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.
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:
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.:
The impersonal se construction is often used where English would use a passive.
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.:
Be careful not to use the English order in Spanish, i.e.: do not write:
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.
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).
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 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
||to attend to
||to excite sexually
||to introduce (a person)
||to introduce (a topic)
||to fulfill, make real
||darse cuenta, reconocer
False Friends with Nouns
||letter (to someone)
||letter (of the alphabet)
False Friends with Adverbs and Adjectives