If Spanish is not your native language, then errors are a very important step in your progress. You should not be afraid of making mistakes, as they are part of the process of learning. However, sometimes you will need your texts to be perfect:
- A paper in Spanish to be published in an academic publication
- An essay for your homework
- A report or presentation about your business
- The content of your website
If this is your case, do not hesitate to contact me. Let me know the length and the topic of your writing and I will give you a budget, so you can decide freely.
However if you want to check for your own mistakes as part of your learning, there are some things that you should keep in mind. Even though Spanish might seem to be an easy language, there are always some things that we all tend to get wrong, regardless of whether we are natives or just learning.
First of all, it is crucial that you identify both the error and its origin. Most of the time, errors come from either a bad translation from your own native language or maybe even an adaptation. The second thing that you have to keep in mind is to learn the correct version and try not to repeat it. Finally, you should practice and practice until you get it right.
So, let’s get to the subject of the matter.
What are the most common errors in Spanish?
This page will give you a short description of the mistakes you should look for when making a proof in Spanish. Get a pen, a piece of paper or a notebook and start taking notes, because it is about to get serious.
1. Ser or Estar…. maybe haber?
Probably one of the most common errors in Spanish is using the wrong “to be” verb. Spaniards simply had to overcomplicate things. They could not just decide upon one verb to use like the rest of us. They were so undecided that they simply had to have three words for the same thing.
Well, actually there are some differences between: ser, estar, and haber. In few words, the verb ‘ser’ is used to describe permanent things; while the verb ‘estar’ is usually used to describe temporary things. Simply put, you can be (‘estar’) in Miami today and in London tomorrow, but you can’t be (‘ser’) both tall and short.
To avoid making this mistake while proofreading, you need a solid grasp on the language. Thus, do not be too hard on yourself as it is exceedingly easy to make errors with a broad verb set. I suggest you seek help from a proofreading service specialist.
A second error that is really common among people who are learning Spanish is about prepositions. It seems likes Spaniards really enjoy overcomplicating things and here we have yet another example.
For example, they use two different prepositions to express “for”. Of course, learning two words to say the same thing is not the hard part. However, the problem comes when “por” and “para” have different uses and different meanings.
Another common Spanish grammar problem regarding the prepositions is the difference between the preposition “a” and the preposition “en”. Do not worry. The preposition “en” is usually incorrectly used with verbs of movement, while people should in fact use the preposition “a” instead. Again make sure to check this when proofing your Spanish.
One common error among foreigners learning Spanish is about the words “qué” and “cuál”. The direct translation for “qué” is what and for “cuál” is which. However, it is not always the case, and this is where things get a bit complicated. Do not panic, there will be a post about these two soon, so you will never confuse them again. In the meantime, make sure you include this one in your mistakes to check in your proof in Spanish.
4. Me acuerdo but Recuerdo
While learning Spanish, probably at least once have used “recordar” instead of “acordarse”. They both mean the same thing. However, people tend to mess up their structure, like for instance say “no me recuerdo” instead of “no me acuerdo”. The verb “recordar” is a transitive verb and is usually followed by a direct object (to remember something- it’s the same as in English). For example: “No recordaba su nombre.” (I did not remember her name.).
The second verb, “acordarse” is an intransitive reflexive verb which can not be used without the reflexive particle “se” and it is usually followed by the preposition “de”. For example: “No me acordaba de su nombre”.
This mistake will make your text to look very poor and vulgar.
5. When to use subjuntive verb tenses
Something really annoying about the Spanish language is the fact that you have to distinguish reality from dreams and aspirations really well. To be honest, that is not so fun if you happen to be a dreamer. One problem that I imagine everybody has come upon at least once is whether to use el subjuntivo or el indicativo. It often gets so complicated that even natives have a hard time finding the differences between real and imaginary. However, you should not worry, because you have this posts and more will come aboout this matter soon.
