. This causes a lot of head scratching for new Spanish learners. To speak and write Spanish correctly you need to get a grasp on these frequently used verbs.
The verb “ser” is used for permanent states, like being a man or a woman. “Estar” is used for something that you are now but may not be later, like happy for example.
See the difference between these sentences:
Soy aburrido – I am boring. Using the verb "ser" here indicates that boring is your permanent state, like saying ‘I'm a boring person.'
Estoy aburrido – I'm bored. By using the verb "estar," you're indicating that the state is temporary, much like saying ‘I'm bored.'
"Ser" and "estar" can cause a lot of head-scratching for Spanish learners, to help you remember which verb is the correct one to use in your sentence try using this rhyme:
“How you feel and where you are, that is when you use estar.”
You may have already noticed that Spanish nouns have gender. This seems like a bizarre concept to wrap your head around since we are so used to thinking about gender in human terms and not regarding things. In Spanish, the gender of things is a "grammatical gender" and has nothing to do with sex, femininity or masculinity.
Thanks to ‘the gender of things,' Spanish can be confusing at first. Take for example articles. For the English "the", Spanish has "la" and "el." Like in "el libro" (the book) and "la casa" (the house), but also the plural forms "los libros" (the books) and "las casas" (the houses).
In general, words that end in "o" are masculine and words that end in "a" are feminine unless they are not. All languages have their exceptions, and Spanish does as well. Consider "el clima" (the climate), "el día" (the day), "la mano" (the hand) and "la radio" (the radio).
The Spanish words "aquí" and "acá" both mean ‘here,' but are not interchangeable. They both refer to a location that is close to the speaker, but only "acá" is used with verbs that indicate motion, like in the sentence "José, ven acá!" (Jose, come here).
"Aquí" is used for instances where there is no motion, like in the phrase "regístrate aquí" (register here).
Spanish is great in that the way a verb is conjugated tell us a lot about what's going on. In fact, in most cases, the subject of the sentence can be inferred from the verb. English speakers tend to overuse “yo” (I), running the risk of coming across as exceptionally self-centered.
To avoid this, simply omit "I" in sentences, unless needed for emphasis. For example "Quiero agua" (I want water) is enough, you don't need to add "yo quiero agua" because the subject (I) is inferred from the verb.
Only add “yo” in cases where you need to emphasize the difference with other persons in the sentence. Here is an example where you can add “yo” to a sentence “ella quiere café, yo quiero agua” (she wants coffee, I want water).
In Spanish, the correct word to indicate a specific day or a day on the calendar is "fecha." To talk about an appointment with someone you need to use the word "cita."
Spanish has three words that mean "time" in English, and they can't be used interchangeably. "Vez" should be used when indicating an occasion, like in "una vez" (one time).
"Hora" is used for times on the clock, "¿Qué hora es?" (What time is it?), and "Tiempo" is used in most other instances like in "Toma mucho tiempo leer" (it takes a lot of time to read).
In English the noun “people” is a collective and used a plural, in Spanish however, the noun “gente” is singular. “La gente es buena” which literally means: the people is good is the correct way to use “gente” in a sentence and not “la gente son buena” (the people are good). It can be confusing, but it’s an easy grammar rule to get right.
When stating occupations in Spanish, it is not necessary to use the indefinite article “un” or “una” (‘a’ or ‘an’). Instead just use the verb “to be” (ser) and the occupation. This what those types of sentences would look like in Spanish:
- Soy doctor (I am a doctor)
- Eres professor (You are a teacher)
- Ella es abogada (She is a lawyer)
The Red Car
Beware that in Spanish the adjectives are placed after the noun. Where in English we would say: "the red car", "the big house" or "the kind person." In Spanish the adjectives and nouns would switch places: "el carro rojo"," la casa grande" or "la persona amable".
While your English teacher will deduct points if you use a double negative in a sentence ("I don't have nothing"), your Spanish teacher will encourage it ("no tengo nada").
In general, Spanish phrases don’t mix positive and negative words. Negative words like “nadie”(nobody), “nada” (nothing), “ningún” (none), “nunca”/”jamas” (never), “tampoco”(neither), are perfectly comfortable following a “no” at the beginning of the sentence.
For example, in Spanish, it would be correct to say "no escribí nada", which literally translated would mean: I didn't write nothing.