Archive for the ‘Spanish Grammar’ Category

Why Study Spanish Grammar?

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

It is true that one of the best ways to learn Spanish is to dive right in and immerse yourself in the language. Throwing off your inhibitions and chatting away to Spanish speakers helps to develop good pronunciation, fluency and a grasp of juicy slang words. This is the way that you and I learned to speak our native languages after all.

But oh, if only it were that simple. As adults we are no longer programmed to absorb new languages the way that infants and young children can. Learning through absorption is fantastic and it will work to turn you into a fluent Spanish speaker, but only accompanied by a solid grammatical foundation.

Developing a solid base understanding of Spanish grammar is essential in order to learn to speak español in a way that native speakers are going to understand. Having an understanding of Spanish grammar acts as the platform from which you can dive into effective communication.

The grammar of any language is a set of norms through which the language acts as a communicative tool. Thousands of years of communicating have brought languages to the point where they have become systemized and formed what we term “grammar”. Without these norms in place it would be very difficult for us to understand clearly what our companions were trying to share with us.

Languages were not created in a vacuum. With the exception of Esperanto, languages were not made by scholars sitting around thinking up grammar rules and writing them down. For this reason very few of the world’s languages can claim to be orderly and always logical. Despite this there are ascertainable grammar rules, which can be learned and applied resulting in effective communication

Imagine you had a good Spanish vocabulary, but did not have an understanding of its grammar structures. You might be able to put together some words, but the time (tense), feeling, person to whom you are referring and many other parts of your intended meaning would be missing. You would probably have to resort to sign language to fill in some of the gaps in your meaning.

In some respects Spanish grammar is more complicated that English grammar, although English grammar can be a minefield for language learners. Try explaining to a non native English speaker why teacher is spelled with an “er”, but doctor ends with “or”. If jumped is the past tense of jump, then why is the past tense of eat not eated?

Spanish conjugates its verbs like crazy, whereas a lot of that was left behind with Middle English. Spanish, like other Romance languages also has gender attached to nouns. For an English speaker, it can be a headache remembering whether the word you want to say is feminine or masculine – la casa or el casa, el problema or la problema? Spanish is also much more of a fan of reflexive verbs than English.

There are many differences between English and Spanish grammar systems, but on the plus side, Spanish grammar tends to be more regular than English. Most of the verbs are regular in the past tense, the same for which cannot be said for English. Prepositions are much easier to master than English prepositions, which prove a major stumbling block for many English language learners.

Once you have grasped some basic Spanish grammar concepts you can begin to experiment and extend your speaking ability by conversing with Spanish speakers. Asking your Spanish speaking friends to help correct you when you say something grammatically incorrect can also be very helpful.

With a good understanding of the norms of Spanish grammar and practice speaking with native Spanish speakers you can become fluent. Without speaking practice you will never become fluent and without an understanding of Spanish grammar you will never make any sense. Go out and grab a Spanish grammar book now!

Where Does the Spanish Language Come From?

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

Languages are living and malleable: that is, they are constantly evolving and changing. Spanish is no exception and what we know as Spanish today is the result of the blending of several linguistic elements.

Spanish is typically classed as a Romance language that is, one that has evolved from Latin. It also belongs to the Indo-European language family alongside most European languages.

There is no one single Spanish, in fact a variety of Spanish dialects are used in Spain alone. When you consider that there are around 400 million Spanish speakers worldwide there is a lot of scope for linguistic variation. However, what we widely consider to be modern Spanish is also known as Castilian.

Modern Spanish is considered to have evolved from a Petri dish located in Hispania on the Iberian Peninsula around the middle ages, but the process began about 2000 years ago. The area of the Iberian Peninsula that became known as Hispania fell under Roman rule around 20 B.C. Gradually the Latin of the ruling class mingled with the indigenous languages of the Celts and Iberians found in the area and this produced a language that is known to linguists as Vulgar Latin.

Following this, several invading forces such as the Barbarians from Germany and the Arabic Moors added their own influence to the melting pot that was beginning to form the Spanish we recognize today.

The Moors had a profound effect on the evolution of Spanish and is responsible for giving the language words such as aloha (pillow), aceite (oil), naranja (orange) and barrio (neighborhood). Interestingly, some linguists argue that the word hola may have come from “Allah”. It is estimated that around 3000 Spanish words today are derived from Moorish Arabic.

