Common errors

A catch-all of common errors to avoid.

1. Adding un or una in front of otro, when it means another.  Correct – Otra cerveza, por favor.

2. ¿De dónde está usted?  Wrong!  This is confusing two things – location and origin.  Correct –¿De dónde es (eres) usted?  Where are you from?

3. Me llamo es Paco.  Wrong!  You’re literally saying that you call yourself “IS”.  This phrase is not used as “my name is”.  It literally means I call myself, so no ES, por favor.

4. Little prepositions dealing with time – it’s a mistake to say “en” with either of these Expressions, a las ocho de la mañana (8 in the morning), por la mañana (in the morning)

5. Doscientos sillas – wrong!  This is one of the numbers which changes in gender to match the  noun.  Doscientos libros, doscientas sillas

6. Gracias para todo – wrong!  Gracias por means thanks in exchange for something.

7. español y inglés – wrong!  In this case the I sound in inglés disappears when Y is put in front of it.  Use the substitute “e” here – español e inglés.  But note you can say inglés y español!  The idea of siete u ocho (where u substitutes for o) is the same.

8. Estoy caliente.  If you mean to say that you’re in a passionate state right now, then you’ve expressed that.  However, if you’re talking about temperature from the weather, tengo calor.

9. ¿Es caliente la sopa? No, no.   If you want to know if it’s spicy – ¿Es picante la sopa?  If you want to know the soup’s temperature, a changeable state – ¿Está caliente la sopa?

10. Soy un arquitecto – wrong.  Drop the un or una in front of a person’s profession when it is Not modified.  Soy arquitecto.  I am an architect.    …And now two really embarrassing ones…

11. Tengo muchos anos.  If you’re trying to say you’re old, you’ve failed when you haven’t added the tilde NY sound to this word.  However, you have described yourself as a physical anomaly in your lower region.  Be sure to say año, especially in saying ¿Cuántos años tiene usted?

12. Estoy embarazada.  Great if you’ll be giving birth, as it means you’re pregnant, not that you’re embarrassed.

Vacation vocabulary

Hacer las maletas  – to pack

Ir de vacacciones – to go on vacation

Viajar por tren – to travel by train

Volar – to fly El vuelo – the flight

La demora – the delay

La llegada – the arrival

La salida – the departure

Pasear – to stroll, amble along

Los documentos – travel papers

Llegar a tiempo – to arrive on time

Divertirse—to have a good time

¡Feliz viaje! – Bon voyage

Hay…definitely not ay, ay, ay!

Haber is one of the more unusual verbs in Spanish, but it’s an indispensable one. The present tense form hay is usually translated as there is or there are. But note that it has nothing to do with location, rather it refers to existence. (If you were pointing at the “there” of location, you would use estar, as in El dinero está allí. Very often in everyday speech, you comment on the existence of something. Hay mucho dinero en la mesa. Hay muchas personas en las calles. Note that it is always hay, whether it refers to the existence of something singular or plural.

It is often used in public situations where in English you would ask the more personal, do you have…? In a restaurant, for example, ¿Hay vino? This is a more polite, less personal way of asking whether the restaurant offers something. It’s common to be looking for something in a store, and you’re met with a shrug of the shoulders and the dreaded comment, No hay.       What about the past, expressing there was or there were? This form is había, and notice that it is also used for either singular or plural. (A note that sometimes this is used ungrammatically even by native speakers who may say habían, but this is not correct usage.) Había muchos problemas. This form expresses a description of something, without a defined beginning or end. It’s a very generalized statement. The other past form is hubo. This indicates there was or there were but indicates that it is over. Hubo un incendio en un edificio ayer. Hubo una guerra allí en 1943.

Other forms used are future – habrá, there will be. This makes a very strong statement, stronger in feeling than the less specific va a pasar – it’s going to happen. Habrá problemas sin dinero. The subjunctive form is haya, there may be. Espero que haya más tiempo. The conditional form is habría, there would be       The other use of haber is what is called as an auxiliary or helping verb to form the perfect tenses. These are when we use “to have” as a helping verb in English. I have written, they had seen, I will have finished, you would have done – these are all called perfect tenses, and they are expanded to be called Present Perfect, Past Perfect, etc. With these forms in Spanish you use all conjugated parts of the helping verb, as it does agree with the subject. Present – he, has, ha, hemos, han. They’re used with a part participle – this is equivalent in English to spoken, seen, done, finished. He hablado, has visto, ha hecho, hemos terminado.

