Common Mistakes in Spanish

Common Mistakes in Spanish is a feature found in the Spanish at Home books–they’re in every lesson, pointing out the stumbles that English speakers frequently make when learning Spanish so you know not to get stuck on them yourself. We’ve pulled all of these from the books, but unfortunately, can’t share them all, and have left many goodies tucked away in Spanish at Home’s pages. We hope you find this small sample helpful!

1. Incorrect:                                             Correct:

Hay uno libro en la mesa.                          Hay un libro en la mesa.

NEVER use “uno” when it is in front of a noun (libro). Instead, use “un.” The sentence “Hay uno” (There is one) is correct because there is NO noun after “uno”.

2. Incorrect:                                             Correct:

Hay es un libro en la mesa.                        Hay un libro en la mesa.

NEVER use “es” when you use “hay,” because “hay” already means “there is or there are”. You are saying “is” twice.

3. Incorrect:                                             Correct:

Yo bailar salsa.                                              Yo bailo salsa.

A common mistake is not to conjugate the verb. The ONLY time you can use the infinitive of the verb (the unconjugated verb) is when the verb translates as its infinitive form, i.e. “to ______.” For example: “I want to dance” = “Yo quiero bailar.”

4. Incorrect:                                             Correct:

Me gusto bailar.                                             Me gusta bailar.

“Gustar” is one of a few special verbs that don’t conjugate as a regular verb. That means “gusta” will remain the same, in the present tense, for all the personal pronouns–it changes only from singular (gusta) or plural (gustan) depending on the OBJECT. For example, “Me gustan los flores.”

5. Incorrect:                                             Correct:

¿A qué hora es la fiesta?                              ¿A qué hora es la fiesta?

Son las 7 de la noche.                                   Es a las 7 de la noche.
Es las 7 de la noche.

NEVER answer this question with “son las” or “es las”. Remember the “at” (a). Or else it’s like you’re saying: At what time is the party? It is 7 pm.

6. Incorrect:                                             Correct:

un mil                                                               mil

NEVER use “un” before “mil” (one thousand), just say “mil”. However, for two thousand, three thousand,…etc, you need to say: dos mil, tres mil, cuatro mil…etc.

7. Incorrect:                                              Correct:

cinco cientos                                                   quinientos

NEVER say “cinco cientos.” The correct word is “quinientos.”

8. Incorrect:                                              Correct:

Son las 3 en la tarde.                                     Son las 3 de la tarde.

NEVER use “en” when you say “it is 3 in the afternoon”. The correct preposition is “de.”

9. Incorrect:                                              Correct:

Mi cita es el uno de junio.                            Mi cita es el primero de junio.

NEVER use the number “uno” when saying the date–it’s like saying, “It is the one of June.” Instead use “primero,” which means “first.”

10. Incorrect:                                            Correct:

Yo tengo trabajar mañana.                           Yo tengo que trabajar mañana.

ALWAYS use “que” after the verb “tener” and before the second verb. If you don’t have a second verb, don’t use “que”. Tener is the only verb that needs “que” when it’s followed by another verb.

11. Incorrect:                                             Correct:

Yo necesito estudiar antes comiendo.        Yo necesito estudiar antes de comer.
Yo necesito estudiar antes como.
Yo necesito estudiar antes de comiendo.

ALWAYS use “de” after “antes”and the infinitive of the verb (unconjugated) after “de.”

12. Incorrect:                                            Correct:

Mi cumpleaños es marzo 5.                         Mi cumpleaños es el 5 de marzo.

When saying the date, the number NEVER goes after the month. In Spanish, the number goes before the month: My birthday is the 5th of March.

13. Incorrect:                                            Correct:

Yo a Juan.                                                  Yo conozco a Juan.

Never use “saber” when you are talking about knowing someone. “Saber” is used only for actual knowledge: facts, skills, etc. Instead use “conocer.” ”Conocer” is used to say you are familiar with something or somewhere.

14. Incorrect:                                            Correct:

Yo conozco Juan.                                            Yo conozco a Juan.

Always use the personal “a” when you use “conocer,” or whenever a person’s name directly follows a verb.

15. Incorrect:                                            Correct:

La fiesta está en Santa Mónica.                   La fiesta es en Santa Mónica.

Normally, we use “estar” when we talk about where we’re located. But when we talk about something more set in stone, like origin or what country a city is in or where an event is scheduled, we need to use “ser.”

16. Incorrect:                                            Correct:

María es organizado.                                     María es organizada.

All adjectives, in this case “organizado,” need to agree in gender and number with the subject or noun, “María.” Since María is female, it needs to be “organizada.”

17. Incorrect:                                            Correct:

Ella es mucha gorda.                                     Ella es muy gorda.

Always use “muy” before an adjective (gorda). “Mucho” generally translates as “a lot,” while “muy” translates as “very.” It doesn’t make sense to say, “She is a lot fat.”

18. Incorrect:                                            Correct:

Estoy excitado.                                                Estoy emocionado.

NEVER USE “EXCITADO” for excited. Excitado when translated into English means aroused. Instead use “emocionado.”

19. Incorrect:                                            Correct:

Yo soy 20 años.                                               Yo tengo 20 años.

Never use the verb “to be” when you are saying how old you are. Instead, use the verb “tener”=”I have 20 years.” Think of it as having 20 years under your belt.

20. Incorrect:                                           Correct:

Tengo muy frío.                                              Tengo mucho frío.

NEVER use “muy” when you have expressions with the verb “tener.” Instead use “mucho.” Why? Because the construction of the sentence in Spanish is like you “have cold” (yo tengo frío), “have hunger” (tengo hambre), etc. So the verb “tener” is followed by a noun. To modify this noun, you need an adjective and “muy” is not an adjective–it is an adverb. You need to use “mucho,” an adjective. If that sounds too complicated to remember, just remember that “muy” is “very” and “mucho” is “a lot.” You can’t say, “I have very cold!”

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