Tan vs Tanto: What’s the Difference?
Knowing whether to use tan vs tanto is an issue for beginners and even intermediate learners. However, I’ll show you that there is an easy way to solve this issue once and for all!
In this article, you’ll learn the real difference between tan and tanto and how to use each term like a native speaker. I’ll give you plenty of examples, and even useful expressions to sprinkle into your Spanish conversations.
But before going into detail of tan vs tanto, let’s get to the basics.
The Difference Between Tan vs Tanto
I’ll tell you a secret: tan and tanto are the same word but in different forms.
Tan is an “apocope” of tanto—meaning that it’s lost the last, unstressed vowel at some point during the history of the Spanish language.
Some websites claim that tan is an adverb and tanto is an adjective, but that is not the whole story.
Tanto can be an adjective, but it can also be an adverb, a pronoun, a noun, and a conjunction.
When tanto works as an adverb in a sentence, one of its forms is tan.
The solution to the tan vs tanto puzzle isn’t in how we use these words, because they both function to make a comparison or to intensify something.
So? What’s the difference?
The real difference between tan vs tanto resides in which parts of speech tan and tanto work with and what exactly they compare or intensify to.
To make a long story short, tanto is used with nouns and verbs to talk about quantities, and tan is followed by an adjective or adverb to talk about qualities and characteristics.
Now, let’s look separately at tan vs tanto:
When to Use Tanto
First of all, when using tanto to talk about nouns, remember to put it in the correct form in terms of gender and number. This is how you’ll use it:
|With singular, masculine nouns||tanto|
|WIth plural, masculine nouns||tantos|
|With singular, femenine nouns||tanta|
|With plural, femenine nouns||tantas|
That’s why we speak about tantos días (so many days), tantas noches (so many nights), tanto ruido (so much noise), and tanta soledad (so much loneliness).
After that quick reminder, we can focus on when to use tanto.
1. To Compare Quantities
When we compare quantities, tanto translates to “as many / as much”
Ana tiene tantas muñecas como María.
Ana has as many dolls as María.
If you choose to brush up on The Easy Way to Make Comparisons in Spanish, you’ll read more about this use of tanto and other ways of making comparisons.
2. To Emphasize Quantity, Magnitude, or Intensity.
When you want to exaggerate the numbers, there is no better word than tanto. In these situations, you’ll translate it into “so much / so many”.
Había miles de libélulas, nunca había visto tantas.
There were thousands of dragonflies, I had never seen so many before.
Tengo tanto que estudiar que no voy a dormir nada.
I have so much to study that I won’t sleep at all.
3. To Show an Imprecise Quantity
When we don’t know an exact amount when talking, for example, about age or numbers, tanto will be very helpful.
No sé, tendrá unos cuarenta y tantos años.
I don’t know, she might be in his forties.
4. To Indicate Intensity, Duration or Frequency of an Action
When we want to compare one action to another, it’ll be used with como or cuanto.
Pesa tanto como tú.
It is as heavy as you.
Trabajaré tanto cuanto sea necesario.
I will work as much as necessary.
5. To Ask Questions about Quantities
If you want to sound like a native speaker you can substitute the question word ¿Cuánto? with ¿Qué tanto?
¿Qué tantos tomates necesitas?
How many tomatoes do you need?
¿Qué tanto tiempo necesitas para esto?
How much time do you need for this?
6. To Express That You Consider A Quantity Excessive
Interestingly, if you change the tone in the sentences above, you’ll be expressing your contempt and disgust provoked by the quantity you find excessive. Try it yourself!
When To Use Tan
Tan is easier to use than tanto as it only has one form and will always be used as an adverb to talk about other adjectives or adverbs, and will be always followed by them.
Let’s see when exactly we will use tan.
1. To Compare Qualities and Characteristics
When comparing qualities and characteristics of people, objects or animals, it’s used together with como. The expression tan.. como will translate into “as… as”:
Mi dibujo es tan bonito como el tuyo.
My drawing is as beautiful as yours.
2. To Emphasize Qualities and Characteristics
Tan can also intensify characteristics of a person, object or actions. This time, it will be translated into “so” or into an exclamation “What a…!”
Canta tan bien.
She sings so well.
¡Qué ensayo tan interesante!
What an interesting essay.
3. To Ask Questions about Qualities
In a similar way to how we can use tanto in questions, we can also use tan to interrogate about the grade of a quality in question. Tan here translates into “how”.
¿Qué tan bien entiendes tan vs tanto?
How well do you understand tan vs tanto?
Expressions with Tan and Tanto
Apart from typical uses, we’ll show you a couple of expressions that will make you an expert in the discussion about tan vs tanto:
1. Estar al tanto
You use this expression to say that you’re aware, or not, of what is happening.
No estoy al tanto de lo que pasa en Puerto Rico en estos días.
I am not aware of what is happening in Puerto Rico these days.
2. Las tantas
Someone arrived much later than expected? Use las tantas to express a very late hour.
No sé adónde salió Pedro anoche, pero regresó a las tantas.
I don’t know where Pedro went out last night but he returned very late.
3. Por lo tanto
Por lo tanto means “for this reason” and is used to explain that something is a result of the thing you mentioned before.
No tengo mucho dinero y por lo tanto no suelo comer en restaurantes.
I don’t have a lot of money and for this reason I don’t usually eat in restaurants.
4. Tan pronto como
This expression is used with a subjunctive mode and means “immediately after”.
Tan pronto como termine mis estudios, empezaré a viajar.
As soon as I finish my studies, I will start traveling.
5. Un tanto
You can throw in un tanto into a sentence to indicate little intensity, quantity or duration of the thing you are talking. It is a synonym to un poco.
Está tardando un tanto, mejor empecemos.
He’s getting late a bit, we better get started.
Time to Practice Tan vs Tanto
As you can see tan vs tanto is not such a big deal. As long as you remember the basic rules we’ve mentioned above, you won’t have any issues with how to use them. Do you want to try yourself out?
Vamos a ver qué tan bueno eres en esto y qué tanto sabes.
Let’s see how good you are at it and how much you know.
Build on your fluency in 1-on-1 real-time conversation in Spanish with our friendly native speaker teachers and sign up for a free class to practice tan vs tanto.
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