It is normal to make mistakes when you start learning a foreign language. We all do!
But when it comes to learning Spanish, there are some common mistakes English speakers make. And we’ve noticed patterns in these mistakes that we will talk about in more detail.
Sometimes, mistakes English speakers make in Spanish are made due to literal translations, or other times, they just assume that words that resemble each other have similar meanings in both languages. But also, a lot of mistakes are made just because of the complexity of Spanish grammar.
So, in this article, we will group 15 common mistakes English speakers make when learning Spanish in our online Spanish classes.
List of Common Mistakes English Speakers Make in Spanish
The Spanish language has something we call tilde. It’s an accent mark placed above the vowel that looks like a small dash.
Some people don’t consider this; however, some words can significantly change their meaning just by their accent marks. Let us show you some examples.
Barrió vs Barrio
Barrió is the past tense (preterite) of the verb barrer (to sweep) however, barrio means neighborhood.
- El barrendero barrió el barrio. → The street sweeper swept the neighborhood.
Cambio vs Cambió
Cambio means change, wheares cambió is the past tense (preterite) of the verb cambiar (to change).
- El cambio de jefe cambió la empresa para siempre. → The change of boss changed the company forever.
Bebé vs Bebe
Bebé means baby however, bebe is the present tense of the verb beber (to drink).
- El bebé bebe su biberón. → The baby drinks his feeding bottle.
Sabana vs Sábana
Sabana means savannah but sábana means bed sheet.
- No necesito la sábana para dormir en la sabana. → I don’t need the bed sheet to sleep in the savannah.
A ver vs haber
A ver and haber are two different things. In fact, they have nothing to do with each other.
On one hand, a ver is an expression that we use in Spanish and can be translated as let’s see in English.
On the other hand, haber is a verb with different uses: auxiliary verb, impersonal form, talking about existence, and expressing obligation.
- ¡A ver si dejas de fumar! → Let’s see if you stop smoking.
- Mañana lloverá. Pues a ver que hacemos. → Tomorrow it will rain. Well, let’s see what we do.
- He estado en España. → I have been to Spain.
- Hay fruta en la nevera. → There is fruit in the fridge.
- He aquí tu comida. → Here is your food.
- Hay que limpiar la casa. → One has to clean the house/you have to clean the house.
- Has de trabajar. → You have to work.
Conocer vs saber
One of the most common mistakes in Spanish by English speakers is distinguishing conocer from saber.
The reason English speakers confuse these two verbs is that they are often translated the same way: “to know”. However, we use them in different ways:
1. Conocer means to be familiar with or to know personally. Thus, you can use this verb to refer to people, places, or other more specific nouns. On the other hand, saber is used to talk about facts, information, or knowledge.
- Conozco esa canción. → I know that song.
- No conozco Barcelona, nunca he estado ahí. → I don’t know Barcelona, I have never been there.
- Ella sabe español e inglés. → She knows Spanish and English.
- No sé tu dirección. → I don’t know your address.
2.- Conocer also means to meet for the first time. However, saber can also be translated as to know how to do something if it is followed by a verb in the infinitive.
- Conocí a mi marido en el 2000. → I met my husband in 2000.
- Sabemos nadar. → We know how to swim.
Desde vs desde hace/hace que
All these expressions can be used to talk about an action that started in the past and continues to last in the present.
The main difference is that desde is used to express the beginning of an action. However, desde hace/hace que expresses a period in time.
Also, the structures of the sentence are different:
- Verb in the present tense + desde + date
- Verb in the present tense + desde hace + expression of time
- Hace + expression of time + que + verb in the present tense
- Vivo en los Estados Unidos desde junio. → I have lived in the United States since June.
- Vivo en los Estos Unidos desde hace dos meses. → I have been living in the United States for two months.
- Hace dos meses que vivo en los Estados Unidos. → I have been living in the United States for two months.
Durar vs tardar
These two verbs are similar, but at the same time very different.
The verb durar informs about the duration of action, which would be equivalent to the verb to last in English.
On the other hand, the verb tardar informs about the fact of taking too long to do something, which could be translated as to take in English.
- La película dura tres horas. → The movie lasts three hours.
