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Tips for Spanish Speakers who are Learning English



This site is dedicated to the most common errors found among speakers of Spanish who are learning English. It is not meant to be a complete grammar but mainly aimed at helping Spanish speaking students to avoid making these common mistakes. The site may also help English teachers who are planning to work in Latin America. The following points will be discussed:

-False Cognates
-Confusing Words
-Invented Words
-Perfect Tenses
-This/ These
-Adjectives vs adverbs
-Omission of Subject
-Other/ Another/ Others
-Comparative Forms (on Page 2)
-Capitalization (on Page 2)
-Slang (on Page 2)
-Phrasal Verbs/ Prepositions (on Page 2)
-Frequently Misspelled Words
-List of Irregular Verbs

False Cognates

There are several words in Spanish that are similar in English, but have a different meaning. Here are a few examples:

Confusing Words

There are many words that sound similar but have different meanings and are spelled differently. Then there are other words that even sound exactly the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Here are some examples:

1) custom vs. costume:

Custom refers to repetitive, traditional activities e.g.
The celebration of the Day of the Dead is a typical Mexican custom.
A costume is something that you wear e.g.
The costumes in Shakespeare in Love are very well made.

2) loose vs. lose:

Loose is the opposite of tight. It's an adjective. Imagine Michael Jackson in Pavarotti's clothes.
Lose is a verb and refers to objects that have disappeared. Example:
"I can't find my wallet, I have lost it."

3) guy vs. gay

This one can cause a lot of confusion. The mistake normally occurs in writing only, because students know the difference in pronunciation between guy and gay. They also know the difference in meaning:

guy = boy/ young man as in: he's a very nice guy.
gay = homosexual (it used to mean something like: lively or bright, but that's old fashioned and common in the works of, say, Charles Dickens.

4) earn vs. win

The problem with these two is that they are both translated into Spanish with ganar. Thus, you get questions like: "How much do you win?" when referring to your salary. However, you win money in the lottery and you earn (or make) money at your job.

5) I am agree

A common error among Spanish speakers is the translation 'I am agree for Estoy de acuerdo. One should keep in mind that agree is a verb, whereas de acuerdo, as in estoy de acuerdo, is an adjective. Therefore, one should say:
- I agree
- He agrees
- We agree

And in past for example:

- I agreed

Now try this exercise on Spanglish.

Here are some examples of 'Gringo' influence on our students:

- hackear
- deletear
- vacumear
- mailear
- inclusionar
- votear
- parkquear
- echar un speich

And a new English word:

- clonation (instead of cloning)

Perfect Tenses

I believe it's necessary to briefly discuss the concepts of the present perfect and simple past. The problem is that students tend to use simple past only, or simple past and present perfect at random. What follows is just a short explanation, by no means complete. To practice these tenses, I recommend you look at some of the links with grammar quizzes.

The concept (when to use it) of simple past is:

'A completed action at a definite time.'

Definite means that you know exactly when the action happened, either through context or with the help of a time expression. Time expressions for simple past are for example:

- yesterday
- __________ ago
- last__________

The two concepts of present perfect are:

1) A completed action at an indefinite time in the past.
2) An action that started in the past and continues in the present.


1) Have you ever been to Canada?
2) She has lived here for 4 years.

Time expressions are:

1) Ever, never, already, yet, just.
2) Since______, for______, so far, up to now.

If there's no context of time , you should use present perfect:

- Have you seen that movie?
- Yes, I have.
- When did you see it?
- I saw it last week.

Notice that the tense changes halfway the conversation, because the question when is for a definite time.

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This/ These

First of all, there's the problem in pronunciation. Spanish speakers tend to pronounce this and these the same. Therefore students frequently use only this in writing. They don't seem to realize that there is also a plural form. This may look very obvious, but it is a recurrent problem. Examples:
incorrect: "I think all this problems are related to poverty".
correct : "I think all these problems are related to poverty"
This is singular, whereas these is plural.

Adjectives vs Adverbs.

Definition: An adjective modifies a noun.

Students may know their adjectives, but the main problem is: where to place them in the sentence. The thing is, in Spanish you generally place the adjective after the noun. In English it's the opposite. A simple example:

Incorrect: A house beautiful.
Correct: A beautiful house.

Incorrect: This is a course very interesting.
Correct: This is a very interesting course.

Now something about adverbs:

Defenition: an adverbs modifies

a) an adjective
b) a verb
c) another adverb


a) She has an incredibly beautiful voice!
b) He always drives fast.
c) He always drives terribly fast.

How can you know when you have to use either an adjective or an adverb? Simple: look at the word that needs to be modified. Is it a noun, then use an adjective. Is it a verb, adjective or adverb, then use an adverb.

It's easy to distinguish adverbs from adjectives: they generally and with -ly, e.g:
He is a bad student: bad is an adjective; it modifies the noun student.
He sings badly: badly is an adverb; it modifies the verb sings.

There are some exceptions of course, for example:

adjective          adverb

fast               fast
hard               hard

Note: hardly also exists, but it has a different meaning, i.e. almost not.
Look at these sentences: do you feel the difference?:
a) He works hard.
b) He hardly works.

Now try this exercise on adjectives and adverbs.

Omission of Subject

Omission of the subject is a very common and understandable mistake that speakers of Spanish make when studying English. Just keep in mind that, unlike Spanish, a subject is always necessary in English. Here's an example of what I mean:

Students often write( or say):"Is important to talk to the teacher." whereas they should write:It is important to talk to the teacher. The word it may not refer to anything in particular, but it is absolutely necessary to make this sentence gramatically correct.

Other/ Another/ Others

Here's how to use them:
- I have a book about Egypt; I have another book about Mexico (indefinite/ adjective/ singular).
- I have a book about Egypt; I have another about Mexico (indefinite/ pronoun/ singular).
- I found one of my shoes; have you seen the other (definite/ singular)?
- I don't like horror movies; don't you have other movies (indefinite/ adjective/ plural)?
- Some students will pass the course; others won't (indefinite/ pronoun/ plural).
- Some students will pass the course; other students won't (indefinite/ adjective/ plural).
- You are the first to arrive; where are the others (definite/ pronoun/ plural)?

Spanish speakers often get confused with other and others. They say/ write for example: "I have others books." The mistake is understandable as adjectives can take plural forms in Spanish, unlike English.

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1999-2006 by
Nico Wiersema, Laura Perez and Susan Dennen.