Similar sound, different letters
There are some other aspects that natives find troubling. So, Spanish learners out there, you should not be worried if you also mess them up. However, if you are performing a proof in Spanish take an extra look!
‘B’ vs. ‘V’ in Spanish
The use of ‘B’ and ‘V’ is one of the orthographic issues that cause the most errors when writing in Spanish. They sound so similar to natives that they usually misuse them. If they are typing they might often use the excuse that the two letters are next to each other on the keyboard to mask their mistake. Even the Real Academia Española de la Lengua has said that they can be pronounced equally (See the third point here).
Although they might have a similar sound, they have some rules for their use.
Probably the most important at this moment is that we will use ‘b’ always before the letters ‘l’ or ‘r.’ Likewise, ‘v’ is always used after the letter ‘b,’ the letter ‘d’ or the letter ‘n.’
“LL” vs “Y”
Natives also have a hard time distinguishing between “ll” and “y” and this time there is no excuse regarding the keyboard. They are far enough apart for them to decide upon which one to use. The problem again is, due to the letters having the same pronunciation.
‘I’ vs. ‘Y’
The main difficulty in the use of ‘i’ and ‘y’ lies in the fact that the vowel ‘i’ can be represented by both letters. The ‘y,’ on the other hand, only represents the sound of the vowel ‘i’ if:
- It goes alone, as used to express ‘and.’
- It is used before a consonant.
- It is used at the end of a word.
On the contrary, we use the ‘i’ for those words that begin with the sound ‘e’ and are followed by a consonant. Therefore, when you are proofreading a Spanish text, remember the word ‘iglesia’ (church). It starts with the letter ‘i’ because it is followed by the consonant ‘g.’
However, there are a few exceptions. The word ‘rey,’ uses a ‘y’ even though ‘rei’ has the exact same sound. But do not stress, if need be, you can always seek help from a specialist.
‘S’ vs. ‘C’
When it comes to pronunciations, for Latin Americans these three letters may sound pretty much the same. This is why we have to be especially careful when spell checking our texts.
Remember these ‘C’ rules:
- Use ‘c’ for all verbs ending in ‘cir’, ‘cer’, and ‘ciar’
- Use ‘c’ for all words ending in ‘ancia’, ‘ancio’, ‘ción’, ‘to’, ‘tor’ and ‘dar’
- Use ‘c’ when writing diminutives
- Use ‘c’ when writing suffix: ‘cida,’ ‘cido’ and ‘cidio’
Take into consideration these ‘S’ rules:
- Use ‘s’ when writing all verb forms ending in ‘ceder,’ ‘cender,’ ‘cibir,’ ‘citar’ and ‘zar.’
- Use ‘s’ when words end in ‘sivo,’ ‘siva,’ ‘oso’ and ‘osa.’
- Use ‘s’ when words end in superlatives like ‘isimo’ or ‘isima.’
- Use ‘s’ when writing termination such as ‘ersa’, ‘erse’, ‘erso’, ‘esta’, ‘esto’ or ‘ista.’
You wont find this issue among Spanish writers from Spain
When you thought that there could be no more problems with the Spanish language, graphic accents decide to ruin your day. There is no need to panic, because even natives have a hard time knowing when and where to put them.
As you know, the accents are the intensity that we use to pronounce a specific syllable. In Spanish, we have three kinds of accents. However, for the sole purpose of this article, I will explain only the most common: the graphic accent (‘acento gráfico’) and the implicit accent (‘acento tácito’). This might be confusing, but it is a must-know when writing (and proofreading) in Spanish.
• The Graphic Accent
This is the most known and familiar accent. It is the diagonal line (´), which indicates a phonetic characteristic — which means that the syllable with a ’tilde’ must be pronounced in a different way to the other syllables in the same word. For example, if you read ‘café’ (which means coffee), when you pronounce it in Spanish, you must emphasize the ‘fé.’