- Mi hermana siempre tarda mucho en arreglarse. → My sister always takes a long time to get ready.
- El examen dura dos horas. → The test lasts two hours.
- Tardé dos horas en acabar el examen. → It took me two hours to finish the test.
Cognates are words that are similar in spelling, pronunciation, and meaning. These words share the same origin in Spanish and English, which makes them common mistakes English speakers make.
For example, gratitud and gratitude, or horrible and horrible (these two are even spelled the same way).
Thus, there are false cognates, which are words that are spelled and pronounced similarly but have different meanings.
EMBARAZADA (pregnant) vs EMBARRASSED (avergonzado/a).
- Ella está embarazada. → She is pregnant.
- Estoy avergonzado de salir disfrazado. → I am embarrassed of going out dressed up.
ACTUALMENTE (currently) vs ACTUALLY (en realidad).
- En realidad, no quiero estudiar. → Actually, I don’t want to study.
- Actualmente estoy en España. → Currently, I am in Spain.
SENSIBLE (sensitive) vs SENSIBLE (sensato/a).
- Es un chico muy sensible. → He is a sensitive boy.
- Mi piel es muy sensible. → My skin is very sensitive.
- Ellas son chicas sensatas. → They are sensible girls.
English speakers have a hard time with the verb gustar (to like). This happens because sentences formed with this verb in Spanish have a very different structure in English.
In Spanish, the thing that is liked is the subject, and the one who likes that particular thing is the indirect complement. In reality, the literal translation of the verb gustar is to be pleasing.
- Me gusta el tenis. → I like tennis. → Tennis is pleasing to me.
- Les gustan los coches. → They like cars. → Cars are pleasing to them.
Haber vs ser
Some students mistake the verb haber for ser. For this reason, we have heard sentences such as:
Eran dos habitaciones en la casa or Son tres personas en la fiesta.
However, what these mistakes English speakers make in Spanish mean is this:
- Había dos habitaciones en la casa. → There were two rooms in the house.
- Hay tres personas en la fiesta. → There are three people at the party.
The problem is that when students see the verbs were and are, they immediately think that they correspond to the verb ser.
However, they need to see the whole picture and think about there were and there are as the entire concept. In this case, these words correspond to the impersonal form of the verb haber in Spanish.
Moverse vs mudarse
In our online Spanish classes, we would often hear sentences like:
Me moví a Alabama el pasado mes or Quiero moverme a Perú.
These kinds of sentences are incorrect, however, the mistake makes sense.
In English, we use to move to refer to the change of place where someone lives. Then, what students do is they just translate it literally into Spanish as moverse (to physically move one’s body), because of its similarity. But this verb has a few different meanings, and none relates to changing the location we live(d) in.
In short, the right verb to use in these instances is mudarse (to move to another place or other structure such as an office, building, etc).
- Me mudé a Alabama el mes pasado. → I moved to Alabama last month.
- Quiero mudarme a Perú. → I want to move to Peru.
Present Progressive vs Future
We have noticed that some people use the present progressive to talk about the future.
Unlike in English, in Spanish we don’t use the present progressive to talk about the future. In fact, in Spanish, the present progressive is only used to talk about actions that take place at the moment of speaking.
If you want to refer to the future in Spanish you can use either the future tense or the present (when we talk about the near future).
- Estoy trabajando. → I am working (right now).
- Trabajaré mañana. → I will work tomorrow or I am working tomorrow.
- Habré trabajado. → I will have worked.
- Estaré trabajando. → I will be working.
- Voy a trabajar. → I am going to work.
- Trabajo mañana. → I am working tomorrow.
Preterite vs imperfect
Knowing when to use preterite or imperfect is by far one of the most challenging common mistakes English speakers make.
To help you understand this, we created a table with the main ideas and also, some examples you should take into consideration.
Abreviations: Preterite (PRET.) and imperfect (IMPERF.)
|Completed action||Ongoing action|
|Definite beginning and end||Not definite beginning and end|
|Specify when||General idea of when|
|Actions repeated specific number of times||Repetitive actions|
- Fui al cine (preteirte) vs iba al cine (imperfect). → I went to the cinema vs I used to go to the cinema/I would go to the cinema/I was going to the cinema.
