10 Mistakes You’ll Hear Native Spanish Speakers Make in Spanish
Have you ever heard a Spanish native speaker say something that you thought was incorrect? You then ran to check if you had learned something wrong, but no.
You, the Spanish learner, were right, and the native speaker was wrong! Stop the presses!
Yeah, it happens in every language.
In English, you’ll also hear people saying things like *”He don’t like me.”
You’ll be surprised to know that native speakers often make mistakes in their mother tongue. It can happen for various reasons:
- A lower level of education
- Little language awareness, or
- Simply because in their country or social circle, the erroneous form is more common than the correct one
Spanish native speakers make all types of mistakes. Spelling mistakes, punctuation, lexical, grammatical, and even pronunciation mistakes.
Today, I want to share the most common Spanish mistakes that you may hear native speakers make.
I will just focus on lexical and grammatical mistakes. I will leave mistakes native Spanish speakers make in writing for another occasion. Let’s begin!
Common Spanish Mistakes by Native Speakers
These are some mistakes I often hear from my native Spanish-speaking students and even colleagues.
Latin American native Spanish speakers make these mistakes more often, but some of these are well extended over the whole Spanish-speaking world.
It’s important to know them to avoid making the same errors.
Note: All of the following terms or phrases marked with an *asterisk are incorrect!
1. *en base a / *con base a
*En base a lo que sé, no te creo.
Based on what I know, I don’t believe you.
I’ve heard countless combinations of expressions with the word base (base, basis).
Correct way to say it: a base de / con base en
People seem to freely use all types of prepositions with this word, while the only correct options, as you can read at Fundéu, are:
- 1. a base de, and
- 2. con base en (but still they are not interchangeable)
A base de
If you add a noun to it, it will mean that something is the fundamental element.
Me encanta la sopa a base de cebolla.
I love onion soup.
It can also be translated into “using” or “based on”:
Los carros que funcionan a base de electricidad son mejores para el ambiente.
Cars that work based on electricity are better for the environment.
If you put an infinitive after this expression, it will mean “by” or “by dint of”:
Se graduó a base de estudiar mucho todos los días.
She graduated by studying hard every day.
Con base en
You’ll use this expression to talk about the place where something or someone is located at or used as a starting point.
Las tropas internacionales, con base en la frontera, se enfrentaron a los rebeldes.
International troops based on the border faced the rebels.
It can also be used, especially in Latin America, to express that what you’re saying has some support or foundation.
Cambié mi opinión con base en las recientes informaciones.
I changed my mind based on recent information.
Spanish-speaking people love redundancies, even in the media.
The following expressions are incorrect as they use redundant terms that don’t need to be involved. Nevertheless, Spanish speakers use them often to provide emphasis.
*subir arriba – go up upstairs
*bajar abajo – go down downstairs
*ambos dos – both two
*nexo de unión – joining link
*puño cerrado – closed fist
*salir para fuera – go out outside
3. *más mayor
Some people use the comparative adverb más (more) with the word mayor—meaning “more,” “bigger,” or “older.”
They do this to say that one thing exceeds the other in size, quantity, quality, or intensity.
Mayor is already an irregular comparative adjective, and you cannot use two comparative forms next to each other. That’s why the following sentence is incorrect:
*Mi hermano Pedro es más mayor que tú.
My brother Pedro is more older than you.
The correct sentence is:
Mi hermano Pedro es mayor que tú.
Mi hermano Pedro es más grande que tú.
You can read more about it here (in Spanish).
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4. deber and deber de
I’m sure you also confuse deber with deber de. But did you know that it’s also one of the most common Spanish mistakes that Spanish speakers make?
Deber means obligation and could be substituted with tener que. You can simply translate it into English as “must.”
Debes respetar mi opinión.
You must respect my opinion.
Deber de, on the other hand, is used for deductions—used to express probability and uncertainty.
No tengo ni idea qué horas serán, pero deben de ser las siete ya.
I have no idea what time it is, but it must be seven o’clock by now.
Spanish people often use these two expressions interchangeably, creating incorrect phrases such as:
*Debes de respetar mi opinión.
*Deben ser las siete.
5. haiga instead of haya
*Haiga is an incorrect way of saying haya, the present subjunctive form of the verb haber.
Commonly, people of lower educational levels use it. You mustn’t use it.
*Cuando haiga terminado te llamo.
I’ll call you when I’m done.
The correct sentence is: Cuando haya terminado te llamo.
Not many people know that haiga is a word but has nothing to do with haber. Instead, it means a large and flashy car, usually of North American origin.
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This is another common Spanish mistake. People use it as a synonym for carecer (to miss, to lack).
You might hear people saying: *nuestro presidente adolece de conocimientos. And they want to say that the president has no knowledge.
However, the verb adolecer doesn’t mean what they think it does! It means to have an illness or some defect, so the sentence would actually translate to: “Our President suffers from knowledge.”
You could say, Mi madre adolece de migrañas, and it doesn’t mean that she misses migraines, but that she suffers from them.
However, the mistake is so common that if you use a Google Translator or the Deep.com translator, they both translate adolecer as “to lack.”
But with this handy blog post, you can learn the difference!
7. ¿Dijieron o Dijeron?
A program on Mexican TV was called 100 Mexicanos Dijieron, and it was a parody of the Mexican version of Family Feud, 100 Mexicanos Dijeron.
The parody title is based on a common grammar mistake that uneducated Spanish speakers make using dijieron instead of dijeron. They use this word as a third person plural past tense form of the verb decir (to say).
You might hear people say: *Mis amigos dijieron que me veo bonita. (My friends said I look pretty.)
But the correct grammatical form is: Mis amigos dijeron que me veo bonita.
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Many native Spanish speakers abuse the preposition de and use it in phrases when it’s unnecessary.
You can see sentences like: *No me dijo de que lo necesitaba. (He didn’t tell me that he needed it.)
*Resulta de que ya lo tienen. (It turns out they already have it.)
Neither the verb decir nor resultar requires the use of the preposition de. And the correct sentences would be:
No me dijo que lo necesitaba.
Resulta que ya lo tienen.
9. The Final “S”
My Mexican husband is allergic to this mistake! He cannot stand when people add an ‘s’ at the end of verbs conjugated in the second-person singular of the preterite.
Some people do it because the second-person verbs in the present tense end in ‘s,’’ but not the ones in the preterite.
You may have heard people saying:
The grammatically correct terms are: pasaste (you passed), dijiste (you said), fuiste (you were/you went), and comiste (you ate).
You’ve already read about the incorrect use of the verb haber in the subjunctive form, but some Spanish speakers misuse it also in the present tense.
In parts of Latin America and Catalunya, native Spanish speakers add an ‘n’ at the end of the verb había to make it plural. This is a mistake.
*Habían muchos gatos en la calle.
There were many cats in the street.
Haber, in this context, is an impersonal verb, meaning it only occurs in the third person singular form, even if the sentence has a plural subject.
It can translate both to “there is” or “there are.”
The correct sentence should be: Había muchos gatos en la calle.
Do You Want to Learn More Spanish?
As you can see, learning Spanish is a life-long task, and even native Spanish speakers should work on their language awareness to avoid common mistakes.
However, it’s worth the hassle!
Bringing your Spanish to the highest levels brings you outstanding job opportunities. Did you know that Interpreters and translators are among the top five fastest-growing occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics?
And you can’t have a boring life in any of these professions!
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