Without a doubt, Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn for English learners. And, despite the grammatical differences between English and Spanish, the two languages present a lot of similarities.
First, there are lots of core words that are very similar (if not identical) in both languages, such as moment – momento; honest – honesto; profound – profundo.
Second, both languages follow a SVO (subject-verb-object) structure, which means that you won’t have to learn a new way or placing elements in your sentences. Compare, for example: “I (S) love (V) languages (O)” with “Yo (S) amo (V) los idiomas (O)”.
However, not everything is good news. In fact, there are 3 key grammatical differences between English and Spanish that learners tend to find tricky.
In this blog, we’ll go over these grammatical differences between English and Spanish in detail and we’ll tell you how to avoid making related mistakes when speaking Spanish.
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1. Grammatical gender
The notion of grammatical gender is much more complicated in Spanish than in English. In English, only people can be perceived as either masculine, feminine or gender-neutral. While we may occasionally refer to a few inanimate objects as ‘he’ or ‘she’ (ships, for example, are usually gendered as feminine), it is a quite rare occurrence.
In Spanish, however, every single object, concept or feeling is either (grammatically) masculine, or feminine! And, depending on whether a noun is a ‘he’ or a ‘she’, you will have to make a lot of grammatical choices that may take a while to become second nature.
Compare the following sentences:
El hombre es delgado y alto.
La mujer es delgada y alta.
The man is slim and tall.
The woman is slim and tall.
As you can see, the English version of these sentences is much simpler — the only element that changes is the noun: man or woman. In Spanish, however, the change of the noun involves a change in the article and adjectives attached to it.
How to identify grammatical gender
But don’t worry. In general, masculine adjectives end in O (alto), while feminine adjectives end in A (alta). And, as for articles, singular masculine nouns take the word “el”, while singular feminine nouns take “la”.
Yet, the problem remains: how do you know if a noun is masculine or feminine?
When nouns refer to people, as in the cases above, choosing the gender of articles and adjectives will be a simple affair. But what happens when nouns refer to objects or even abstract concepts? That’s when things get a bit harder. I mean, how will you know that “mesas” and “sillas” (tables and chairs) are feminine, and that “sillones” and “bancos” (armchairs and benches) are masculine?
Unfortunately, there’s no secret technique to learn the gender of nouns fast. As with most things related to language-learning, the answer is time, practice, and lots of patience. So, yeah, this is one of the trickiest grammatical differences between English and Spanish. But believe me. Eventually, the gender of objects, ideas, and even feelings will come to you intuitively.
2. How to Use Adjectives in a Sentence
In the introduction, we said that Spanish and English tend to place elements in the same place when making clauses and sentences.
Usually, a normal sentence will start with a subject (The house), a verb (is) and an object or complement (on sale). This is exactly the same order Spanish speakers use when making their sentences: La casa está a la venta.
But what happens if we want to give extra information about the house? What if we wanted to say that the house is big, or beautiful, or yellow?
Enter one of the most noticeable grammatical differences between English and Spanish.
In English, adjectives precede nouns virtually always:
The gray house is on sale.
The order of adjectives in Spanish
In Spanish, on the other hand, the opposite is true. As a rule, the noun phrase starts with the main element or nucleus (the noun) and the words that describe it or give more information about it come next:
La casa gris está a la venta.
This is why The Pink Panther is called La pantera rosa (and not La rosa pantera) in Spanish!
So, next time you use a noun in Spanish and you want to describe its size, color, beauty or general appearance, remember to place adjectives after nouns!
3. Second Conditionals
You may think you don’t know what we are talking about here. But you do. Second conditional sentences are the ones we use when we want to talk about an imagined or hypothetical situation that could take occur in the present or future if certain conditions were met. We could say, for example, what we would do if we had a million dollars. This, of course, is an imaginary situation. We don’t have a million dollars to spend at the moment; we’re just speculating what we would do if he did. (For all grammatical differences between English and Spanish, this fact remains the same in both languages!).
Grammatically, these sentences pose no challenge for English speakers. Normally, they involve the use of two clauses, the ‘if clause’ which introduces a condition that needs to be met (If I had a million dollars), and the “would clause” (I would buy a house), which presents the resulting action or occurrence.
The good news for learners of English is that the ‘if clause’ uses the past form of verbs (had), while the other one features the conditional participle “would” followed by the main noun. For Spanish speakers learning English, mastering the second conditional is, as we say, a piece of cake –all they’ll need to form a conditional phrase is a verb whose form they already know from studying the past simple; and the modal ‘would’ next to the other verb.
In Spanish, things are a bit more complex for two reasons. First, the ‘if clause’ does not use the past simple form of verbs, but a completely different form that we call the “preterite subjunctive”, which sounds… daunting.
The preterite subjunctive is a specific conjugation that we use for hypothetical or unreal situations and it’s one that you will just have to learn unless you want to stick to reality at all times!
On the other hand, the ‘would clause’ is not formed by using a participle, but by changing the form of the main verb. But never fear. Lucky for all our readers, this is simpler than it sounds. Instead of adding a modal before an infinitive verb, what people do is add the suffix “ía” to whatever verb they want to make conditional. Amar? (Love) Amaría. Comer? (Eat) Comería. Vivir (Live) Viviría.
Si yo tuviera (conditional form of ‘tener’ -have-) un millón de dólares, comprar-ía una casa.
Do you see why talking about your wishes and hopes is a bit harder in Spanish than it is in English?
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What we’ve tried to tackle the main grammatical differences between English and Spanish so that you’ll know what are the type of challenges you will face when learning Spanish and, hopefully, avoid some of the most common mistakes made by English learners of Spanish.
But of course, you don’t have to do it on your own. At Listen & Learn, we work with experienced native teachers who specialize in tailoring their lessons to help learners reach their goals fast and effectively. All you have to do is send us a quick message saying when you would like to start so we can arrange a free trial lesson for you. Oh, and if you prefer to take a few lessons in-person, you can always ask us to send a Spanish teacher to your place and we’ll be happy to find you the perfect match.
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