Spanish Grammar Guide

Common Anglicisms to Avoid

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An Overview of Anglicisms to Avoid:

It is perfectly natural for learners of a language to rely sometimes on their first language when mastering the new grammatical system. As a student progresses, however, Spanish rules and forms should be used. To help you avoid depending too much on English, some of the most common anglicisms are presented below.

Verbs

Some expressions that use the verb "be" in English require the verb "have" (tener) in Spanish. For example, English uses expressions like:

  • I am hungry, I am thirsty and I am afraid (all with the verb be)

In Spanish you must use the verb tener in these same contexts, e.g.:

  • Tengo hambre, tiene sed, tenemos miedo, NOT Estoy/soy hambre, está/es sed, estamos/somos miedo.

We find this same pattern when indicating a person's age. For example, in English you would write:

  • I am 14 years old.

However, in Spanish this would be expressed as:

  • Yo tengo 14 años and NOT yo estoy/soy 14 años.

Another important verbal difference concerns passive sentences that use the verb "be"/ser and where the agent of the action is not explicit or is demoted to a phrase with the preposition "by"/por, e.g.:

  • I was given a book (by my professor).

Generally, Spanish does not use the passive as much as English. The previous example shows that the indirect object (the recipient in a ditransitive sentence) can be passived in English. The indirect object cannot be passivized in Spanish, e.g.:

  • Yo fui dado un libro por mi profesor. 

Instead, only the direct object can be passivized, e.g.:

  • El libro fue dado a mí (por mi profesor).

Spanish also uses a different structure than English with the impersonal se where no agent can be expressed, e.g.: 

  • El libro se dió a mí.

The impersonal se construction is often used where English would use a passive.

 

Pronouns

One important difference between pronouns in English and Spanish is that object pronouns precede the verb in Spanish, but follow it in English, e.g.:

  • Él me dio un libro.
  • He gave me the book.

Be careful not to use the English order in Spanish, i.e.: do not write:

  • Él dio me un libro.


In addition, Spanish does not use subject pronouns as often as English. This is because they are redundant as the subject is also expressed by the verb form itself (the conjugation), e.g.:

  • I want to learn Spanish.
  • Quiero aprender el español. vs. Yo quiero aprender el español.


It is not grammatically wrong to include the subject pronoun, particularly if there is ambiguity or you want to stress who the subject is. However, constant inclusion of the subject pronoun when speaking or writing Spanish is considered non-native like.

 

Adjectives

English places all adjectives before nouns, e.g.:

  • I bought some blue shoes.

However, the vast majority of Spanish adjectives must follow the noun, e.g.:

  • Compré unos zapatos azules (and NOT Compré unos azules zapatos).

 

Prepositions

The Spanish preposition sobre is used primarily with the literal meaning "on" or "on top of". As such, it cannot be used everywhere English used "on". For example,

  • on TV = en la televisión (NOT sobre la televisión, unless you mean "on top of the TV")
  • on Mondays = los lunes (NOT sobre/en los lunes, as no preposition is used to say "on" a day in Spanish)

Both en and a can mean "at" in Spanish, generally the difference is that en implies static position while a implies motion. To mean "in" or "at" a location, Spanish uses the word en. Do NOT use a to mean "at" when no motion is involved, e.g.:

  • Estuve en la fiesta. NOT Estuve a la fiesta. "I was at the party."
  • Lo vi en la tienda. "I saw him in/at the store."

To mean "to", especially in expressions that imply motion, use the word a, e.g.:

  • Voy a Chicago. "I'm going to Chicago."

The preposition de is also used to indicate possession in Spanish as there is no equivalent to English 's in Spanish, e.g.:

  • El libro es de Juan. "The book is John's."

 There are also many instances where a verb is followed by a preposition in English, but not in Spanish, e.g.:

  • to look for a book = buscar un libro (NOT buscar por un libro)
  • to look at the photo = mirar la foto (NOT mirar a la foto)

 

False Friends

False friends are words that look the same in English and Spanish, but have different meanings. When writing, be sure to choose the correct Spanish equivalent for the meaning you wish to express. In the following tables, we've indicated the most common problems:

False Friends with Verbs

Spanish English mistake Spanish Correct translation 
asistir to assist to attend ayudar
molestar to molest to annoy abusar (sexualmente)
atender to attend to attend to asistir
chocar to choke to crash estrangular
decepcionar to deceive to disappoint engañar
discutir to discuss to debate/argue hablar
excitar to excite to excite sexually entusiasmar
grabar to grab to record agarrar
introducir to introduce (a person) to introduce (a topic) presentar
quitar to quit to remove dejar
realizar to realize to fulfill, make real darse cuenta, reconocer

 

False Friends with Nouns

Spanish English mistake Spanish meaning Correct translation
carpeta carpet folder alfombra
decepción deception disappointment engaño
éxito exit success salida
idioma idiom language modismo
nudo nude knot desnudo/a
tabla table board mesa
arena arena sand anfiteatro, plaza
fábrica fabric factory tela
falta fault lack/need/shortage defecto, culpa
firma firm signature sólido/a, duro/a
lectura lecture reading clase, conferencia
letra letter (to someone) letter (of the alphabet) carta
librería library bookstore biblioteca
nombre number name, noun número
grado grade rank, degree nota
noticias notice news anuncio
parientes parents relatives padres
receta receipt recipe, prescription recibo
tuna tuna prickly pear atún
oficio office occupation oficina

 

False Friends with Adverbs and Adjectives

Spanish English mistake Spanish meaning Correct translation
embarazado/a embarrassed pregnant avergonzado/a
actualmente actually currently en realidad
sensible sensible sensitive lógico/a, razonable
educado/a educated well-mannered estudiado/a
gracioso/a gracious funny cortés, refinado/a
mayor mayor larger/older alcalde
raro/a rare strange excepcional
sano/a sane healthy sensato/a
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