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9 Common Language Mistakes in Spanish to Avoid

Soportar is to support, right?

Not really. It means to stand or to bear

And a red jacket  is una roja chaqueta?

Nope. It is una chaqueta roja

Oh, come on! When will I ever learn that?! I make mistakes all the time! 🙁

Sounds familiar? 

I’m quite sure it does.

Everybody makes mistakes when they study a foreign language. It is a part of the learning process and nothing to be ashamed of. 

In my 20 years of teaching Spanish I have detected certain typical problems that English speakers have when they are learning that language. 

Here are the most common mistakes in Spanish:

  1. Noun gender: when to use un, una, el, la, los, las
  2. “False friends” (asistir/ assist, embarazada/ embarrassed
  3. Capital letters and when to use them (Lunes or lunes)
  4. Negative statements (“no quiero nada”, “no hay nadie”)
  5. Pronouns and USTED and when to use them
  6. Phrases that don’t translate literally (e.g. tengo hambre)
  7. Correct order of adjectives (una verde falda or una falda verde)
  8. Pronouns and when to use them (yo quiero vs quiero)
  9. Certain pronunciation rules (hamburguesa, perro, pollo)

Let me give you some tips on how to avoid each of them. 

1. Figuring out Spanish gender

In English, nouns don’t have gender. A car is simply a car

a lamp is a lamp

a table is a table.

We don’t need to worry whether they are masculine or feminine. 

But in Spanish, a car is UN carro,

a lamp is UNA lámpara

and a table is UNA mesa

Spanish nouns do distinguish different genders and you must acknowledge it. 

Take a look at the table below to see what articles accompany each gender.

MASCULINEFEMININE
SINGULARun perro, un hombre, un cuchillo
a dog, a man, a knife

el perro, el hombre, el cuchillo
the dog, the man, the knife
una jirafa, una mujer, una cuchara
a giraffe, a woman, a spoon

la jirafa, la mujer, la cuchara
the giraffe, the woman, the spoon
PLURAL unos árboles, unos gatos, unos días
a few trees, a few cats, a few days

los árboles, los gatos, los días
the trees, the cats, the days
unas uvas,  unas nubes, unas niñas
a few grapes, a few clouds, a few girls

las uvas, las nubes, las niñas
the grapes, the clouds, the girls

When you are not sure what is the gender of a certain word, look it up in a dictionary.

The letter f stands for feminine, therefore you say UNA manzana, or LA manzana

The letter m stands for masculine, therefore you say UN plato, or EL plato. 

2. Unnecessary use of pronouns

Every sentence in English needs to have a subject. 

She speaks Spanish. 

They are playing football.

We have been married for 20 years. 

English verbs hardly conjugate at all, so you need the pronoun to indicate the author of an action. 

But in Spanish every pronoun has a different verb form, see?

Hablo
Hablas
Habla
Hablamos
Hablais
Hablan

For this reason, it is not necessary to accompany verbs with pronouns, unless you want to stress the fact it was that person and not someone else.

So, instead of saying:

🇪🇸 Yo tengo mucha hambre.
🇬🇧 I am very hungry.

simply say

🇪🇸 Tengo mucha hambre.

The form of the verb – “tengo” – will tell your listener that it is you. 

3. False cognates

False cognates or false friends are words that look very similar in English and in Spanish, but they have a totally different meaning.

Check out the list of some common false cognates. Try to learn them to avoid making mistakes in Spanish. 

  • exit vs éxito (success)
  • embarrassed vs embarazada (pregnant)
  • target vs tarjeta (card)
  • diner vs dinero (money)
  • support vs soportar (to stand or to bear)
  • molest vs molestar (to annoy, to bother)
  • assist vs asistir(to attend)
  • fabric vs fábrica (a factory)
  • realize vs realizar (to carry out)
  • record vs recordar (to remember)

4. Incorrect adjectives order

This is another very common mistake English speakers make in Spanish.

In English the adjective goes BEFORE the noun:

an intelligent woman
a dangerous neighborhood
a beautiful photo
an expensive handbag

But in Spanish it is the opposite. The adjective goes AFTER the noun.

So, the same examples will translate as:

una mujer inteligente
un barrio peligroso
una foto hermosa
una cartera cara

5. Confusion with formality level

My English speaking students often struggle with this one. They are not sure when to use USTED or USTEDES  and when to use or VOSOTROS.

In English there is only one YOU – and it’s used both in singular and plural form.

So it is not a surprise that finding the right formality level can be challenging. Especially considering that Latin Spanish and European Spanish are quite different in this sense.

When in doubt, I recommend using the more formal USTED or USTEDES.

Leave the so-called “tuteo” (the use of TÚ)  only to friends and people you know really well. 