In the 13th century King Alfonso X of Castile began to formalize the language when he had his scribes putting pen to paper to document history, astronomy, law and medicine. After the Moors were driven out of Spain during the reconquista the kingdom of Castile emerged as one of the dominant forces alongside Aragon and the two began to govern Spain together, but often as rivals. Throughout this period with Castile at the forefront of government their language, Castilian, became dominant throughout many regions of Spain.

In 1469 Castilian Princess Isabella married her cousin Prince Ferdinand of Aragon and effectively united the two kingdoms. By this time Castilian was virtually the language we recognize as Spanish today.

Shortly thereafter Isabella and Ferdinand began to build a world empire and Spanish spread to the New World and became one of the most widely spoken languages around the globe.

Today Spanish is spoken in more than 20 countries as an official language. But there are great variations in the way it is spoken regarding accent and slang. In Argentina for example the accent is very melodic and has great similarities to Italian intonation and cadence. This is due to the large proportion of Italian immigrants that came to Argentina in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Peru is often considered to have the most pure Spanish of all the Latin American countries. This is because Lima was the seat of the vice-royalty under the Spanish Empire and had a high proportion of nobility and a sizeable educated class resident there.

The Spanish that we know today is the result of around 2000 years of evolution and a number of influential ingredients thrown into the pot. It has grown to become one of the world’s most popular and romantic languages with a vast vocabulary and with many varied accents, slang and dialects.

How is Latin American Spanish Different?

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

There is a far bigger difference between the Spanish that is spoken in Spain and Latin American Spanish than exists between British and American English. The Spanish from Spain has some very different grammar, vocabulary and slang to that which is spoken in Latin America. Latin Americans differentiate the Spanish they speak by calling it Castellano and by referring to Spanish from Spain as Español.

Grammar is undoubtedly the biggest difference that we can see between the two types of Spanish. Let’s take a look at how Latin American Spanish would conjugate the verb to want – querer.

I want Yo quiero
You want Tu quieres
He/She wants El/Ella quiere
We want Nosotros queremos
They want Ellos quieren
You (plural) want Ustedes quieren

As you can see in English the verb form only changes when we use “he” or “she”, but in Spanish there are many different conjugations. As if this were not complicated enough, Spanish Spanish adds another possible subject into the equation. In Spanish the formal second person is usted and the informal is tú. In Latin America the plural of you is ustedes and there is no familiar plural form, but in Spain they use vosotros as the plural familiar form.

For example to ask: “Would you like to eat pizza?” using the familiar form in Spain and Latin America would be the same: “Quieres comer pizza?” as would the formal version “Usted quiere comer pizza?

When we switch to the plural form of you then Español and Castellano differ. In Spain you could ask “Quereis comer pizza?” or “Queren comer pizza?”, but in Latin America the first form is simply not used. What this means as a Spanish language learner is that you must learn another verb conjugation to go with vosotros.

When to Use Tú and Usted
All Spanish speakers use both tú and usted, but between Europe and Latin America there is a difference between when they are used. Tú is the familiar form of “you” and is used among friends and subordinates and usted is used to show respect. In Latin America it is common to hear children using the usted form with their parents, even as adults. Sometimes you may even hear spouses referring to each other as usted. In contrast, in Spain the use of tú is much more common.

Between Spanish and Castellano there are several vocabulary differences that can cause a headache to language learners. Fortunately most Spanish speakers will know what you are talking about even if you use the word that is not common in that particular region. Here are a few examples of common words that are different between Spain and Latin America.

Español (Spanish) Castellano (Latin America) English
ordenador computadora computer
coche carro car
melocotón durazno peach
aguacate palta avocado

Accent and Pronunciation

Spaniards sometimes sound like they have a lisp since they pronounce soft “c” as a “th”. For example Barcelona is said as “Bar-the-lona” by a Spanish native. This pronunciation is not used at all in Latin America. That said there are huge accent differences between Latin American countries also. In Argentina the Spanish double L “ll” is pronounced differently to other South American nations. Accent differences between Spanish speakers are similar to those experienced between British, Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, Indian and United States English speakers.


There are vast regional differences between the slang that is used in Spanish, not only between Spain and Latin America, but also between Latin American countries. It should also be noted that some words that are considered mild and completely acceptable in polite company are considered very rude in other countries.

While there are some major differences between continental Spanish and the Spanish spoken in Latin America. A good grasp of either will allow you to communicate effectively in any Spanish speaking region.