10 Mistakes That Native Spanish Speakers Make
Echando a perder se aprende.
That’s a Spanish saying that means something like “you learn by making mistakes.” And as with most popular wisdom, it’s certainly true.
By learning the mistakes native Spanish speakers make in their own language, you can understand some of the hardest-to-master concepts in Spanish. Keep reading to discover what they are and how to avoid them.
Making Mistakes as a Way of Learning
We all make mistakes in everything we ever try. It doesn’t matter if it’s something we’ve been doing for years. We are only human, and it’s normal to make mistakes. However, it’s the way we react to these mistakes that can make a meaningful difference in our lives.
When learning a new language, making mistakes is natural and common. When you learn a new verb or phrase , the only way of adding it to your vocabulary is by trying. Just like with everything else in life, making mistakes is the only way to learn. By introducing that verb into a specific conversation just to find out that it wasn’t the right context, you learned a valuable lesson and next time will know better.
But, what happens when those making the mistakes are native Spanish speakers? Is that even possible? More than you can imagine. And no, I’m not talking about mistakes make because of a lack of education. I’m talking about everyday mistakes made by well-educated people.
Languages are complex and ever-evolving creatures, with large cultural and linguistic backgrounds. It’s normal to sometimes miss some of its details. The following list includes some of the most common mistakes made by native Spanish speakers.
10 Common Mistakes that Native Spanish Speakers Make
1. Hay, ay, ahí
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen my native Spanish-speaking students make this mistake. It’s so common because these three words all sound similar. For this reason, it’s a written mistake rather than a spoken one.
hay: conjugation of the verb haber. Present tense conjugation, meaning “there is/are.”
Hay jugo de naranja en el refrigerador. – There is orange juice in the fridge.
ay: an exclamation that expresses pain, suffering, or regret, among many other emotions. It usually comes with exclamation marks.
¡Ay! Me duele mucho la cabeza. – Ouch! I have a terrible headache.
ahí: adverb of place that expresses an unspecified site or distance. Being an adverb makes it a hard-to-grasp kind of word, even for native Spanish speakers. It means “there,” and it should be the one causing less confusion, as the accent on the “i” actually gives it a different sound from the other hay and ay. Those are one-syllable words, while ahí has two syllables (a-hí).
Ahí está la casa. – The house is right there.
Memorize this phrase:
Ahí hay un niño que grita ¡ay! – Over there, there is a kid screaming “ouch!”
2. Haber, a ver
This one is also a mistake based on the similarity of sounds. Haber is one of the most important verbs in Spanish, while a ver is a widely used phrase formed by the preposition a and the verb ver which means “to see.” A ver is widely used as a filler, in the same way as “let’s see” in English.
Esta noche va a haber una fiesta en mi casa. – Tonight, there is going to be a party at my house.
A ver qué te compraste. – Let’s see what you bought for yourself.
3. La agua
Gender-specific nouns are one of the hardest-to-master Spanish grammar concepts for learners of the language. But as you can see, they’re complicated for native Spanish speakers, too.
Most nouns ending in -a are feminine. For that reason, they usually come accompanied by the article reserved for feminine nouns: la. But saying la agua or “the water” sounds wrong, it’s a cacophony. To avoid this jarring sound you have to use the article reserved for masculine nouns (el): el agua.
However, contrary to what’s assumed by many native Spanish speakers agua or “water” is not a masculine noun. It’s a feminine noun with the particularity that it starts with an A tónica (strong A). It’s the same case with águila (“eagle”) and hacha (“ax”), even if the latter comes with an h. With these nouns, the accent (even if it’s not written) is on that A at the start of the word. This situation is what produces the cacophony when you add the article la. But agua is still a feminine noun.
El agua de este río está muy limpia. – The water of this river is very clean.
4. The final “s”
A common mistake that native Spanish speakers make is adding -s to the end verbs conjugated in the second-person singular of the preterite. You may have heard someone saying pasastes, fuistes, or comistes, when it should be pasaste (you passed), fuiste (you were/you went), and comiste (you ate).
In Mexico, there is actually a popular song by Pedro Infante (the “Mexican Elvis”) that starts with the following phrase:
Pasaste a mi lado, con gran indiferencia. – You passed by me, with great indifference.