• The Implicit Accent
This one is a little bit more tricky given that you won’t see the ’tilde’ or (´). Nonetheless, you must know which part of a word should be emphasized— this means that there should be higher intensity and an increase of the duration of pronunciation for a specific syllable. In this sense, practicing and speaking Spanish with a native speaker can help you better understand which are the words that have the implicit accent.
However, accents are a really important matter and this is why they deserve a separate post. Do not worry, because you will get the hang of them very soon. Here I give you some tips to use them properly.
Passive instead of reflexive
Many students rely in English structures to create their Spanish. Actually, you can hear many Asian students saying that Spanish and English are alike. It can be true if you compare them with Japanese and other Asian languages, but Spanish and English are still very different. For example, in English passive voice is much more common than in Spanish. In this article I give you some ideas about the use of SE.
This one is why you always should have a proof in Spanish text that has been translated from English.
The letter ‘H’
Yes, we are merely talking about the eighth letter in the alphabet! In Spanish, the letter ‘h’ has no pronunciation. Meaning that it does not represent any phoneme, it is silent. Thus, many non-native speakers tend to omit this letter in their writing.
Another common mistake is adding it to a word, where it is not used. If you have any doubt about when to use the letter ‘h,’ and when not to use it, remember these spelling rules:
- Use the ‘h’ in all the inflections of verbs whose infinitive start with that letter.
- Write an ‘h’ on the following interjections: ‘ah’, ‘eh’, ‘hala’, ‘hola’, and ‘oh’.
- Use the ‘h’ at the beginning of words that start with ‘hiper’, ‘hipo’, ‘heter’ ‘hidr’, ‘hexa’, ‘herb’, and ‘hos’.
Moreover, most derivate of words whose root start with the letter ‘h’ are also spelled with an ‘h’ at the beginning of the word. I know this can be hard to remember, thus when in doubt, have a dictionary close by to avoid making mistakes.
Given that the Spanish and English languages share a lot of Latin-root words, you might think you understand specific phrases or terms. Nonetheless, probably the most common mistakes derive from ‘false friends.’ In writing, a ‘false friend’ refers to words that might sound similar but have totally different meanings depending on the language.
For instance, the words ‘constipado and constipated.’ In Spanish it means to have a cold and in English… well you know what that means. Thus, it is especially crucial for you to proofread your text in search of this type of mistake. Both native and non-native speakers, tend to overlook them given that in their (bi-lingual) head it makes sense.
To help you proofread your document, I suggest you take a look at this list of ’50 Spanish-English False Friend Words’ published by Mentalfloss.com.
As you can see, Spanish is a rich language, but sometimes it can be complicated. Therefore, always, always proofread your texts before sending them or publishing them.
Keep in mind that there are many more errors that native people make in Spanish. This list can become endless. For example, there are cognates and perfect cognates which are commonly confused and people also have problems when it comes to the past tenses and when to use each one of them. Forget that idea that a text written by a native does not need a proof in Spanish.
Also, if you are student in a Spanish program, be careful. You might not even be aware of your mistakes until someone shows them to you.
Just think about writing your PHD thesis in Spanish and in a rush you insert a word written incorrectly. If it is in an important place like the title or the abstract, it might mess up the whole thing. Just like a semicolon is enough to cause your program to not work, in the same way a graphical accent can mess up everything.
As you may know, academic publications usually take a long time to answer. It is disappointing when they reply that you need to improve your writing to even be considered as an option
The same happens with web content. Sometimes using the wrong word might cause your entire text to sound odd and it is really unpleasant for the reader. Errors might also make your piece of writing appear as if it’s from someone who lacks proper education.
In this blog you can find tips about writing and how to improve your creativity. Also, it has some tips and tricks for people who work from home.
Do not worry, there is time to learn Spanish and get better at it. It is just that sometimes it is better to be safe than sorry, right? So, try to avoid mistakes in Spanish, learn how to overcome them, and rely on a Spanish proofreader when in need.