Common Grammatical Errors in Spanish

Do you make any of these mistakes when you speak Spanish?

Some of the most frequent errors in Spanish made by learners of any language are down to ‘transfers’ from the maternal language. In other words, interference of the rules of the maternal language in the interlanguage system of the student’s second language. Interlanguage can be understood as the system of personal rules and norms that every student forms and internalises as they acquire the language that they study, but that differs from the actual system of the language they study.

Interlanguage, which little by little is readjusted, constitutes the framework of a student’s language. It is thanks to this that students communicate, and in the same way, thanks to the errors made in this communication that we observe how interlanguage works and how it is adjusted and consolidated.

The hypotheses made by students in their learning process may undergo an analysis of contrasting the maternal language (English, for example) and the target language (in our case, Spanish), in order to establish common characteristics. Sometimes a positive transfer is produced, with exact semantic copies that work in Spanish but, it is more common that this gives way to interference that end up being errors.

In my experience as a teacher, the following are some of the most common errors in Spanish that I have come across in language transfer from English (both for those whose first language is English and those who have it as a second language). Today I will explain why each error is made and encourage you to internalise these mistakes to avoid making them in the future, and above all consolidate them. Let’s begin!

errores frecuentes en español

1. Como así instead of así

Many English speakers use this combination of words to refer to examples, and we therefore come across phrases such as: *conducir como así es habitual, *me encanta viajar como así. Here we clearly have a combination of the literal translation from English of ‘like this’ and the incorporation of the adverb así, which is the correct word needed in this case. Quoting RAE, the definition of this adverb is: ‘in this or that way, in the way just mentioned or that will be mentioned next’. Therefore, the previous sentences should really be written like this: Conducir así es habitual, me encanta viajar así.

2. Actualmente instead of realmente

This is one of the most common false friends we come across in Spanish. Although they seem like two peas in a pod, the word actualmente has nothing to do with the word ‘actually’; actualmente is an adverb that comes from the adjective actual and unlike in English does not mean ‘real’ but ‘present’. In other words, it makes reference to the time we are in ‘currently’. Possible synonyms would be hoy en día, en el presente, etc. If you are looking for the Spanish translation of ‘actually’ we would suggest using other adverbs such as realmente, en realidad, de hecho… Remember that context is key to knowing how to translate something!

3. Creo que instead of simply creo

This is also one of the common errors in Spanish I correct most often day to day. I would say that it is down to the fact that in English the verb ‘to think’ needs an object when it means ‘to think something’, and that in the absence of this the pronoun ‘so’ appears (I think so). That is why students often use the link que (creo que) without introducing any sentence after it, when in reality in Spanish the verb creer can be used without an object: “¿Que Marcos y Luisa han roto? No creo…” is correct, but “¿Que Marcos y Luisa han roto? *No creo que…” is incorrect.

4. Por/para + duration

In English, the preposition ‘for’ is used to express duration and/or quantity of time. In this way, the sentence ‘I have lived in spain for three years’ (which is correctly translated as he vivido en españa tres años or vivo en españa desde hace tres años) is often translated by students as: he vivido en españa por/para tres años.

This error is down to the fact that in other types of sentences ‘for’ is usually translated as para (I have a letter for you – tengo una carta para ti) or por (He left me for somebody else – me dejó por otro). Students therefore presume that it can be translated the same in this context and it is in this way that it is wrongly used.

5. Posible instead of posiblemente

We will end with a common error in Spanish that also comes from the transfer from English, this time phonetic. The adverb ‘possibly’ resembles the pronunciation of the Spanish adjective posible more than that of the adverb posiblemente, which is its real equivalent. Due to this, often students use our adjective as an adverb: *Posible vayamos a la playa el fin de semana, which is incorrect,vs. posiblemente vayamos a la playa el fin de semana, which is correct.

A final thought: remember that errors should be treated as a positive thing. Only by making mistakes and correcting them can our interlanguage system be updated and improved so that rules we follow are closer to those of the second language.

Can you think of another common error in Spanish that you make? This is a theme that we will explore in depth on our blog. In the meantime, comment below and we will reply with possible causes and solutions!

Mar Rodríguez

Mar Rodríguez

Academic Director at Entrelenguas

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