If you check the lyrics, you’ll see the song is well-written. But, if you hear Mexican people singing it, 9 out of 10 times you’ll hear pasastes a mi lado… with a heavy accent on that final “s.”
Yo creo de que lo mejor es no ir a la fiesta. – I think the best thing is not to go to the party.
That sentence in Spanish is wrong, but its structure is widely used by native Spanish speakers. Adding the preposition de between a verb and the conjunction que is a common mistake known as dequeísmo. That sentence should say:
Yo creo que lo mejor es no ir a la fiesta.
There is no need to add the preposition de. An easy way to know if you need this preposition in your sentence is transforming it into a question. If in the question you need to use de, then you should use it in your sentence.
¿Crees que lo mejor es no ir a la fiesta? – Do you think the best is not to go to the party?
No de in the question, so no de in the sentence.
This is a common mistake that native Spanish speakers make in parts of Spain, Colombia, and Central America. It consists in using the feminine pronouns la, las (normally reserved for direct objects), instead of le, les (normally used for indirect objects).
A correct use of the feminine direct object pronoun la is:
Aprendí la gramática española. Me costó trabajo, pero la aprendí. – I learned the Spanish grammar. It was hard, but I learned it.
Using la in the second sentence is correct, as it’s used as a direct object pronoun.
However, saying the following is not correct and a good example of laísmo:
La dije a mi novia que esto se acabó. – I told my girlfriend that this is over.
A correct version of that sentence should substitute la with le, which is the right pronoun for dealing with indirect objects.
Le dije a mi novia que esto se acabó.
As a middle school Spanish teacher, I see this mistake several times per day. Rules exist for the capitalization of words, for instance using them in given names, significant words in given names of organizations or the first letter of titles. However, globalization has brought a lot of noise to this issue, as native Spanish speakers got used to seeing the days of the week and months of the year written with capital letters in English. For native Spanish-speaking students, most of whom are learning English too, it’s hard to understand why Wednesday in English is capitalized, but miércoles in Spanish is not.
8. Haya, halla, allá
Similar to the first mistake listed, this one is also sound-based and it includes a conjugation of the verb haber and an adverb of place.
haya: 1st and 3rd person conjugation of the preterite (present) perfect tense of subjunctive of the verb haber.
Espero que Marco haya hecho la tarea. – I hope Marco did his homework.
halla: 3rd person conjugation of the present tense of indicative of the verb hallar or “to find.”
Mónica siempre halla la manera de solucionar los problemas. – Mónica always finds the way to solve problems.
allá: as with ahí, this one shouldn’t be a problem as the orthographic accent changes the pronunciation of the word, making it sound different from the other two. However, it’s also involved in this common mistake. Allá is an adverb of place used to refer to an undefined site a bit far from our present location. It can be translated as “over there.”
La tienda está por allá. – The store is over there.
Another mistake involving the all important verb haber. The plural use of existential haber is había. However, in parts of Latin America and Catalunya, native Spanish speakers add –n to the end of the verb to indicate plural, as in habían. This is a mistake.
Habían muchas mesas vacías en el restaurante. – There were many empty tables in the restaurant.
The correct version of that sentence is:
Había muchas mesas vacías en el restaurante.
10. Oír vs Escuchar
These two verbs are often misunderstood as interchangeable. Although they have similar meanings, they’re not exactly the same. An easy way to differentiate these two verbs is to think of oír as “to hear” and escuchar as “to listen.” Oír refers to the physical action of perceiving sound with your senses, while escuchar expresses an idea more related to paying attention.
Oí un ruido en la calle. – I heard a noise on the street.
Escucha esta canción, estoy seguro que te va a gustar. – Listen to this song, I’m sure you’ll like it.
Here’s hoping that learning about these common mistakes that native Spanish speakers make have made you feel better about your Spanish learning process. Let’s embrace making mistakes as a way of learning! Try a free class with one of our native Spanish teachers and make your own mistakes while having a real-life conversation. If you’re lucky, you might even catch your teacher making one of these mistakes you’ve just learned about.
Can you think of a Spanish mistake you made that taught you a good lesson? Let us know in the comments and start a conversation!
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