- Pepe trabajó en la granja de nueve a cinco (preteirte) vs Pepe trabajaba en la granja (imperfect). → Pepe worked at the barn from nine to five vs he used to work at the barn/he would go at the barn/he was working at the barn.
- Fui a la escuela ayer (preterite) vs iba a la escuela (imperfect). → I went to the school yesterday vs I used to go to the school/I would go to the school/I was going to the school.
Reflexive verbs are just another topic that creates confusion when it comes to common mistakes in Spanish by English speakers.
Sometimes, English speakers can’t even recognize a reflexive verb or they have problems using the reflexive pronouns correctly.
On top of this, they find challenging the fact that the meaning of some verbs can change when found in their reflexive forms.
Hence, when they realize that some reflexive verbs have multiple meanings, they feel it’s like the end of the world! But of course, it is not!
There are a few things you can consider to stop making mistakes English speakers make in Spanish:
- First, reflexive verbs are verbs which subject and direct object are the same.
- Furthermore, some verbs use the reflexive pronouns although they don’t have a reflexive meaning (pronominal verbs).
- Finally, the meaning of some verbs changes when they are in their reflexive form, and some reflexive verbs have a variety of meanings.
Acercar vs Acercarse
- Acerqué la mesa a la ventana. → I moved the table closer to the window.
- Me acerqué a la ventana para ver que pasaba. → I got close to the window to see what was happening.
Quedar vs Quedarse
- La estación de tren queda cerca. → The train station is close.
- Me quedo con los libros. → I keep the books.
Ser vs Estar
Students also find it difficult to differentiate the use of ser and estar. This is one of the most common mistakes English speakers make!
To help differentiate the two, we give you the main ideas you need to take into account to avoid mistaking these verbs:
- Describes and inherit or intrinsic attribute.
- Indicates permanence.
- Informs about a characteristic that is induced.
- Has a more temporary meaning.
- Soy alto. → I am tall.
- Estoy cansado. → I am tired.
- Él es aburrido. → He is boring.
- Él está aburrido. → He is bored.
Along with preterite and imperfect, the subjunctive is by far one of the most complicated concepts to understand for English speakers!
Learning the subjunctive mood can be challenging because in English it is not used as often and has a different grammatical structure. But also, it forces students to learn more verb conjugations.
There are some things to keep in mind when it comes to the subjunctive:
- First, unlike the indicative mood, which is used to express certainty and objective facts, the subjunctive mood is used to express everything but that. Things like doubt, desire, uncertainty, hope, emotion, opinions, or future possibility are the things that the subjunctive describes.
- Second, often the word que will follow the subjunctive.
- Verbs such as desear (to want), esperar (to hope), querer (to want) or necesitar (to need) trigger the use of subjunctive as long as the subjects in both clauses are different.
However, the list is endless. Understanding the subjunctive mood will take you time and a lot of practice. But fear not! That’s why we are here!
- Espero que tengas un buen viaje. → I hope you have a good trip.
- Lo llamaré cuando llegue. → I will call them when I arrive.
Traer vs Llevar
The main reason is the fact that generally in English the verb to bring is used to talk about moving something to a specific location.
Also, these two verbs are often interchangeable in colloquial English.
However, in Spanish, you should take into consideration the location of the speaker.
- Traer is used when you bring something from the place where the speaker is not to where the speaker is.
- Llevar is used to take something from the place where the speaker is to where the speaker is not.
- Ven a casa y tráeme los libros. → Come home and bring me the books.
- Voy a la fiesta de cumpleaños de María y llevo un regalo. → I am going to Maria’s birthday party and I am taking/bringing a present.
When you learn a new language, mistakes are inevitable. It is very normal to make mistakes. Nobody expects you to learn all the grammar rules immediately.
But also, you shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes. What you can do instead is learn from them!
If you are one of those who make common mistakes English speakers make in Spanish, check out our online Spanish conversation classes and schedule your free trial class.
Besides focusing on speaking and listening skills, we can also help you with grammar questions, such as these common mistakes in Spanish by English speakers.
So now, tell us, what mistakes are the most challenging for you and why? Also, are you familiar with some other mistakes English speakers make in Spanish?
We look forward to reading your comments in the section below!
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