The most commonly used past forms: había, habías, había, habíamos, habían – I had spoken, había hablado, they had finished, habían terminado The conditional is often used in this tense – habría, habrías, habría,habríamos, habrían – he would have spoken, habría hablado ¡Ay, ay, ay…so many things to consider with hay!



Quick tip…to yell Help! in Spanish, yell – Socorro!  (like the English word succor).

Ayudar is the verb for help, and you can expand your plea by saying Ayúdeme, por favor, but Spanish speakers think socorro is easier to shout out.  Reflexive verbs  Think of these as the action coming back to the speaker, or reflecting back as in a mirror.  This works most of the time, and remember to always match the little pronouns of me, te, se, nos, se with the subject pronoun.  Lavarse – to wash oneself, me lavo, te lavas, él se lava, ella se lava, usted se lava, nosotros nos lavamos, ellos se lavan, ustedes se lavan.

Other frequently spoken verbs used this way are bañarse (to bathe), arreglarse (to get yourself ready, as in to put on makeup and get dressed), cuidarse (to take care of oneself), lastimarse (to hurt oneself), sentarse  (to sit oneself down)  Sometimes these have the feeling of to get, such as emborracharse (to get yourself drunk).  Ever wondered how to say “I wonder” in Spanish?  Use the reflexive verb preguntarse, me pregunto.  Me pregunto si eso va a ser posible.  I wonder if that’s going to be possible.  Some exceptions which are reflexive are the verbs: Enamorarse de (to fall in love with, but not with yourself) Me enamoré de él el año pasado. Sentirse (ie) (to feel in terms of health or emotions). Me siento muy triste hoy. Irse (to leave)  -Te vas ahora?  Sí, me voy.  – Are you leaving now?  Yes, I’m leaving.

Be on special alert for reflexive verbs dealing with parts of the body or clothing.  In English we would always say something such as I wash my hands or I put on my hat.  The “my” is necessary because the verb in English doesn’t indicate possession.  In Spanish, however, the verb shows who is receiving the action, so it would be considered redundant to use a possessive pronoun.  Examples:  Voy a lavarme las manos.  I’m going to wash my hands.  Notice you don’t say mis manos, as it’s clear whose hands you’re washing by the reflexive verb.  Voy a ponerme el sombrero.  I’m going to put on my hat.  Same idea, just as long as it’s your own hat.

The finer points of the Spanish language

Some finer points of the language, but one which are sometimes overlooked –  Have you ever seen phrases such as padre e hijo, español e inglés? Did you think that was a typo, that really what should have been written or said was “y”, as the meaning is “and”?

There’s a really good reason for this, and it’s a quite practical one. When you have a word which starts with the I sound or Y sound (in Spanish), or you have a word with the silent H before an I sound, if you use “y” to say “and” before such a word, it slides into the sound of the second word and is indistinguishable. For that reason the substitute “e” is correct. In other words, if you want to say padre Y hijo, you must correctly say padre e hijo.

Another common combination is the term for research and development, commonly said in English as R & D. In Spanish the phrase has the development word coming first (who knows why!), and the term is desarrollo e investigación.  Another variation of this role is to substitute “u” when meaning “or” when the word coming after it starts with the sound of O (and also applies with the silent H). A common phrase utilizing this concept is “siete u ocho”.You might be tempted to use it in saying “one or the other”, but you avoid it in this case by saying correctly “el uno o el otro”.