6. Pronunciation challenge

Just like Spanish speakers have problems trying to imitate certain sounds that exist in English, “gringos” often require a lot of practice to pronounce Spanish correctly.

Please, keep in mind some basic Spanish pronunciation rules:

H” is always mute.

  • 🇪🇸 honesto
    🇬🇧 honest
  • 🇪🇸 una historia
    🇬🇧 a story
  • 🇪🇸 una hamburguesa
    🇬🇧 a burger
  • 🇪🇸 herir
    🇬🇧 to hurt

RR” is a strong sound that should make your tongue vibrate 

  • 🇪🇸 un perro
    🇬🇧 a dog
  • 🇪🇸 correr
    🇬🇧 to run
  • 🇪🇸 un carro
    🇬🇧 a car
  • 🇪🇸 corrupción
    🇬🇧 corruption

LL” can sound like “Y”, “J” or “SH” depending on the country

  • 🇪🇸 lluvia
    🇬🇧 rain
  • 🇪🇸 un platillo
    🇬🇧 a saucer
  • 🇪🇸 un caballo
    🇬🇧 a horse
  • 🇪🇸 llamar
    🇬🇧 to call

GA”, “GO”, “GU” makes the same sound as the letter “G” in great

  • 🇪🇸 una gaviota
    🇬🇧 a seagull
  • 🇪🇸 una guerra
    🇬🇧 a war
  • 🇪🇸 gozar
    🇬🇧 to enjoy
  • 🇪🇸 rogar
    🇬🇧 to beg

GE” or “GI” sounds like the letter “H” in happy

  • 🇪🇸 gérmenes
    🇬🇧 germs
  • 🇪🇸 un gimnasio
    🇬🇧 a gym
  • 🇪🇸 lógico
    🇬🇧 logical
  • 🇪🇸 regenerar
    🇬🇧 to regenerate

The pronunciation of  “CE” and “Z” differs between countries. 

  • 🇪🇸 una cebra – in Spain C will sound like TH and in Latin America like S
    🇬🇧 a zebra
  • 🇪🇸 un zorro – in Spain Z  will sound like TH and in Latin America like S 🇬🇧 a fox

CA”, “CU” and “CO” sound like “KA”, “KU” and “KO

  • 🇪🇸 una cocina
    🇬🇧 a kitchen
  • 🇪🇸 un cuchillo
    🇬🇧 a knife
  • 🇪🇸 una capucha
    🇬🇧 a hood
  • 🇪🇸 curioso
    🇬🇧 curious

7. Double negation

English language uses the rule of single negation, which means that to make a sentence negative you only need ONE negative element.

Example 1: There is NOBODY home – “nobody” is the negative element

Example 2: We DON’T have any milk – “don’t” is the negative element

Spanish, on the other hand, uses double negation. A correct negative sentence requires TWO negative elements. 

So, the same examples we’ve just used in English will translate as:

Example 1: 🇪🇸 NO hay NADIE en la casa.

Example 2: 🇪🇸 NO tenemos NADA de leche. 

8. Literal translation

Remember, you can’t always translate sentences word by word. 

There are certain structures and expressions in Spanish that make no sense if you try to translate them literally.

Avoid this kind of common mistakes:

EnglishIncorrect literal translation❌Correct Spanish✅
I’m 25. Soy 25.Tengo 25 años.
I’m hungry.Estoy hambre.Tengo hambre.
I need to make a decision.Necesito hacer una decisión.Necesito tomar una decisión.
Have a good time!!Qué tengas un buen tiempo!!Pásalo bien!
See you soon!!Yo te veo pronto!!Nos vemos pronto!

9. Unnecessary capitalization

As a rule of thumb, Spanish words capitalize less often than English ones.

In English, it is necessary to use a capital letter when you talk about:

  • the pronoun I
  • days of the week
  • months
  • languages and nationalities

In Spanish, none of the above requires capitalization, unless – of course – you use it at the beginning of the sentence.

So, if you want to avoid common mistakes in Spanish, always write:

🇪🇸 María, Rosa y yo te vamos a visitar.
🇬🇧 María, Rosa and I will pay you a visit. 

🇪🇸 Hoy es lunes, el 8 de octubre. 
🇬🇧 Today is Monday, October the 8th.

🇪🇸 Soy canadiense. En mi país se habla inglés y francés. 
🇬🇧 ’m Canadian. We speak English and French in my country.

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Joanna Lupa

Joanna Lupa

Polish by birth, Chilean by the turns of life. Has spent 20 years in that beautiful South American country working as a language teacher and translator. Has taught Spanish and English to students of all proficiency levels. Passionate about languages, books, and traveling. A mother of 2 trilingual teenagers.