Another similar area deals with nouns which are actually feminine, but sometimes use the masculine word for “the” in front of them. It’s the same idea. If a word starts with a stressed “a” (silent H applies also), if you said “la” in front of it, the sounds slide together. So to avoid this, the masculine “el” is substituted.? The noun still stays feminine, however, and adjectives will be feminine, as well as the plural form, because in that case, the added “s” solves the problem. Examples:The word agua is a feminine word. However, you say el agua, el agua clara, el agua purificada, las aguas. Some common words which follow this pattern are:  el alma – soul, el águila – eagle, el ala – wing, el alba – dawn (“at dawn” would be said “al alba”), el aula – classroom


Usted versus Tu

Usted versus Tu (and don’t forget the accent on the subject word, as without it means “your”)  Understand that there are many variables in the subject words for “you” in Spanish.  It’s handy to think of “tu” as the first name, informal version of you.  Then think of usted as a shortened form of Your Grace, which is what you used in speaking to the king.  Also, thinking of it this way makes it easy to remember that usted is third person singular.  Think of…are you happy, good buddy? as opposed to…IS your grace happy today?  In Latin America the ustedes form is used for the plural (think you all) form of both tu and usted.  In Spain, however, the vosotros form is used for the plural you.  Those are the basics, but you should know that there are many cultural and geographical nuances.

Some countries (Spain) move quickly to tu (using the verb “tutear” or the idiom “romper el turron” (a kind of nougat candy), while in Costa Rica even good friends and family are addressed as usted.  It’s best to keep your ears wide open on this one and follow the local lead.  But in general, use usted with strangers, in public situations (clerks, taxi drivers…women can be seen as flirtatious if they address a man in such a situation as tu), people for whom you wish to show respect (a good friend’s grandmother, an important position in a company), or to keep a professional distance.  Use tu when speaking to a child, when speaking to family members, when praying (supreme beings are addressed as tu to show closeness), when you and the other person have agreed to use tu or when someone insists you address them as tu.  However, it’s always better to err on the side of being too formal than too familiar.

Also pay close attention to learning all the irregular positive command forms for tu.  Most of them are short, one syllable words – hacer: haz, decir: di, dar: da, poner: pon, salir: sal, tener: ten  One possible theory for this is that it makes them very convenient to yell at your children when they are “sacandole las canas verdes”, literally pulling out your green gray hair, but figuratively, driving you crazy.

Sing, sing a song

A great deal of language learning is knowing how to “sing the song”. After all, language is sound, just as is music. How do to take a romantic song and turn it into a grammar lesson and why? Memorizing words to songs definitely helps your Spanish. Not only does it help pronunciation, but it provides a wealth of effortless grammar examples. You receive the repetitive examples stuck in your head so that they reach that realm of “it just sounds right”, which is often your guide in your native language.


Bésame, bésame mucho, (perfect example of a Tú affirmative command of an ar verb. You can extend this to dame, cómprame, pásame la sal, salúdame a tu novio – say hello to your boyfriend for me)
Como si fuera esta noche la última vez (example of a contrary to fact past subjunctive with the irregular form of fuera from the verb ser, as if it were/ also a reminder that vez is feminine)
Bésame, bésame mucho, que tengo miedo perderte, perderte después. (example of when there’s no change of subject, you don’t use the subjunctive after tener miedo, as opposed to saying Tengo miedo que él venga a la fiesta.)
Quiero tenerte muy cerca, mirarme en tus ojos, verte junto a mí. (example of a mí, a ti after a preposition)
Piensa que tal vez mañana yo ya estaré lejos, muy lejos de ti. (Another good tú AR command, good reminder that lejos is followed by de)


Reloj, no marques las horas porque voy a enloquecer (example of a negative tú command as opposed to positive marca las horas, – no marques las horas)
Ella se irá para siempre cuando amanezca otra vez. (para siempre – para in front of a time word when it is in the future, after cuando when it means whenever, requires the subjunctive of amanecer, requiring the addition of the z.)
No más nos queda esta noche para vivir nuestro amor y tu tic-tac (tick tock in English!) me recuerda mi irremediable dolor. (Quedar is used like quedan diez pesos, nos queda mucho tiempo/ to remind of…me recuerda with no word in Spanish for the “of”)
Reloj, deten tu camino porque mi vida se apaga, ella es la estrella que alumbra mi ser, yo sin su amor no soy nada. (Great reminder of an irregular tú command as in tener and ten, detener and deten/ no soy nada, a good example of the double negative.)
General comment – the best thing about learning examples this way is that they become automatically set in your brain. For instance, if you’re ever stuck on using vez in a new way and you can’t remember if it’s masculine or feminine, just start singing the song. Como si fuera esta vez la última vez – will come in your head without thought, as the sound and rhythm carries your mind along.